ISAR logo
 

Joana Nossa - Virginia Woolf

“Books are the mirror of soul.” - Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf was an English writer and essayist born in 1882 in an upper-class family of English society during the Victorian period, and was one of the most innovative and experimental writers of her time. In her new style of writing called “stream of consciousness”, the imprint of experience and emotion on the inner lives of characters is as important as the stories they act out.

The technique aims to give readers the impression of being inside the mind of the character - an internal view that illuminates plot and motivation in the novel. Thoughts spoken aloud are not always the same as those “on the floor of the mind”, as Woolf put it. And this will be very interesting to see through the birth chart.

The stories around her parents define much of her story and life and were very documented in many of biographies. Especially because most of her book characters were inspired by her own experiences. Woolf had announced that the production of her text constitutes for her a sort of “psychoanalytic catharsis” and we will understand more of this dynamic later through the birth chart.

Her father, Sir Leslie Stephen was a literary critic, an author, an historian and a biographer. He had four children from is second marriage with Julia Prinsep Stephen, and Virginia was the third to be born. She had four more four half-siblings from previous marriages of her parents, who both have widowed before meeting each other.

Both her parents were socially and artistically very well connected. Virginia lived in a house in 22 Hyde Park Gate in London with many servants, having full access to the magnificent library of her father and contacting with many important writers.

Virginia and her father Leslie Stephen

Through her father’s eyes, her mother - Julia Prinsep Stephen was the embodiment of the perfect Victorian woman, whose life was centered upon her husband and children, filled with charity work and house hold duties.

Julia Prinsep Stephen

In addition to her family duties, she was noted for her beauty and was a model for Pre-Raphaelite 

painters. She was a philanthropist and wrote a book based on her nursing experiences - Notes from Sick Rooms, in 1883.

Julia Stephen by Edward Burne-Jones

At the age of 13 her mother dies and she Virginia had her first mental breakdown. Biographers said that she might have blamed her father for his overexploitation of Julia, his need for her solicitousness and the fact that she took care of so many people.

One of Virginia’s alter-ego, the character of Lily Briscoe, has this line in the book “To the Lighthouse” referring to Mrs. Ramsay (a character inspired in her own mother), “Mrs. Ramsay had given. Giving, giving, giving, she had died - and had left all of this”.

The death of her mother was soon followed by a “second maternal loss” as she referred, when her half-sister and surrogate mother Stella Duckworth dies, two years later. When Virginia was fifteen years old, Stella died soon after Julia and appeared as an “aftershock after their mother’s death”. Virginia’s father died when she was 22 years old and her brother, Tholby, dies when she was 24.

Virginia Woolf suffered periodic mood swings and she would go from severe depression to manic excitement, with psychotic episodes where she heard voices. In today’s psychiatry, they would probably consider her illness as bipolar disorder.

After Virginia’s parent’s death, the family decided to sell the house and move to Bloomsbury.

The siblings started to live there, and her 25 year-old sister Vanessa, was the one in charge for the family.

At their home, the well-known Bloomsbury Group was born. The Bloomsbury Group is a gathering of associated English writers, intellectuals, philosophers and artists who later had major influence in literature, aesthetics, and economics as well as in modern attitudes towards feminism, pacifism and sexuality. Among them was T. S. Elliot and Clive Bell.

Virginia got married at 1912 at the age of 30, to the literary critic Leonard Woolf and they stayed together for the rest of her life. Although they had a relationship full of friendship and support, biographers wrote that they didn’t relate sexually.

Virginia and Leonard founded the Hogarth Press in 1917, and they start printing books by manual processes. Soon they would publish 25 to 35 books per year. Among them were books of Anna and Sigmund Freud, Maximo Gorky, Rainer Maria Rilke, Gertrude Stein. 

In the 1930s, using their own influence among the literary community, they start publishing books about themes as disarmament, feminism, peace, race issues, economy, education and psychology. Hogarth Press would be the son they never had.

It should be noted that in December 1922, Virginia fell in love with her female friend Vita Sackville-West, which later would inspire the androgynous character of Orlando.

During World War I, Virginia suffered from a nervous breakdown, followed by a series of physical, mental and emotional breakdowns and the doctors’ start treating her with medication. One of the mentioned origins of her mental instability was the fact her half-brothers Gerald and George sexually abused her during her childhood. It is also speculated that Woolf might have had an incestuous relationship with her sister Vanessa.

 

 

 

 

Virginia and her husband Leonard Woolf

Her books expressed the themes that intrigued her the most: life and death, suicide, madness and memories from the past. She was very sensitive to criticism and she used writing as a distraction from reality. When she understood that she couldn’t write anymore, she chooses not to live.

Virginia Woolf committed suicide in 1941 by drowning herself, filling her overcoat pockets with stones and walking into the River Ouse near her home; she was 59 years old.

Virginia and her sense of identity

The Sun is the core of our being. With the Sun in Aquarius in the 9th Virginia Woolf built her sense of identity with an intellectual approach to life, with an attachment to the world of ideas and with focus in higher studies. She probably would seek to broaden her horizons, searching for wisdom and meaning and it was important for her to be independent in her beliefs.

Her father - Leslie Stephen, symbolized as well by this 9th house Sun, was a known Victorian intellectual: old clerical, philosopher and Doctor of Letters from the University of Cambridge and Oxford. Her father would stay in his library for days, dedicated to his work of writing a monumental encyclopedia. This description is so related with her position of the Sun.

Virginia probably valued professionalism, hard work and her self-sufficiency as she has Venus in Capricorn in conjunction to her Sun.

When we look at her birth chart we can see how her career was so important in the construction of her identity: she has a Stellium of Venus in Capricorn, the Sun and the MC in Aquarius and they square Saturn in Taurus. She identified so much with her career defining such high standards for herself, that when she understood she couldn’t write, she decided not to live. 

Numerous literary critics have signaled the fact that Virginia’s Woolf personal life and her work were inseparable, and part of her life was inscribed in every novel she wrote, reflecting her major symbols and leitmotifs.

Ceres conjunct to the Sun, reminds us of the Persephone myth, and therefore it’s possible that she lived themes of loss and consequent growth. The myth of Demeter and Persephone was central in much of Woolf’s work. This is especially moving for a writer who always thought of herself as a “motherless daughter”. 

The Demeter/Persephone myth allows us think about refuge, redemption and resurrection. The mother will never abandon her daughter. She will wait and search the underworld, bringing her out of the darkness of the sexual experience, back into the light of light and freedom.

There are so many stories of loss in Virginia Woolf’s life. The first to die was her mother, which image was very minified. Then her father died, and later her half-sister and her brother. 

One of the ways she lived this myth was by the incestuous abuse from 6 years old to the age of 24, by her two half-brothers George and Gerald. (Mercury is squaring Neptune, Chiron, and Jupiter in the 12th).

At the same time, this position of Ceres will enhance productivity related with higher studies and philosophies and with her career.

The Aquarius 9th house Sun, makes me think that her beliefs were related with humanitarian principles, with the importance of community. In the search for meaning, it was important for her to understand ways of contributing to society.

This was quite notorious when we read about the work she had published about disarmament, peace, racial issues, processes of occupational segregation, wage discrimination, imposition of separate spheres and social exclusion, education and the way she was involved in women’s rights movement.

Sun’s regents - Saturn and Uranus - are in the twelve and the fifth house and tell us more about the way she expressed herself.

The Sun enlightens what he touches, and with an applying square with such a tight orb to Saturn and Vesta, her fears and her spirit of sacrifice get focus and at the same time her self-image and self-esteem could be affected.

For many reasons, Virginia should have felt a lack of recognition, the feeling of not being important. It was hard for her to take away thoughts of self-criticism and self-doubt. The fact that this Saturn/Vesta conjunction is in Taurus in the 12th, may indicate that she felt imprisoned, isolated, limited and with a feeling of sacrifice, related with the issue of material things. 

In reading her biography, I think we could say, that she had felt imprisoned by the status of her family. This probably conflicts with her irreverent sense of identity and the need for freedom. A rebel herself, an independent woman writer in the times when Victorian values still prevailed in the society, Virginia Woolf had, of course, to face and deal with that image.

The house she lived during her childhood and youth years, 22 Hyde Park Gate, was a house with five floors, dark paint and draperies, heavy Victorian furniture, poor lightning inside. This probably heightened the sense of enclosure. This description of her house describes in a certain manner, the interior conflict (square) that may exist between her need for intellectual freedom (Aquarius Sun in the 9th) and the restrictions and isolation that her genetic heritage and her past brought (12th house Saturn and Vesta).

“Lock up your libraries…”

Virgo is on the 5th house cusp and Uranus, the regent of the Sun, is retrograde and is the actor of this house. This will enhance an inclination to perfectionism and criticism towards her self-expression, paying great attention to detail. Along with her Aquarian Sun, this retrograde Uranus in the 5th needs much space and independence, giving her irreverence.

Her unconventional love life

Analyzing her 5th house we can understand how she lived romance. There is a feeling of taking on board an outlandish attitude, an impulse to be different, as Uranus is the guest of this house.

In 1927, she assumed her relationship with the aristocrat, writer and poet Vita Sackville-West, and the British society was shocked. Later, Vita would inspire the androgynous character of her novel Orlando.

Mercury is exalted in Aquarius and Uranus is retrograde in Virgo, they are in mutual reception and in a quincunx aspect, which brings a lot of creative mental energy and a constant adaptation to that, dynamic.

Uranus is the impulse to be different, to be provocative, creative, eccentric. Her self-expression (5th house) was to write. And she would do it in a style out of the norm. She was one of the most innovative and experimental writers of her time. In fact, later we will understand how this Mercury and in parallel her writing, will act like an escape from her challenging psychological dynamics.

Virginia had one relationship during her life, with her husband, friend and companion Leonard Woolf. The writer had Venus in Capricorn in the 9th house and Juno in Capricorn in the 8th house, which relates to a person that would live a long-term relationship, in a serious and constructed way.

She shared her life with someone who shared the same work and philosophies and probably this relation contributed to processes of transformation.

One of her biographies refers that her relationship with Leonard was a cornerstone of enormous friendship, but they didn’t relate sexually. To Virginia, this relation was very important (Aquarius Sun conjunct Capricorn Venus) and should be intellectually very fertile, as she has Ceres conjunct to Sun and Venus in the 9th.

Although her 7th house opens with the open-minded, spontaneous, optimistic Sagittarius, giving her a great need of space, the regent Jupiter, is in the 12th house, and in conjunction to Neptune and Chiron, so probably she felted isolated and she would relate relationship with sacrifice and pain.

Her Capricorn Venus and her Taurus Saturn are in mutual reception, which could indicate someone who had fear, felt limited in her relationships, in love and affection. At the same time she relates in a profound and intense way, as Venus trines Pluto.

Virginia’s emotions and her mother - Julia Stephen

Before exploring her 12th house Moon in Aries, let us remember some important facts about Virginia’s mother.

  • Julia Prinsep Stephen dedicated her life to take care of many people.
  • She lost her first husband at the age of 24 and she had already three children.
  • She married Virginia’s father that was 14 years older. 
  • She took care of the house, her husband, and eight children (one of them disabled). 
  • She dedicated as well her time to charity, taking care of the dying, and helping the needed. 
  • She had a strong sense of social justice, traveling around London by bus, nursing the sick in hospitals. She would later write about her nursing experience in her Notes from Sick Rooms.

In some letters of Virginia we could sense that her mother didn’t have much time to dedicate her attention.

Julia died when Virginia was 13 years old. Her father promoted an idealization, almost canonization of her mother. And in her work Reminiscences, Woolf writes, “We insisted that to be like mother, was to achieve the height of human perfection.”

Her struggle between the inherited myth of her mother and the actual experience of her creates ambiguity in the mothers that she creates in her work. She did an effort to demythologize maternity, allowing the mothers to have flaws.

Virginia has strong feelings of abandonment and a desire to fill the void left by her absent mother.

Now, let’s look at her birth chart.

Her Moon is in Aries in the 12th house squaring her Venus in Capricorn in the 9th. This 12th house Moon, points to a feeling of isolation, of being encapsulated in her childhood or that she felt vulnerable, alone. This could bring a boundless need for nutrition and as we saw, an idealization of her mother.

With this square it was more difficult for her to express as woman. (Beyond that, Saturn is in mutual reception to Venus). There is an inner conflict between her lack of affection due to a distant mother and the way she would act in her relationships. She must have felt a conflict between, her as a child and her as a woman. She would search in her relationships for this idealized mother figure.

In one of her letters, Virginia describes her relationship with her female friend Vita: “She lavishes on me the maternal protection which, for some reason, is what I have always most wished from everyone”.

In Virginia’s biography written by Jane Dunn, this phrase describes her relation with Vita: “Virginia never left the crystallite she existed as a child, and she didn’t lived her sexual maturity and maternity.”

The theme of isolation is very present: feeling isolated and needing that isolation.

With a Crescent Moon the challenge could have been to trust in her and focus her energy. But she could have felt as she was searching for a dream, and when she was breaking new ground, the destiny would put rocks in her way.

The energy of retrograde Mars in Gemini in sextile to the Moon, was probably more psychological than physical and could be mentally very stressful (Moon in the 12th and Mars retrograde, directing their energies to interior processes). Maybe it was difficult for her to relax, because the psychological impetus was great.

She could have felt a difficulty in exteriorizing her aggressive feelings, her will, to be assertive and people would think that she was calmer than she really felt inside. 

Writing as an escape to her interior world

When we think about Virginia Woolf, even if we don’t know much about her interesting and complex life, we know that she was a writer. This will be forever her identity card.

Her ascendant is Gemini and Mercury is in Aquarius in the 10th house. This translates in perfection someone who mediates with the outside world through words and that will be known through her career; someone who was seen as a notable and innovative writer, who created a new style.

In a time ruled by Victorian canons, she wrote about the interior experience of her characters and we can observe as well that her 10th house career orientated Mercury is in aspect to a 12th house Stellium (Jupiter, Chiron and Neptune). This Stellium is food for her stories! At the same time, this aspect makes me think of the fact that she used to hear voices during her psychotic periods. In the suicide letter she left to her dedicated husband Leonard Woolf, she confessed to be trapped in madness again.

Virginia should be a person with great sensitivity and empathy to human suffering but at the same time should feel the need to escape and she used her talent to do this (the square of Mercury to this Stellium). More than an escape to this dynamics it was a major support, the connection between her imagery/ her madness and reality.

Remembering what I wrote before in her short biography, Woolf announced that the production of her text constitutes for her a sort of “psychoanalytic catharsis”. This 12th house has strong actors, such as Moon, Saturn, Neptune, Jupiter, Chiron and Pluto.

All these dynamics could be hard to handle. She referred many times a fear of her madness, fear of losing herself, of loosing control. It’s very ambiguous because at the same time this condition was very fertile. All the planets except the Moon are in the productive and fertile Taurus, and Saturn is conjunct Neptune, giving form to her imagination.

“As an experience, madness is terrific… and in its lava I still find most of the things I write about.”

She wrote to Ethel Smyth in 1930.

Writing, as her biography refers, was a distraction from reality.

This sentence is extremely curious. In observing 10th house dynamics in contrast to 12th house ones, we would ally Mercury and the 10th with a more tangible part of the personality and the planets in the 12th, with a less tangible facet. But she felt the 12th house dynamics as reality where she was sinking and the escape from reality was through her 10th house Mercury. In fact we know, that houses full of planets depict highly significant areas of life. I think as well that the fact that there are in Taurus makes this energies materialize in her life in a very concrete and solid way.

Her underworld

When the king of the underworld, Pluto, is an actor in the 12th - a house related to the unconscious, there will be a tendency to absorb the negativity around us, what is darker, what isn’t talked, what is hidden, what lies beneath. Maybe we could say, that there was a link between her unconscious and the collective shadow, taboos, and collective suffering as well.

Pluto speaks to us about power abuse and abuse in general, the 12th house speaks about suffering and guilt.

Pluto is in a large orb trine to Ceres and both are part of Persephone myth. Both speak about histories of death, to be reborn and renovation, accepting the changes, pain and grief. The losses and separation stories in Virginia’s life were many. Separation from the parent is a kind of death. She was forced to reborn several times, at least she had to adapt to the great changes in her life due of loss. The transformative process of this dynamic could be a genetic heritage. 

As Pluto is retrograde in her birth chart and in a house of the unconscious, Virginia could have a difficult time bringing her dark side to scrutiny. It may happen, that when this energy remains so interiorized and don’t find any channels to come to the surface, that is an enormous challenge to an healthy psychological dynamic.

Pluto is representative as well of how she acts in relation to sex and the fact that:

  • Pluto is retrograde and in the 12th
  • Scorpio is intercepted in the 6th
  • 8th house opens in Capricorn could indicate that her sexual desire may not be expressed so spontaneously and naturally.

It’s referred in one of her biographies:

“The complex and ambiguous sexuality of the British writer has been object of multiple studies. The sexual abuses from her half-brothers George and Gerald during her childhood - theme that she exposed in her diaries - left an open wound which definitely interfere in her relation to men, and could explain to some extent, her known frigidity.”

Virginia suffer from a mental condition that started in her puberty and that was characterized by depressive episodes, associated to psychotic episodes where she hear voices. In a biography written by Quentin Bell an episode is mentioned, that she started speaking without stopping, with turbulence and incoherence and she drowned in a state of coma. During the episodes, with the help and presence of her sister Vanessa and her husband Leonard, she remained in health houses and sanatoriums. She always refused psychiatric hospitalization.

In the letter she left before committing suicide, she confessed hearing voices again, “I begin to hear voices and I can’t concentrate”.

Even though I’m not prepared to analyze information in her chart related to her mental condition, I can understand that all this planetary dynamics in the 12th house, mostly in an intercepted sign, may activate her personal and collective unconscious, operating in a powerful and at the same time subtle and indirectly way, being very difficult to channel to direct action.

There was for sure the big wish to return back to Unity…

****

I will end the work with a quotation of Virginia, evoking that her watery 12th house opens in the fire of Aries:

 

Bibliography:

Dunn Jane (1993): Vanessa Bell, Virginia Woolf

Grashoff, Udo (2006): I’m leaving: suicide letters

Bell, Quentin (2003): Virginia Wolf

Infopédia. Porto: Porto Editora, 2003-2011

Reid, Panthea: Art and affection : a life of Virginia Woolf