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Bornstein, B. (1983). Virginia Woolf: Grief and the Need for Cohesion in To The Lighthouse. Psychoanal. Inq., 3(3):357-370.

(1983). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 3(3):357-370

Virginia Woolf: Grief and the Need for Cohesion in To The Lighthouse

Benita Bornstein

In her memoir, written when she was 57, Virginia Woolf (1939-1940) writes of her mother:

It is perfectly true that she obsessed me, in spite of the fact that she died when I was thirteen, until I was forty-four. Then one day walking round Tavistock Square I made up, as I sometimes make up my books, To The Lighthouse; in a great apparently involuntary, rush … and when it was written, I ceased to be obsessed by my mother. I no longer hear her voice; I do not see her.

I suppose that I did for myself what psycho-analysts do for their patients, I expressed some very long felt and deeply emotion. And in expressing it I explained it and then laid it to rest [p. 81]. This is the voice of a mature and confident artist looking back in the style of free association to special moments of being. Although writing the cathartic elegy To The Lighthouse undoubtedly relieved much unexpressed grief, Woolf's letters and diary entries reveal that the years following the novel continued in an alternation of productivity and depression. Moreover, the unfinished memoir and her suicide in March, 1941 bring into question the ostensible tone of resolution.

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