Revealed: Woolf's suicide secret

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A NEW biography by an eminent psychiatrist is to reveal that the mental instability which drove the novelist Virginia Woolf to commit suicide had tormented her family for four generations.

Peter Dally, a former consultant at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London, also overturns the commonly held view that she was a victim of sexual abuse.

This is expected to enrage many feminist writers who have seized upon Woolf, like Sylvia Plath who also killed herself, and presented her as a victim of male oppression.

In his book Virginia Woolf: The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Mr Dally uses his clinical knowledge to study the life of the writer, whom he regards as a classic example of inherited manic depression.

According to Mr Dally, if she had been alive today, Woolf 's condition could have been treated with Lithium, Prozac and therapy.

By analysing records, Mr Dally has identified a pattern of depression occurring every January and February, followed by a "high" in the summer.

The author traces Woolf's illness through her father Leslie Stephen to the 17th century. Another of her ancestors, James Stephen, also a writer, died destitute after losing his fortune as a result of his own mental instability.

Born in 1882, Virginia Woolf was a member of the Blooms-bury set of writers. Despite a prolific career, she suffered recurring bouts of depression. She drowned herself in the River Ouse in Sussex in 1941.

Her half-brother, George Duckworth, has been accused of sexually molesting her, acting as a catalyst for her depression. But Mr Dally claims that she had a very loving and affectionate relationship with her sibling.

Mr Dally, who set up one of the first eating disorder clinics in this country, said Woolf was not anorexic, but had an undefined eating disorder. "There were periods when she did not eat at all, which were connected to her irritation with her husband," said Mr Dally, who lives in Sussex.

"But I think it's untrue that she was molested by her brother. He would come into her bedroom and cover her with kisses, but there is no evidence that she was upset by this. It has been blown out of proportion by feminists.

"My view is that she welcomed the attention and was very upset when George died."

`Virginia Woolf: The Marriage of Heaven and Hell' is published by Robson Books in May, pounds 17.95.