When Virginia Woolf committed suicide on March 28th in 1941, she left behind two suicide notes for her husband Leonard and one for her sister, Vanessa.
The notes to Leonard were widely published in the press and even misquoted. Yet, Vanessa’s note is not as well known. Perhaps Vanessa didn’t share the note with others as Leonard did, or maybe the contents did not pique the interest of the gossip-hungry press as much as the other notes. It’s not clear if it was printed in any publications immediately after Virginia’s death, but Leonard later published it in his autobiography “The Journey Not the Arrival Matters,” which came out in 1970.
The note to Vanessa read:
Dearest, You can’t think how I loved your letter. But I feel I have gone too far this time to come back again. I am certain now that I am going mad again. It is just as it was the first time, I am always hearing voices, and I shan’t get over it now. All I want to say is that Leonard has been so astonishingly good, every day, always; I can’t imagine that anyone could have done more for me than he has. We have been perfectly happy until these last few weeks, when this horror began. Will you assure him of this? I feel he has so much to do that he will go on, better without me, and you will help him. I can hardly think clearly anymore. If I could I would tell you what you and the children have meant to me. I think you know. I have fought against it, but I can’t any longer. Virginia.”
Virginia’s note to Vanessa is interesting because it is more of a plea for Vanessa to help Leonard after Virginia’s death than it is an explanation of why she was going to kill herself. Perhaps Virginia’s main concern when she was writing it was not so much to explain what she thought was obvious, but instead to try and soften the blow of her death for those around her, particularly Leonard who had nursed her through multiple suicide attempts and mental breakdowns throughout their long marriage. It appears that Virginia felt Leonard’s life would be better without her, as she wrote in the note, yet she feared Leonard, and others, might blame him for her death. Although suicide notes are usually a list of reasons why a person has decided to kill themselves, it seems Virginia wrote hers solely to accept the blame for her death and dispel any ideas that it was anyone’s fault but her own.
“The Journey Not the Arrival Matters: An Autobiography of the Years 1939 to 1969”; Leonard Woolf