Dr Louise DeSalvo (1942-2018) was, according to Katherine Q. Seelye’s obituary of November 11th 2018 in The New York Times ( nytimes.com ) ‘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.’