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Martin, J. (1991). Who Killed Virginia Woolf: By Alma Halbert Bond. New York: Insight Books/Human Sciences Press. 1989. Pp. 200.. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 18:288-292.

(1991). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 18:288-292

Who Killed Virginia Woolf: By Alma Halbert Bond. New York: Insight Books/Human Sciences Press. 1989. Pp. 200.

Review by:
Jay Martin

Alma Halbert Bond has fashioned her study of Virginia Woolf in the way that a chef might concoct a stew. For her, psychoanalytic literature seems to be a vast supermarket of pathological staples. She goes shopping for the best ones on the shelves, the ones most à la mode, then she stirs the whole mass together with a broth made of dubious assumptions about literature, history, social mores, and psychoanalysis itself. Simmered and stirred for two hundred pages, the result is a bouillabaisse in whose steamy clouds Virginia Woolf disappears and turns into a psychoanalytic specimen. This book is everything that has brought the psychoanalytic study of literature and, more generally, psychobiography, into disrepute. Any scholar outside the field of psychoanalysis itself would be likely to find in this book yet one more reason to condemn applied psychoanalysis for its superficiality, its rigidity, and its formulaic character. Dr Bond's book is not alone among literary psychobiographies in possessing these qualities. They were especially evident in books of the nineteen-twenties, but today, when some psychoanalysts and psychoanalytic researchers have made such advances in investigative subtlety, it would be most unfortunate if such a book as this might be thought to represent psychoanalytic studies in 1990.

What, first, are the ingredients which Dr Bond assembles for her concoction? She seems to have made several superficial forays into psychoanalytic literature in a quest for pathologies. She makes the mistake of equating diagnosis with biographical analysis, as if a life could be sufficiently characterized by naming its pathologies. From her search for pathologies she comes back loaded down. In this short book she concludes that Virginia Woolf was tormented by no fewer than twenty-five or thirty pathological features. It seems that Bond has made a weighty grid of abnormal psychology, and then drops it upon her subject, who, unlike a living patient, cannot protest. Just briefly, I will indicate (in italics) the pathological diagnostic features that she discerns in her subject.

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