Skip over navigation

Virginia Woolf

The End

Two Masterpieces

Study & Essay

At the beginning of 1932, Woolf finished Letter to a Young Poet and it was sold by Hogarth Press as a shilling booklet. The Second Common Reader was published in October of that year and Woolf once again picked up Flush, which she'd set aside. She also began work on a novel that would give her a great deal of trouble, The Years. In March 1933, the University of Manchester offered Woolf an honorary degree; she turned it down. The year before she'd refused to accept a post at Cambridge, and six years later, she'd refuse an honorary doctorate from University of Liverpool. She felt that it was dangerous for a writer to become involved in what she termed the "academic machine."

The world was again in upheaval the early 1930's. The Nazi Party had been on the rise in Germany during 1932 and the next year Hitler had become ruler of Germany. In 1933, the Japanese were occupying Manchuria. In 1934, all signs pointed to a Fascist uprising in France, and in 1936, a civil war broke out in Spain. Two years later, Germany would annex Austria and the stage would be set for a second world war.

Flush was published the following October and, like most of Woolf's recent novels, was a success. The following April, Leonard opened up the obituary section of the Times and read that George Duckworth had died. That same year, while Woolf was busy with Here and Now, Roger Fry died. Although Woolf was deeply saddened by his passing, she was perhaps more affected by watching her sister Vanessa grieve for her ex-lover. Although Vanessa's love affair with Roger ended amicably nearly twenty years before, the two had remained good friends. Added to Woolf's grief was the unbearable burden of everyone's expectation that she would be Roger Fry's biographer. Woolf didn't want to write the biography. Furthermore, The Years was proving a nightmare for Woolf and in 1934, a book by Wyndham Lewis called Men Without Art appeared in which an entire chapter was devoted to denigrating Woolf and her writing. Lewis called her "extremely insignificant" as a writer. Although Wyndham Lewis's attack was condemned by a number of Woolf's supporters–and although history has proven him quite wrong–Woolf feared her reputation was deteriorating.

After grappling with the idea of writing Roger Fry's biography, Woolf finally began work on it. At the same time, she continued work on The Years, whipsawing back and forth regarding its worth. While reading the galleys of The Years, Woolf decided it was awful and the thought of launching in into the literary marketplace only to blasted was almost too much for her to bear. Leonard also thought it was sub par work, but told her that it was extremely good; he was afraid that if he told her the truth, she was try to kill herself. Buoyed by Leonard's reaction, she began work on Three Guineas. In March 1937, despite both Leonard and Woolf's reservations, The Years was published to good reviews, even though Woolf's friends were lukewarm about the novel at best. In October, Woolf sold her share of Hogarth Press to John Lehmann.

Her nephew, Julian Bell, decided to fight in the new civil war taking place in Spain, despite his mother's vehement protests. He was killed there on July eighteen, 1937. Vanessa was so grief-stricken that she hardly left her bed for two months. Woolf spent the better part of the summer and fall consoling her sister. After the publication of Three Guineas in June 1938, Woolf began work on Between the Acts while slogging her way through Roger Fry's biography. On September three, 1939, Britain declared war on Germany and World War Two was underway.

On May 10th, 1940, Germany invaded Belgium and Holland. On June 14th, Paris fell. War in Britain was imminent and, like many Brits, Woolf believed Britain was destined to lose. The looming Fascist regime did not bode well for Leonard especially; as a Jew, he was in great if not yet imminent danger. In August 1940, the Battle of Britain began, in which Britain and Germany fought a series of air battles over England. The bombing of London commenced soon after. Vanessa's studio and Woolf's home were blown to smithereens in the attacks. However, the Brits managed to fend off the Germans, and the Battle of Britain was Germany's first loss of the new war. Despite all this, Woolf was able to work. During that summer, her biography of Roger Fry had been published. On November twenty-three, 1940, she finished Between the Acts and promptly began writing Anon. It was a period of relatively good mental health for her, even though she'd just finished a novel and was in danger of slipping into a depression as was her tendency. However, by March 1941, her mood had changed drastically and she was severely depressed. Leonard became quite anxious when Woolf began telling people that she did not want to see Between the Acts published. She grew pale and emaciated. On Friday March 27th, Leonard took Woolf to see a family friend who happened to be a doctor. Woolf told the doctor that nothing was wrong with her, despite the fact that she was hearing voices.

The next day, Friday March 28th, 1941, Woolf went to her garden studio for the last time, sat down and wrote two notes–one to Leonard and one to Vanessa. In these letters, she writes of hearing voices and feeling sure that she'd never make it back from this bout with madness and so wanted to spare the two most important people in her life from more pain. She walked back to the house, wrote Leonard a second note and placed it on the mantle. She then picked up her walking stick, walked to the River Ouse, filled her pockets with stones and drowned herself. She was fifty-eight years old.

More Help

Previous Next

Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!

Follow Us