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Terr, L.C. (1990). Who's Afraid in Virginia Woolf? Clues to Early Sexual Abuse in Literature. Psychoanal. St. Child, 45:533-546.

(1990). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 45:533-546

Who's Afraid in Virginia Woolf? Clues to Early Sexual Abuse in Literature

Lenore C. Terr, M.D.


Virginia Woolf, by self-admission, was a victim of repeated sexual abuses. At age 5 or 6 she was sexually mishandled by her older half brother, Gerald Duckworth. In her teenage years another older half brother, George Duckworth, misused her repeatedly. As a result of these abuses, Woolf suffered the special signs and symptoms of long-standing childhood psychic trauma—sexual numbing, emotional distancing, self-hypnosis, splitting, and dissociation. She also suffered some of the more ordinary signs and symptoms common to most childhood traumas—fears, perceptual repetitions, and repetitions in behavior (in this case, in writing). Interestingly, Virginia Woolf's fictional characters manifest the very same signs and symptoms Woolf manifested all of her life. The occasional reader may treat Woolf's fiction, because of these "symptoms," in much the same way that an actual childhood sex abuse victim is often treated—with boredom, disbelief, and failure to respond.

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