Emma Woolf in Newsweek:
“I caused some slight argument with Leonard this morning by trying to cook my breakfast in bed. I believe, however, that the good sense of the proceeding will make it prevail; that is, if I can dispose of the eggshells.” (13 January 1915)
So wrote Virginia Woolf 100 years ago, musing on her latest domestic experiment. This attempt to cook eggs in bed was a light interlude in what was to become one of the worst years of her life. Reading her letters and diaries recently in the London Library, I discovered a more playful side to the modernist writer, who we have come to think of as stern, humourless, even tortured. Virginia’s daily journal and correspondence reveal a sensitive, perceptive young woman who loved a “debauch of gossip” with her friends. And this time in her life, January and February 1915, was a precious lull before the storm: one month later she plunged into a nervous breakdown so severe that she lost the rest of 1915.
Sadly, these breakdowns were nothing new. The sudden death of her mother from rheumatic fever in 1895 had provoked Virginia’s first breakdown at the age of 13. Her father’s death in 1904 triggered her second collapse; her nephew and biographer Quentin Bell wrote: “All that summer she was mad.” She also endured the death of her half-sister Stella in 1897 and her beloved brother Thoby in 1907; the repeated bereavements took their toll on her mental health. Virginia’s third breakdown in 1913, aged 31, occurred less than a year after her marriage to Leonard Woolf.