Virginia Woolf – Friendships With Women
Virginia Woolf was sexually abused as a child. While the extent and duration of this abuse is difficult to establish, it is known that two of her older stepbrothers sexually harassed and abused her between the ages of twelve and twenty-one and perhaps as early as six. It is most likely because of the sexual abuse that she would develop very close and intense relationships with women throughout her adult life while unable to have a successful relationship with a man. The women that she had the closest relationships with are: Vita Sackville-West, Katherine Mansfield, and Violet Dickinson.
Vita Sackville-West was a descendent of the great families of England. She was an English poet and novelist. Vita was married to Harold Nicolson, a diplomat and critic. Their marriage lasted in spite of her many homosexual affairs. In 1923, an art critic Clive Bell introduced Vita Sackville-West to Woolf, and the two became lovers. Although Vita claimed to have sexual relations with Virginia at least twice, most of Virginia’s relationships were not physical in nature.
Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf were, in their own different ways, among the most influential women of letters in England. Katherine Mansfield was a short story writer born in Wellington, New Zealand. Katherine had a traumatic early environment, but that would lead to her best creative work in later years. The relationship between Katherine and Virginia was complicated and sometimes tense. Differences of background, taste, and mode of living made it difficult at times for them to find a common ground. Their shared passion for writing as a way of life lead them to a kind of grudging mutual respect-both saw something of herself in the other. After Mansfield’s death in 1923, Woolf stated “I have a feeling that I shall think of her at intervals all through life.” Mansfield apparently gave Woolf ideas and assistance with descriptive passages for her story “Kew Gardens” which resembles Mansfield’s earlier story “Spring Pictures”. After Mansfield’s death, Woolf wrote in her diary that Katherine’s writing was the only writing she had ever been jealous of.
Virginia became very depressed after her father’s death in 1904. Her good friend, Violet Dickinson, took Virginia into her home at Burnham Wood. During an extreme bout with depression, Virginia threw herself out a window. While she sustained no serious injury, Virginia spent three months with Violet while recuperating. Virginia claimed the birds were singing in Greek and said that King Edward VII was lurking in the azaleas and using the foulest language. It was obvious that Virginia was excessively psychotic at this time – so Dickinson took Virginia to recuperate at Cornwall. Virginia and Violet maintained contact through the years. In fact, when Virginia married, Violet sent a cradle for a baby to sleep in if Virginia was to have a child.