The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

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9780312205591: The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

In this haunting and compelling book, eminent psychiatrist Peter Dally explores the darker side of Virginia Woolf. Bringing together his knowledge as a doctor with his life-long fascination with Woolf's life and work, he sheds light on the depression that tormented her adult years.

A quiet life cushioned Virginia from the bouts of depression and elation that she regularly experienced, but life in the public eye profoundly affected her moods and her behavior. On three occasions Virginia went mad. This terrified her, and she lived in constant fear of the return of this dreadful affliction. Yet the experience gave her the extraordinary insight and new ideas and associations that were to emerge in her writing.

Ideally, every manic depressive needs to be protected from stress. Virginia had several protectors, but none so vital as her husband, Leonard. Without his constant vigilance and care, it is doubtful she would have been so creatively productive. Yet, paradoxically, their marriage precipitated one of her bouts of madness. At the end of her life, when events outside the couple's control led to Leonard's gradual withdrawal and his own depression, Virginia found herself facing her madness alone, and with tragic results.

Compassionate and disturbing, this fascinating study is the first to look at Virginia Woolf's life from the perspective of her madness.

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About the Author:

After qualifying from St. Thomas's Hospital in 1953, Peter Dally specialized in psychiatry and was consultant psychiatrist at the Westminster Hospital until his retirement. He lives in England.

Although a general psychiatrist, his professional outlook is eclectic and he has particular interests in manic depression and anorexia nervosa, a subject on which he has written several books. Virginia Woolf first aroused his interest when, as a student, he read Mrs. Dalloway. He subsequently became absorbed in her diaries, which give a wider and deeper picture of manic depression than any textbook could.

From Kirkus Reviews:

Retired British psychiatrist Dally (The Fantasy Game, 1975) puts Woolf on the couch in this insubstantial psychobiography. Woolf's mental state has always attracted posthumous diagnoses from her literary biographers, and Dally, who has also essayed a psychological portrait of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, concentrates entirely on this ambiguous task. Woolf is customarily labeled manic depressivea term (no longer clinically employed) referring to a fairly loose category of mood disorders with a wide range of diagnoses. Dally specifies Woolf's malady as cyclothymic disorder, which presents as comparatively mild depression from January to March and again in September, and an elated mood in the summer. This condition, he argues, would lead to full-blown manic depression, manifested in Woolf's manic breakdowns and severe depressions, culminating in her 1941 suicide. Woolf's milder hypomanic phases featured brilliant conversation and ambitious literary projects. In her outright manic phases, however, she refused food; talked incessantly; grew paranoid; insulted everyone from her nurses to her husband, Leonard, and her sister, Vanessa; had suicidal impulses; and, in some instances, experienced visual and aural hallucinationsmost famously seeing her dead mother and hearing birds in London singing in Greek (a detail which found its way into Mrs. Dalloway). Unfortunately, Dally neglects the close examination of Woolf's mind in favor of rote summary of the events of her life, which reduces Leonard to the sort of helpmeet necessary for Woolf's condition. In an appendix, ``Manic, Madness and Creativity,'' Dally cursorily discusses the effects of her illness on her writing, but Woolf, who in her voluminous diary vividly described both her literary impulses and her fluctuating emotions, remains the authority on herself. Less a case study than a Cliff's Notes to better biographical work, such as Hermione Lee's rich treatment (Virginia Woolf: A Biography, 1997). (8 pages b&w photos, not seen) -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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