VIRGINIA WOOLF by Louise DeSalvo


The Impact of Childhood Sexual Abuse
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Virginia Woolf scholar DeSalvo (coeditor of The Letters of Vita Sackville-West to Virginia Woolf, 1984) applies great sensitivity as well as an understanding of the lasting trauma of child abuse to this important and painful new look at Woolf's presumed "madness," her suicide, and her literary and intellectual accomplishments. Woolf (nÇe Stephen) was sexually abused by her two half-brothers for many years, beginning at age six. (While this fact has not been disputed, its effect on Woolfs life has been minimized--e.g., Woolf's horror at the violation has been used as evidence of her own inadequacies and intrinsic fear of sex.) DeSalvo shatters the prevailing view of the Stephen family as loving and happy until the untimely death of Mrs. Stephen ended the idyll. Instead, she shows a family wracked by crisis, violence, and incest, in which the women and girls were routinely exploited in every sense by the men. According to DeSalvo, the childish and tyrannical father was no aberration, but rather a typical Victorian paterfamilias and the logical product of his culture. DeSalvo's work gives an added clarity to Woolf's fiction, in which children appear terrified and abandoned, and to her essays that attacked the child-rearing practices and family structure of her era (even now widely considered to be a golden age of middle-class family life), equating them with male violence and imperialism. Essential reading for those interested in Woolf or the sexual abuse of children: learned, emotionally gripping, and frightening in its societal implications.

Pub Date: April 24th, 1989
ISBN: 8070-6326-6
Publisher: Beacon
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