Dearest, I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don’t think two people could have been happier ’til this terrible disease came. I can’t fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can’t even write this properly. I can’t read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that – everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer. I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been. V.
I am struck every time I read this with the depth of her love for her husband. To be honest, I was surprised by it.
In school I learned little about Woolf’s life. Mostly I knew of her accomplishments and that eventually she filled her pockets with stones, walked into a river and drowned. I couldn’t help but project onto her marriage the unhappiness and dissatisfaction in Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” or the suffocating confinement of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Unconsciously, I think I took her suicide as an act of protest against a world she did not fit in. This letter explodes that assumption.
Simply reading her Wikipedia page, which is well sourced enough to be trusted, it is obvious that her depression had much deeper more traumatic triggers (such as having been sexually abused by her half-brothers and losing her parents rather early in life). I find it hard to doubt her repetition that she doesn’t think two people could have been happier. Her moving statement that if anyone could have saved her it would have been her husband. Her sorrow for the suffering she’s caused him with her emotional instability.
For me this letter is more than moving, it’s freeing.
I have a tendency to feel my fate in what I fear. My impression of Woolf’s suicide and the suffocated, dissatisfaction captured in Gilman and Chopin’s stories express one of my greatest fears. This fear has been at the root of my caginess towards a genuine romantic relationship. Why I’ve chosen silliness and pseudo over sincerity. Because what if I got into a marriage and…just couldn’t stand it? Felt suffocated and stranded and terribly unsatisfied? What if I couldn’t control my impulse to run?
It seems like I’m not the only one who has feared this for me. Not too long ago my mom told me that if I’d been married young I would’ve just been divorced young. Other close, extended family members have made similar comments.
When I try to discover the root of this fear, why despite having happily married parents I’ve feared I couldn’t be happy, it seems to have a source in my inexplicable connection to these women. To their stories and their failures. Because in their writing I found a similar gnawing hunger to my own. Because they’ve struck me as being about as impossible and exhausting as I am. Forces of nature like myself (to use a description a friend recently gave of me). Because it is hard to imagine a man with enough love for a force of nature. Who could be that patient and that good.
But I’m finding that my impression of these women’s lives was not entirely accurate. Though Charlotte may have been suffocated in her first marriage, her second was far from a failure. Though Virginia committed suicide, she found great happiness with her husband. Her letter bespeaks such great love: Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness.
I feel like Sidda in “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.” Unburdened of her fears after her mother’s friends revealed to her the true sources of her mother’s unhappiness and withdraw during her childhood. Finally able to step into her own fate instead of stalling.