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Caramagno, T.C. (1990). Who Killed Virginia Woolf? A Psychobiography by Alma Halbert Bond New York: Human Sciences Press, 1989, 200 pp., $19.95. Psa. Books, 1(3):383-387.

(1990). Psychoanalytic Books, 1(3):383-387

Who Killed Virginia Woolf? A Psychobiography by Alma Halbert Bond New York: Human Sciences Press, 1989, 200 pp., $19.95

Review by:
Thomas C. Caramagno, Ph.D.

Alma Bond, a full-time psychoanalyst for 35 years in private practice, turns her attention to a famous suicide in literary history, that of Virginia Woolf. Bond's task is formidable, for numerous books and articles have been published speculating on the reasons why Woolf killed herself. To discover “who, if anyone, was responsible,” one must address many issues—environmental, biological, psychodynamic, cultural, and historical—each important in its own way. Woolf's family tree includes depressives (mother and paternal grandfather), a manic-depressive cousin, an institutionalized half-sister, and a cyclothymic father—a profile strongly suggesting a genetically determined biochemical component. Woolf herself had minor and major manic-depressive breakdowns for most of her life and drowned herself when she thought she was going permanently mad at the age of 59. She also suffered psychological stresses: sexual abuse as a child, the premature death of her mother, and a tyrannical father. Although a brilliant writer and an avid reader, she was denied a formal education because she was a woman, and so she became an ardent feminist opposing patriarchal ideologies of what “good” government, social order, and literature were. Although she enjoyed a loving a productive collaboration with her husband, Leonard, she reserved romance and eroticism for women. Finally, her suicide must be considered within an historical context: Living on an island under imminent threat of invasion by Germany in early 1941, she feared becoming an inescapable burden to her Jewish husband.


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