A Fascinating Life

I am going To The Lighthouse. This will be my first time reading Virginia Woolf. I’ve been wanting to read her for a while, but the more I learn about her life, the more I want to know.

A couple interesting facts: Woolf was a member of the Bloomsbury group, a cluster of brilliant intellectuals and friends in early 20th century Europe. They were painters, writers, art critics, publishers, and economists, many of them famous to this day. They were also stunningly sexually and romantically liberated. Not how we picture Brits in the early 1900s, right? But the people in this group had open marriages and engaged in love affairs with men and women alike. They weren’t plagued by jealousy, despite the many changes of lovers within their clique. This may be an enlightened way to experience love (obviously they were mighty smart), but I don’t think it would work so well for the rest of us, at least not here in the US. We watch too much Jerry Springer and Dr. Phil and soaps and live mired in too much passive-aggressive melodramatic narcissism. Not that I’m judging. The same goes for me, even without Jerry and Phil. I am not about to share my fiancé.

But more than Bloomsbury’s wacky romantic escapades, I’m interested in Woolf’s mental illness. From adolescence on, she showed symptoms of severe bipolar disorder (a.k.a. manic depression.) She’s another example of a haunted genius, a fascinating pattern from a neuroscience perspective. It’s painful to read her letters and diaries, which show the depth of her depression. In the end, she filled her pockets with stones and drowned herself in the Ouse River. Even today, we lose many of our creative icons to suicide, despite the availability of treatment options. It reminds us that the human mind is complex and contradictory, and we have so much left to learn.

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