Some years ago I had a course on the early twentieth century British novel. For the class I was introduced for the first time to Virginia Woolf’s work. We read To the Lighthouse, which I loved so much I began taking her other books out of the library and reading them despite having to go on reading the other assigned books for the class as well. We talked a lot in the class about the First and Second World Wars, and how they affected the writers of that period. I can still recall my professor saying how, these days, Virginia Woolf’s suicide is ascribed solely to her madness, the posthumously diagnosed bipolar disorder she suffered from. I agree from having read a good amount of her diaries that she did have unstable emotional states, but that professor went on to say something that also struck me as correct then, and which I am reminded of in these days we’re living out now. He said that yes, she had an emotional instability, but that she was also severely distressed about the First World War as it occurred, was deeply despairing over the destruction of so many people’s lives, that it took her some time to recover from the First World War and that when the Second World War came around, she was even more unstable than usual and she did not see an end in sight for humanity’s inability to stop killing one another for power and resources, and that this is something she wrote about as an influence in her emotional well-being that is not often talked about any longer as the popularity of reducing her to an emotionally disordered writer grows in the critical community.
I don’t think it’s madness at all to be emotionally disturbed by war. I know that every day this war my country’s government officials got us into and refuses to bring to an end makes my heart a little heavier. Some days I’ll wake up and already be down before I even have the chance to look out the window. And much of it is to do with the state of the world, the crises with the environment, the war, people’s refusal to accept difference in others, the not so subtle shift from democracy to a government whose contanst mantra is, “Yes, yes, we hear you people, but we’re don’t going to do what you want anyway. You’re the people. We’re the government.” How is feeling disturbed by all that madness?
But I think a lot of people don’t feel the heaviness of the situation–or I should say, they feel it but many don’t even understand the source of their troubled hearts and minds. We call so many things that display emotion outside the socialized rule of happiness madness, I think. But if feeling that way about war contributed to Virginia Woolf’s despair, then I suppose I must be mad too.