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Virginia Woolf

New Friends

Deaths in the Family

New Friends, page 2

page 1 of 2

Woolf encountered the woman upon whom she would model Sally in Mrs. Dalloway only briefly. Madge Symonds was married to one of Woolf's uncles, and she was a beautiful, thoroughly modern woman who was a writer. Woolf found her enchanting and may have fallen in love with her. She was one of a number of captivating women who would capture Woolf's attention and find their way into her fiction.

In 1901, Thoby, who was at Cambridge, met a number of extremely intelligent, interesting young men-fellow students. Lytton Strachey, Leonard Woolf and Clive Bell were among them. Woolf and Vanessa would not meet these young achievers for a few more years, however. The sisters were still studying at home during the days and completing household chores in the evening while their brothers were being educated at the best schools England had to offer. For the rest of her life, Woolf would feel herself behind the curve and poorly educated because she was not granted the opportunity to attend college simply because she was a female. It seemed a bitter injustice, and she never forgot it.

Around this time, two more fascinating women came into the sisters' lives. Kitty Maxse was an intelligent, calm, lovely woman who was married to the editor of the National Review, Leopold Maxse. Julia had introduced them and took pride in having successfully matched them. Although Kitty and Woolf didn't quite hit it off (she found a confidante, however, in Vanessa), Kitty was likely the model for Clarissa Dalloway. Violet Dickinson first visited the family at their new summer place in Fritham in 1902. Dickinson was over six feet tall, was an unusual and intelligent woman and evoked very complex feelings in twenty-year-old Woolf. In the letters the two women shared, it is fairly clear that Woolf was deeply in love with Violet, though that love was likely never consummated. Violet would remain a friend of Woolf's for many years, though they would drift apart when Woolf began her foray into the Bloomsbury Group.

That same year, 1902, Leslie Stephen grew more frail and more ill, and it was clear that he was dying. Though he hung on for about a year, Woolf and Vanessa had to deal with a series of already grieving, wailing female family relatives who taxed the girls' nerves. On February twenty-two, 1903, Leslie Stephen died.

Woolf was emotionally distraught and exhausted by the year she had spent watching her father die. That year, she and her four Stephen siblings moved out of the Kensington house at twenty-two Hyde Park Gate and bought a house in then-shabbier Bloomsbury. Before moving in, the siblings traveled to Italy for a holiday. Woolf, still emotionally delicate, was weary and irritated halfway through the trip, and wanted to go home. While Vanessa felt somewhat freed by her father's death (after Stella died, he'd made Vanessa his crutch and made many demands on her time and emotions), Woolf was desperately sad. The group stopped in Paris and met with Thoby's friend and painter Clive Bell.

Almost as soon as the siblings returned to London, Woolf had a breakdown. She began to hear voices, her pulse raced, and her heart beat at what seemed a dangerous pace. Violet arrived in London to take Woolf to her home at Burnham Wood, and there Woolf first attempted suicide by throwing herself out of a second story window. She was unharmed by the incident and slowly began to recover.

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