AROHO’s No No/An Intriguing Book About Virginia Woolf’s Manic Depression



Happy day before Halloween!


Several weeks have passed since I emailed A Room of Her Own Foundation for Women: Writers: Artists, a well-funded nonprofit also known as AROHO. 

The A Room of Her Own website features a profile of a young Virginia Woolf in its logo. Woolf is referenced throughout the AROHO website, i.e. the foundation’s mission and Woolf’s bio. There’s not a peep about her lifelong struggle with manic depression which had a massive influence upon her work.



I wrote in gory detail about what happened after I contacted AROHO in my post A Stigma of Her Own. While the post received fantastic replies and generated a lively discussion, when it came to AROHO’s eagerly anticipated reply to my suggestions, I only heard crickets chirping. 

I’m not surprised they didn’t get back to me “thoughtfully”- that’s what their auto-generated email which I received from them promised me: “Thanks for your email and we’ll get back to you thoughtfully within a few days.”

However, I was disappointed all the same. I figure that whoever ignored my emails will have to face her stigma at some point. She won’t be able to run away from it, since mental illness affects one in four people in this country.

An interesting thing that came out of this experience was finding two books written solely about Virginia Woolf’s life with manic depression. (There very well may be more books, as I only did a quick Google search!)

The book by Thomas C. Caramagno titled Flight of the Mind got great reviews across the board and get this – it has an afterword by Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, author of the bestseller An Uniquiet Mind and numerous other books.  (Dr. Jamison discusses Woolf and manic depression in her classic book Touched with Fire.) 


The other book is titled The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: Manic Depression and the Life of Virginia Woolf by retired British psychiatrist Peter Dally. It only received one Amazon review (at least it was 5 stars), but Kirkus and Library Journal’s reviews were very lukewarm. 


Before I continue, I promise each of you I will let this subject go, but here’s my last longwinded sentence to sum up everything:

I located these two Woolf & manic depression books after I contacted AROHO. I was frankly amazed to find two books written exclusively about how Woolf’s manic depression affected her writing. 

The fact that AROHO, a big, cushy nonprofit claiming to be dedicated to women writers and artists, has swept such a profound aspect of Woolf’s life under the carpet is ludicrous.

I wish I could get Woolf’s take on it! Who knows what she would say or write on the matter? I could have a seance tomorrow night and ask her myself…NOT! 😉

(For the record, I’m fascinated by the afterlife, but I wouldn’t be up for doing that. It would most likely annoy Woolf.)

So on that cheerful note I bid you adieu.

I wish you a wonderful Halloween, my favorite day of the year! What will you be? I’m going to be a mysterious dark vampirish lady sans fangs. 

take care & be careful on the streets while filling up those candy bags. (Hey! You’re never too old.)


p.s. I would LOVE your take on any of this: Virginia Woolf, stigma, hypocritical nonprofits, seances, the afterlife, whatever.  

p.p.s. My friend the blogger extraordinaire Kitt O’Malley shared a very cool resource: UC Press E-books Collection to read Thomas C. Caramagno’s book The Flight of the Mind – Virginia Woolf’s Art and Manic-Depressive Illness.

Please visit the link here



Dyane’s memoir Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder with a foreword by Dr. Walker Karraa (author of the acclaimed book Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth) will be published by Post Hill Press in early 2017.

27 thoughts on “AROHO’s No No/An Intriguing Book About Virginia Woolf’s Manic Depression

  1. I don’t believe in the possibility of contacting the dead, but I do suspect she’d be annoyed – not with you, but with a charity that uses her name, but sweeps perhaps the second most important part of her life under the rug.

    • I LOVE your comment!!!!!
      You totally nailed it – it can’t get any better than what you wrote.

      Thanks so much for taking time to write – you made my day.
      have a great Friday and keep thinking those awesome thoughts, mythoughts62!

  2. I wonder what they gain, or think they gain, by skirting the issue of Woolf’s illness. I mean, she offed herself, so it’s not like it didn’t have any impact on her life. Wonder if it’s aligned to whatever official body administers her estate etc, they’d have to have permission to name their npo after her. Maybe they don’t want their focus (arts) dwarfed by her illness and suicide. Idk I’m just playing devil’s advocate. Not that there’s any way of knowing and not that it matters now, but she might have just wanted to be remembered for her work. Anyway, thanks for the thought provoking post and thanks Kitt for that very cool link.

    “I have lost friends, some by death…others by sheer inability to cross the street.”
    ― Virginia Woolf

      • It is! Look at what I wrote back to her (i.e. “The Little Death” reference….I didn’t want to give away what happened in the film, but the timing is kind of uncanny! Virginia Woolf would have found what happened in the film to be very compelling)

    • These are all excellent questions/points to consider. I love the quote! Strangely enough i treated myself to a DVD last night called “The Little Death (Aussie indie film) in which a character’s shocking inability to cross the street has stayed with me. I digress. (What else is new, eh?) I plan on reading the Caramagno book; it’s possible he found proof of Woolf’s own attitude towards her mental illness and I would be very interested in learning what she thought about it!

  3. I see that in their About page they state, “AROHO is a growing collective of women bonded by a common goal: to transform ourselves.” Is it possible to positively transform a half-truth? To be empowered to transform yourself you have to acknowledge the whole truth of yourself. I guess it depends on what you mean by “writing your own story.” If you are content to have it be a work of fiction, then perhaps half-truths are enough.

    • After reading this comment, Vic, I boldly proclaimed “Booyakashaw!”

      I was thrilled you looked at the original source. I was even more pleased with the question that you posited as well as your interpretation. After finding those 2 books written about the influence of Woolf’s manic depression upon her writing, I now believe 100% that a truthful, full depiction of her life needs to be told to our current and future generations.

  4. I’m not surprised at the books devoted to her life/mental illness, actually, though I am surprised that neither was written by a literature professor. All those people trying to get a doctorate/tenure/full professorship in literature have to publish A LOT to achieve anything, and there’s a rich vein to mine with the Woolf/her work/psychiatric aspect. I suspect you’d find even more papers in academic journals, literary and psychological. (Pity the Shakespeare profs. What original premise can they have on the Bard that hasn’t been said in the last three-four hundred years?! Hence some of the bizarre literary theories that exist.)

    • Great point about how neither book was written by a lit. professor (you know I was an English/American literature major at school, although I hate to admit that I did not read any Virginia Woolf – I’d like to blame that upon all my professors!) ANYWAY….yes, there is gold to mine regarding her mental state & her work. I have to chuckle about your Shakespeare comment – so true. I took an introductory Shakespeare class but I was so, so lucky because my U.C. Santa Cruz professor was brilliant, entertaining and a natural actor as well. The acclaimed Shakespeare Santa Cruz Theater consulted with him for years. He was one of my mentors, and I still think of him often, 25 years later!

      • Oddly enough, I didn’t read any Woolf for college or grad school, either. The professor who taught Woolf was notoriously difficult: she apparently thrived on four hours of sleep at night and expected her students to do the same. More than one English major told me that after taking a class from her, “I hate English now.” I find that incredibly sad. (Tough, I could handle; but ripping all the joy from a text isn’t tough, it’s ridiculous and disheartening.) She was the 3rd Americanist in my school’s department, and I should have had her on my thesis committee. But lucky for me, she didn’t “do” Melville. Dead white men weren’t her thing. That’s why I avoided all her classes and I avoided Woolf (her favorite author) for years afterward. Finally read one of Woolf’s novels. Happy to report that the process wasn’t a joyless misery!

  5. About twelve year years ago I spent a year in Woolf land. Read all the novels (To the Lighthouse my favorite), a fat bio, the abridged journals, and the wonderful essays. I’m not sure there is a whole lot to say about the manic depression except that she was a genius who had manic depression, was clearly molested as a child by brothers and cousins, had a stern and domineering Victorian patriarch for a father, a sexless but sustaining marriage, and periodic breakdowns of severe intensity (she heard the birds singing in Greek); the last of which she decided, when the wind of the wing of madness brushed her, not to endure; so dropped stones in her pockets and sank into the river Ouse. I agree with Blah. She would prefer her books to be read; the best of her. The rest is corpse picking and grave digging and a little icky. I’m not sure what there is to learn except that great art often comes at a tragic personal cost. My three cents.

    • Love your perspective. Similar to what I argued on my response to Dy’s last post on AROHO. We are more than our diagnoses. Our increased intensity may result in art as the push of thoughts and intensity of emotions need release, yet our diagnoses do not define us.

    • I’ll start by letting you know how out of it I am (yes, that’s my usual state of mind, but shhhhhh! don’t tell anyone else, okay?) I thought your first sentence read “twelve light years ago” – cue Star Wars or Star trek music here – your choice.

      I’m very impressed with your Year in Woolfland. I think you should write a book about THAT! It’s a catchy title and no one else has done that before – just stuff like “My Year of No Sugar”- snooze. If *you* wrote it, you’d create a bestseller and it would a helluva more interesting than so many of the “Year Of” pap books I see published every other week.

      She heard the birds singing in Greek? Whoa.

      Maybe you’d find the Caramango book worth a peek! (only because he might surprise you with something interesting and relevant….you never know!) Kitt provided a link to his book after all….Let me know if you do take a look-see as I’d love your thirty, or even forty cents on it! I’m a big spender.

      You can debate me on this and I promise to remain your friend, but I’d go so far as to propose that if the word got out to bipolarland/mental health/mental illness communities about Virginia Woolf’s manic depression, there would be a Woolf
      reading revival– that would be positive, yes? If you gave me a choice of reading a genius who had bipolar and a genius who did not have it, I’d choose to read the former’s work because (despite no matter how the artist died) I’d be very moved by his/her experiences. That’s just me. Warts and all! 🙂

      p.s. Thanks for writing – you’re a fabulous writer. Haven’t I written that at your blog?
      I haven’t had time to read all your posts yet! Think about my suggestion for your Year Book. 😉

      • It was eleven or so years ago Diane! Completely forgotten. I could maybe write a short essay about another writer, if paid good money, but far too much an egotist to spend real effort and labor on anyone’s prose but my own 😇😇 And honestly, I thought everyone who still read literature knew Woolf was a raging manic depressive. Right up there with Van Gogh, Byron, John Clare, Tennyson, Hemingway, Plath etc etc, all the usual suspects.

      • And frankly, in kindly antagonism to perhaps the general drift here, when I die, if my books survive (who am I kidding, I wouldn’t be writing if I didn’t think they would survive) I would not want them prefaced by: these be the books of a bipolar. To hell with that. It’s patronizing and condescending and can’t help but imply that whatever of truth and beauty they contain is not “universal” but entangled in and “problematized” by (to use a favorite word of the Hacks of Academe) a disordered subjectivity. Obviously rankles me a little little! Virginia Woolf is just a name attached to a few books: those books are her actual, definite, hard legacy: the rest is cemetery whistling and psychoanalytic speculative vaudeville. But whatever, I really don’t feel strident. If Virginia Woolf’s aura can somehow help fight stigma, great, yay, all for it. I’m just leery because focusing on the bipolar has a way of “qualifying the art”; which happens to be more intelligent, subtle, discerning, alive, beautiful, and real than anything any living psychiatrist or academic has to say. — blushes, steps off soapbox, walks to chainsmoke and grouch at the birds — Love your blog Diane, and your cheerful support, and seizures of TMI 😇😇😇😇😇

  6. Thanks for the shout out and for sharing so many great resources. More books to add to my reading list… You sound like you are doing well. Enjoy Halloween. Eat so much high quality chocolate that your tummy aches (gotta do it – I will, too).

    • My pleasure to shout you out whenever possible, in good ways only, of course! 😉

      Today didn’t start out so well. At 6:30 a.m. Marilla said “I have a tummy ache” and then proceeded to do Exorcist-style projectile vomiting all over the place. Sorry about TMI, but that set the tone for the day.

      After clean-up duty, I rewarded myself with writing about Virginia Woolf and AROHO while the girls watched the scintillating “My Little Poiny”. There’s no school today (teacher in-service day – boo!) and both kids are home all day long.

      Enjoy Halloween my dear – I will, and you can bet I’ll hit the obscenely expensive, fair trade, organic MILK!!! chocolate.

      I think Rilla will be better by tomorrow night. She probably had something funky at her Halloween party @ school yesterday. Poor thing. Kept apologizing profusely for making a mess and thanked me for cleaning up. I told her that while yes, I get grumpy at her for various “don’t do thats” I will never, ever get mad at her for being sick!

  7. It is petty, pukish and cowardly to acknowledge only parts of a person. And frankly, it pisses me off. Hey, maybe I’m channeling Woolf. But REALLY!! Who was she??? If they want to honor her, then honor ALL of her, including her bipolar-ness. I’m not going to say illness and I’m not going to say broken-ness. Just bipolar-ness. That’s a pretty large defining piece of a person. To ignore this is by definition, ignorant.

    • The only thing more irritating than being shoved into the closet by cowards are those who want to dismiss mental illness by pairing with with an equally dismissed genius.

      • Hello Robert! Thanks so much for stopping by & taking time to read/comment.
        I’m grateful to you for understanding how I feel! Your comment made me feel good.

        I haven’t heard a peep from AROHO (quelle surprise!) although I “tagged” them on Twitter for the first time last week. Shocking that I didn’t even get a “like” from them! 😉 Hopefully they’ll see the light at some point. I’ll let you all know if anything shocking happens, i.e. they have the courtesy to reply.

        all my best to you,

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