Seeking Acquaintance

Dr Louise DeSalvo (1942-2018) was, according to Katherine Q. Seelye’s obituary of November 11th 2018 in The New York Times ( ) ‘a Virginia Woolf scholar and memoirist’. She was Professor of English at Hunter College, New Jersey.

This afternoon I finished reading her book “Virginia Woolf: The Impact of Childhood Sexual Abuse on her Life and Work”, published by The Women’s Press in 1989. I have not read enough of Woolf’s writings to do justice to Dr DeSalvo’s interpretations, but it is clear that this author’s research is thorough and her writing well crafted. There are numerous quotations from novels, non-fiction, diaries, and letters referenced in notes at the back of this volume.

I do not dispute the facts of Ms Woolf’s childhood abuse, but I did feel that much of DeSalvo’s speculation which cannot be subjected to the examination of the deceased subject had to be based on the Doctor’s views on psychoanalysis and on her understanding of Victorian upper class practices and beliefs. In my view she has come to the conclusion that the particular Stephen dysfunctional household is typical of its class.

She has been strongly influenced by the work of Alice Miller, a Polish-Swiss psychologist who has produced much good work on parental child abuse.

It is perhaps likely that her undoubtedly emotionally deprived and abused childhood caused Virginia Woolf’s depressions and eventual suicide; and there are plenty of examples in her writings that Louise DeSalvo finds to support such an inference; but this cannot now be proved.

I have not read the memoirs of Dr DeSalvo, but the following section from the above-mentioned obituary may have a bearing on her own writing about Woolf:

‘In “Vertigo,” she tells of initially writing in her diary almost nothing of the crises swirling around her — her sister’s suicide (in 1984), her mother’s shock treatments for depression, her father’s anger at her for not being emotionally available during these traumatic events, and her own fainting spells, which she detailed in the book.’

Virginia Woolf’s creative genius transcends her traumatic life. Thanks to DeSalvo I am inspired to return to her work with new eyes.
While I was drafting this Jackie worked in the garden, taking a while to watch
a minuscule goldcrest seeking acquaintance with its reflection.
This evening I prepared a meal consisting of Jackie’s splendid pork paprika from the freezer with boiled new potatoes and tender runner beans with which the Culinary Queen drank Hoegaarden and the sous chef drank Valle Central Carmeniere Reserva Privada 2019.


  1. Wonderful photos of the bird and the mirror.

    I’m afraid my own reading has been a little more low brow – Elton John’s autobiography.

  2. I have not read any Dr DeSalvo’s book, Derrick, but from what I know of Woolf’s biography and family situation, her heredity and genetic makeup would have played a significant role in her personality development, exacerbated by abuse. Based on current research into heredity vs environment in mental and emotional dysfunctionalities, I would venture to guess that Victorian era was a minor, rather than a major factor.

  3. I always found Woolfe the most impenetrable of authors until I saw a one hour version of Mrs Dalloway at the Fringe in Edinburgh a few years ago and re-read, having had a far better understanding from that hour than any amount of critical analysis. I can’t say I’ve invested much beyond Mrs D but I did enjoy second time around. Sort of.

  4. I have been down this road before to no avail but am desperately seeking information about Phyllis Holman Richards. I would be so grateful if you would contact me regarding this.

    Many thanks!


    Sent from my iPad

      1. Oh, I am so excited to get through to you on this subject. PHR was responsible for my adoption. Quite a tale. Some time ago you walked past the telephone box where she saw a young mother giving birth…that is how I made the connection. Would love to know more about her.

  5. Oh, the photos of the tiny little birdie and the mirror are so sweet! 🙂

    I enjoy when you share book reviews of the books you are reading. It sounds interesting.

    I’ve seen a couple movies about Virginia Woolf…like Vita and Virginia…The Hours.
    And I’ve read a couple of her stories…like Mrs. Dalloway.

    How nice of you to chef again. 🙂

    ? 😀 ?

    1. Thanks very much, Caroline. Jackie works all day in the garden so it seems fair 🙂 It was a very good book although with some questionable assumptions..X

    1. Obviously the technique is to distract them with their own image. Jackie reports that this one was quite happy in her presence. Thanks very much, Sherry.

    1. That’s one I haven’t read but there should be much to enjoy therein. I’m re-reading Between The Acts after 46 years 🙂 Thanks very much, Laurie

  6. I have never read anything by Virginia Woolf, either. Her life does sound very traumatic, and her ending even more so.

    Your goldcrest is a beautiful bird!

  7. I don’t know much about Virginia Woolf – an odd gap in my educations, but she has interesting quotes… Your post got me to go find out more about her, like opening an overlooked box. What I have read intrigues me, like the goldcrest looking into the mysterious mirror.

  8. I enjoyed the series of photos of little goldcrest interacting with his/her reflection. Was the mirror put in the garden for this purpose?

    1. We have several mirrors throughout the garden in order to reflect the plants, but birds are drawn to them and sometimes Jackie cover them during the mating season. Thanks very much, Liz.

  9. I have never read anything about Virginia Wolf, but have read the essays, To the Lighthouse, and Mrs. Dalloway (if that’s the one where the woman throws a party). I’ve wondered about her early life and marriage, mostly because she does share her thoughts in the essays (fiction might or might not shed light; it’s made up, after all), and they made me wonder about her life and of course the times (Imagine being a smart woman at a time when there was really not much to do but fulfill prescribed roles) she lived in. I bet the book is interesting, but I don’t have the background you do to ask the right questions about assumptions. And I tend to favor fiction anyway…

    1. I tend to favour fiction although history and biography are close runners up. In fact I have two more biographies of VW. I am now re-reading Between The Acts for the first time for 46 years 🙂 I have to say that even without my background I may well have questioned the assumptions on the same grounds as Queen Victoria cannot respond. Thanks very much, Lisa.

  10. I haven’t read the biography, but it seems to me, too, that as someone noted above, heredity would also play a strong factor (which is not to say that trauma should be downplayed). I think of the Hemingways, too. I’m going to have read more of Virginia Woolf now. ?

    Beautiful action bird shots!

  11. I – ignorantly – only know Virginia Woolf by name, not her circumstances. Always devastated to hear about abuses culminating in suicide. Seeing the little bird admiring (or maybe even courting) itself in the mirror made me feel better. Amazing how just a little peek into nature can have that effect, isn’t it?

  12. Birds give us so much joy and when I see them in cages I feel like putting those who have caged them inside cages.
    I am listening to Sherlock Holmes on Audibles and loving it 🙂

  13. The idea of mirrors in the garden intrigues me. Haven’t seen that before. What fun to see that minuscule goldcrest enjoying its own reflection! Another beautiful post, Derrick. Thank you! <3

  14. I agree with you that assumptions were made about VW’s early life. I think the biographer may be right about many of them, (but not all) but there is no proof. I love reading Virginia Woolf’s books; she wrote so carefully and spent much time editing and re-editing so I believe it behoves us to take time in reading her words.
    Jackie’s photos of the little Goldcrest are wonderful!

    1. Thank you so much from us both, Clare. I have started on VW’s short stories – not getting into them so well yet. I once analysed To The Lighthouse for a reading group. I may go back to it in the light of this biography – but that will be a third reading – not many books get that 🙂

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