Share this article Share In almost 75 years since her suicide, my great-aunt Virginia has become a household name. Everyone has heard of her, from taxi drivers to American tourists although almost none of those I meet have read her books. The haunting profile photograph by George Beresford of a beautiful year-old Virginia in adorns tea towels, mugs and posters the world over, and her quotes are shared daily on Instagram and Pinterest.
She wrote almost nothing about sex. There are exactly two romantic kisses in her entire literary oeuvre — one in The Voyage Out, another in Mrs Dalloway. Now a new three-part BBC Two drama, Life In Squares, which starts on Monday at 9pm, gives the raunchiest portrayal yet of the Bloomsbury Group, a circle of libertine artists, writers and intellectuals of which my great-aunt was a founding member.
In almost 75 years since her suicide, my great-aunt Virginia pictured has become a household name. Everyone has heard of her, from taxi drivers to American tourists although almost none of those I meet have read her books Having watched a preview of the first episode and a teaser of the second and third, it seems to me the series is more bonkbuster than serious biopic, yet I have no doubt it will be a hit.
The drama makes great television, but how accurate is it? To me, it seems that the sex and scandal around the Bloomsbury Group becomes more risque as each generation becomes less shockable and hungrier for salacious details.
And I fear that all the gossip and stories take us farther away from the real woman. She writes from her honeymoon in Over the years countless theories have been proposed. Was she sexually abused as a child, was her marriage ever consummated, was she having a passionate affair with her friend Vita Sackville-West, or was she simply frigid?
While there was plenty of sex going on for the rest of the Bloomsbury Group, Virginia seemed strangely unable to join in. There was always a kind of braggadocio to Virginia. She liked to shock, and to appear far more adventurous than she really was. But shortly after her marriage to Leonard in , she confided to a female friend: The much talked-about love affair with Vita Sackville-West may have been overblown, but something certainly went on.
While there was plenty of sex going on for the rest of the Bloomsbury Group, Virginia seemed strangely unable to join in Towards men, however, she was decidedly ambivalent. When Leonard proposed to her, she told him: There are moments — when you kissed me the other day was one — when I feel no more than a rock.
In a Bloomsbury friend, Gerald Brenan, recalled: Her older half-brothers, George and Gerald Duckworth, are said to have committed incest — some even say rape — with the young Virginia and Vanessa.
Again, the evidence is patchy. Virginia recalled how once, in their holiday home at St Ives, Gerald lifted her onto a table and, out of curiosity, put his hand under her skirt and examined her private parts. She found this traumatic. While Virginia clearly felt conflicted and confused by sexual intimacy, the family strongly refutes the allegations of childhood rape, said by some to have contributed to her recurrent nervous breakdowns. Woolf, played by Lydia Leonard and Vanessa Bell, played by Phoebe Fox, get close during the drama The drama makes great television, but how accurate is it?
Plagued all her life by severe mental illness, she would struggle to sleep or eat, hear voices, and at times could be violent. As she wrote in her final note to Leonard: She could swim, but allowed herself to drown. Her husband, Leonard, discovered her missing within hours, but her body was found only three weeks later, by children playing by the river.
Representing the group as they really were, without a modern perspective clouding our view, becomes harder with every generation that discovers them. Yes, I admit I still feel a burst of pride when I hear of shows like this being made. At a recent conference in the U. Often he would describe them at work —Leonard digging in the garden, wearing old corduroys, Virginia writing with a cigarette hanging off her lip and a plank across her armchair as a writing desk.
He still fondly recalls his childhood visits: They were great workers Or Leonard would be up in his study typing away and Virginia would be in her little hut in the garden writing. But they had their circle of friends, and in the evening they would be listening to music or playing bowls on the lawn.
I, for one, prefer to think of them in softer, more innocent times. Advertisement Share or comment on this article: