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Virginia Woolf suffered from anorexia, niece says


Literary legend Virginia Woolf may have suffered from an eating disorder, according to her niece, Emma.

In an article on the Daily Mail this week, Emma Woolf claims that a photo she stumbled upon of her great-aunt and T.S. Eliot depicts something that evoked a "painful moment" of recognition.

"The image of Virginia is of someone suffering from anorexia," she wrote.

A lifetime of 'madness'

Emma detailed how her great-aunt's letters and diaries are beginning to paint a better picture of who the troubled writer actually was – and how her challenges led to nervous breakdowns, "madness" and, ultimately, her suicide in 1941 at age 59.

In addition to the creative highs that were often followed by "paralyzing lows," Virginia also would stop eating, Emma claimed.

"So did she have anorexia? More than any other writer of her time, Virginia has been the target of speculation, and it can be hard to separate truth from gossip."

More definite signs of anorexia showed up after Virginia's marriage to writer and publisher Leonard Woolf.

"If left to herself, she would gradually have starved to death," Leonard recalled in his autobiography "Beginning Again: An Autobiography of the Years 1911 to 1918."

When she was happy, he wrote, Virginia did eat – but her weight fluctuated right along with her mood swings. He claimed that she often "expressed guilt" about eating, and she said that writers often overlooked food.

"It is part of the novelist’s convention not to mention soup and salmon and ducklings, as if soup and salmon and ducklings were of no importance whatsoever," Virginia wrote.

Emma's own struggles

Emma also documented her own struggles, admitting that she suffered from anorexia after getting her heart broken at age 19.

"With the support of a psychiatrist and Prozac, love and family, I reached my healthy goal of 8st over several years," she wrote.

Yet she recalls the similarities she shared with her great-aunt, calling herself "severely ill and massively irrational," arguing with others over how much or how little she was eating.

"I have been known to argue, with blinding logic, why three meals a day was far too much; anorexics are excellent at making their case in order to avoid food."

In a thought-provoking conclusion to her story, Emma wonders why, in a time well before women were subjected to the societal pressures of body image that come from modern media, was Virginia Woolf anorexic?

"In an era before celebrity magazines and size zero, where might Virginia’s ‘fear of becoming fat’ have come from? The cause is anxiety or emotional turmoil, not the desire to be thin. I believe that this is what Virginia experienced: When life got too much, she stopped eating."

Source: The Guardian