The-OuseDustin Illingworth at Literary Hub:

“Everything has gone for me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer. I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been.” So ends Virginia Woolf’s poignant suicide note, addressed to her husband, Leonard Woolf. It is a throbbing document, hauntingly beautiful, in which a decision is made to part with a rote anguish. I’ve read it dozens of times over the years with fascination, even obsession. I picture her writing these final words in a thin ring of lamplight at a worn desk; walking deliberately down the road’s mellow dust; bending to fill her coat pockets with smooth river stones; the crisp blue cold of the Ouse biting at her ankles. But I always return to the contents of the note: the impossible task of a writer attempting to explain herself—to say goodbye to both a companion and an existence—with words grown suddenly insensate, rebellious. “You see I can’t even write this,” it reads at one point, a line that has always seemed, to me, the most tragic part of a tragic letter—that the mind capable of crafting To the Lighthouse should recoil at its own halting articulation.

This, then, is the morbid fascination of the literary suicide note: that it is, perforce, the final written work of the author in question. If we believe that writers possess a special relationship with language—one in which the incommunicable is somehow voiced—we might be forgiven our curiosity for what these moments of literary extremity are able to reveal of the inviolate mystery of death.

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