The Eyes of Virginia Woolf

Post by Wanda Smit

Virginia Woolf was one of the most important 20th-century modernist writers and, like James Joyce, a pioneer in the use of stream of consciousness as a narrative device. At age 59, she put an end to this flow of consciousness by drowning herself in a deep stream, the Ouse River. She had had enough of all the suffering her mental instability had caused in her life.

Over her relatively short life, Virginia wrote a body of autobiographical work and more than five hundred essays and reviews. Her works are widely read all over the world and have been translated into more than 50 languages. Woolf’s reputation was at its greatest during the 1930s, but declined considerably following World War II. However, the growth of feminist criticism in the 1970s helped re-establish her reputation.

Born on 25 January, 1882 in London at 12:15. From AstroDatabank. Rodden Rating A

The chart could be an abstract drawing of a bonneted face in profile, with its nose in and its eye on Uranus on the 5th house cusp, a focus on creative self-expression, which was what kept Virginia going despite ongoing mental instability. In her journals she often refers to her great need to write. It literally was her life. She could capture her constant flow of consiousness – and subconsciousness – with words, thus making sense of the constant onslaught of opposites in her life. Her writing certainly heeded the call of the North Node in the 6th house of work.

Her Polarity

The title of Mitchell Leaska’s biography of Virginia Woolf – Granite and Rainbow – captures Virginia’s intense experience of polar opposites perfectly. (Ironically, she suffered from bipolar disorder for which there was no cure in Victorian times.) To get the approval of her learned and often tyrannical father, she had to be clever. To get the attention of her caring mother (who was most often out of the house looking after the sick), she had to be ill. Leaska calls these parental opposites her “father’s infantile selfishness” and her “mother’s pathological selflessness”.

There are no oppositions running through her core, but Age Point Progression can throw further light on the subject. With most of her planets in the individual hemisphere, Virginia’s consciousness would be acutely aware of the opposition of no fewer than 8 planets from the age of 15 to 33: Venus, the Sun, Mercury, the Moon, Saturn, Neptune, Jupiter and Pluto. All these planets are in the upper hemisphere, the conscious.

This gave her a strong sense of the unconscious and its role in her writing: “After a hard day’s work, (…) taking in the book of his mind innumerable notes, the writer becomes – if he can – unconscious. In fact, his under-mind works at top speed while his upper-mind drowses.” Putting the surplus of air in her temperament (-11) to good use, she was determined to “achieve symmetry through infinite discord, make harmony and wholeness out of shivering fragments” as she wrote in her journal.

Her Life

Virginia Stephens was born into an affluent household in South Kensington, London, the seventh child in a blended family of eight. As a family of educators, lawyers and writers the Stephens represented the elite intellectual aristocracy. Virginia showed an early affinity for writing. By the age of five she was writing letters and could tell her father a story every night. For her tenth birthday, she received an ink-stand, a blotter, drawing book and a box of writing implements – compliments of the AP/Neptune sextile in 1892.

While the boys in the family could be educated at Cambridge, the girls couldn’t and were therefore home-schooled in English, classics and Victorian literature. Their father’s vast library was open to them so that they had a greater depth of reading than any of their Cambridge contemporaries.

With the Sun as her strongest ego planet, her father and his mind were the dominant influences in her life. He was a writer, historian, essayist and biographer. Not surprising, as her Sun is on the 10th house cusp, and she would stand out from the crowd with her Aquarian thought, as if pre-empting the Aquarian Age. Her mother also played a key role in her writing, as indicated by the direct Large Learning Triangle with the Sun, Saturn and the North Node at its angles.

Virginia’s childhood came to an abrupt end in 1895 – when she was 13 – with the death of her mother and her first mental breakdown, followed two years later by the death of her older half-sister, Stella, who had become her surrogate mother, the role of which was then taken over by her older sister, Vanessa. Stella’s death was another blow to her sense of self which she described thus: “the lash of a random unheeding flail that pointlessly and brutally killed the two people who should, normally and naturally, have made those years, not perhaps happy but normal and natural”.

From 1897 to 1901, while her Age Point was traversing the 3rd house of learning, she and Vanessa attended the Ladies’ Department of King’s College London, where she took courses in advanced Ancient Greek, intermediate Latin and German, together with continental and English history. She also became involved in the women’s rights movement.

Her strong Sun is a few degrees from Venus in the 9th house, so it is understandable that her mind would be in touch with this female goddess, who got the bigger picture of the masculine and feminine in every human’s consciousness.

The next crisis was in 1897, when her consciousness opposed her Venus, the woman in her who wrote “death would be shorter & less painful”. In The Unknown Virginia Woolf, Roger Poole mentions the sexual molestation by her half-brother, Gerald, at this time. Could this experience be what was against her sense of the feminine?

Then came the major blow when her father died in 1904 – during the low point of the 4th house – and she threw herself out of a window. While her father was dying, she was sexually interfered with, this time by the other half-brother, George Duckworth. She was briefly institutionalised, but kept on feeling she was now a “broken chrysalis” with creased wings.

Her brother Thoby’s death in 1906 marked a “decade of deaths” that ended her childhood and adolescence. From then on she would sometimes hear their voices from the grave that, at times, seemed more real than her visual reality. Were these the voices she heard in the weeks leading up to her suicide?

George Duckworth, had the task of bringing the girls out into society which Virginia criticised strongly:   “Society in those days was a (…) ruthless machine. A girl had no chance against its fangs. No other desires – say to paint, or to write – could be taken seriously”. With her Uranus on the 5th-house cusp, she would change this stifling scene with the help of her Venus and Sun.

The Goat

In childhood already, Virginia was called “The Goat” by her siblings. With her strong Sun and Mercury in the 10th house, her mind and her writing reached ever higher peaks, making the goat ruler (Capricorn) of this house proud. And letting Virginia live up to her name.

Her Dominant Presence

She is an excellent example of the retrograde Dominant Triangle. Mercury is the highest planet in her chart, in the 10th house. She certainly became an authority both in literature and in the subsequent feminist movement.

Jupiter, at the other angle of the Dominant Triangle, in the 12th house, is conjunct Neptune and fired up by Mercury – and vice versa. Her creative adventures in the world of the imagination – Jupiter in the 12th house – were sparked by Mercury who, in turn, could communicate them through her writing, and later, through her lectures. Her favourite place to be was behind the scenes of life, in the hidden world, “in a room of her own.” As Jupiter is in Taurus, who is ruled by Venus, it is not surprising that Virginia’s consciousness would be more feminine than masculine.

Her Mercury longed for new ways of creative self-expression, as suggested by quincunx to Uranus on the 5th house cusp. As the latter planet is in Virgo, ruled by Mercury, these expressions would be thought-provoking. Via the trine, Uranus then shares her creative imagination with Jupiter conjunct Neptune, thus getting, in return, Jupiter’s landscape view of the hidden world of the 12th house, in a creative rendering, thanks to Neptune’s creative energy. But Neptune is also the energy of dissolution, which was evident in Virginia’s mental breakdowns which left their imprints on Jupiter’s bigger picture.

In Aspect Pattern Astrology, the Hubers state: “There is a pronounced creative quality in the Dominant Triangle, thus, in the case of successful problem-solving, producing a personality with a stronger influence in the environment.” (Aspect Pattern Astrology, p. 203)

Could it be Virginia’s dominant presence that had children she passed on the street laughing at her, as if ‘laughing off’ her powerful energy? In Beginning Again, Leonard Woolf describes her strong presence thus: “…there was always this element or aura in her which was strange and disquieting to ordinary people. (…) I think this element was closely connected with the streak in her which I call genius.” (p. 30)

The Other Eye

Virginia has 4 planets in the 12th house which gave her insight into the hidden world, or what she called “the reality behind the show”. Like Doris Lessing (in the previous article on this blog) she also has Neptune conjunct Jupiter in the 12th house – creative adventures in the hidden world. But unlike Lessing, Virginia has Pluto there too.

Pluto is at the seeing end of The Eye (at the bottom of the Surfer aspect figure). Furthermore, this energy of the underworld is on a low point, thus drawing Virginia even more into its dark recesses, or what she called “The wedge-shaped core of darkness” in her novel, To The Lighthouse.

All the air in her enabled her to “soar into airy spaces of imagination.” In her journal, she wrote: “But how entirely I live in my imagination (…) which is to me my happiness.”

Her Writing

She began writing professionally in 1900, encouraged by her father. After the death of her parents, the family moved to the more bohemian Bloomsbury, where they adopted a free-spirited lifestyle. Together with their brothers’ intellectual friends – all Cambridge students – they formed the artistic and literary Bloomsbury Group – an excellent example of her Uranus on the cusp of the 5th house: an innovative creative self-expression that made a proud impression on the social scene.

In 1911, a year before Virginia married Leonard Woolf, her consciousness – then going through the 6th house of work – was opposed by Saturn. She feared that marriage would destroy her freedom as a writer. They married in 1912 and the next year – when Neptune’s creativity was opposed by her Age Point – she tried to commit suicide by taking an overdose of barbiturates.

Whenever she felt unstable, writing was her only coping mechanism. She published her first novel, The Voyage Out, in 1915. The 6th house low point that same year could be a reflection of Virginia’s fear of the critics often mentioned by her biographer.

In 1917 – when her Age Point encountered the North Node, suggesting she was on track for her soul’s journey – the Woolfs founded the Hogarth Press, which published most of their work. During the interwar period, Virginia was an important part of London’s literary and artistic society. Her best-known works include the novels Mrs Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927) and Orlando (1928). She is also known for her essays, including the book-length A Room of One’s Own (1929), in which she wrote the phrase that would be quoted by the later Feminists: “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

Her Love Life

The Large Learning Triangle captures her love life perfectly with the Moon firing up Venus who shared experiences with her Mars in Gemini. The child and woman in her longed for a learned man (as erudite as her father had been), who came in the form of Leonard. He was a man she could talk to, but not enjoy the warmth of his embraces. That would come in the form of a mother figure, who also wrote: Vita Sackville-West who met the longing suggested by the Saturn/North Node quincunx in her chart.

The Love of her Life

When her Age Point was opposing Mars in 1922 she became the lover of not a man, but of Vita. (Lesbianism was acceptable to the Bloomsbury Group.) Leaska writes: “The tall arrogant Vita would lavish her privilege and protection on the lost and wandering child living inside Virginia.”

The relationship reached its peak between 1925 and 1928, a period her biographer describes as the happiest in Virginia’s life. Her consciousness was certainly favoured by fortune during this period, thanks to the four trines her Age Point formed with Saturn in 1925, Neptune in 1927, Jupiter in 1928 and Uranus in 1929.

Vita – in the role of mother – boosted Virginia’s self-esteem, reminding her of her intelligence and wit. “You like people through the brain better than through the heart,” Vita said to Virginia who had zero water in her temperament when the world demanded 47!

Under Vita’s influence, Virginia learned to deal with her nervous ailments. Vita also chose Hogarth Press as her publisher to assist the Woolfs financially. She would become the love of Virginia’s life and be celebrated in the fantastical biography Orlando dedicated to her in 1928 – the time of the AP/Jupiter trine. Vita had certainly brought much luck into Virginia’s life.

The Sun Sets

During WW2, Virginia’s consciousness experienced the low point of the 10th house in depth. Gone were the days when her Sun had shone so brightly. There were a number of factors: wartime meant people didn’t indulge in literature and her biography of Roger Fry, published in 1941, didn’t have the reception she had anticipated. The horrors of war depressed her. In addition, their London homes were destroyed in the Blitz. She had completed Between the Acts (published 1941 posthumously) which further exhausted her.

Her health worsened and she couldn’t write at all. “I feel that I am sinking down, down. And as usual, I feel that if I sink further I shall reach the truth.” On 28 March 1941, she put stones into her coat pockets and sank down, down in the River Ouse. In her suicide note to Leonard she assured him that he had given her the greatest possible happiness and did everything he could. She didn’t want to spoil his life any longer.

The ‘I’s of Virginia Woolf

There were many sides to her: the needy child, the bright learner, the manipulative sister, the sexually abused half-sister, the crazy girl, the Bloomsbury Bohemian, the budding feminist, the gifted writer, the wife, the bipolar, bisexual lady, the publisher, the raving mad woman, the suicide candidate, to mention a few. But all these ‘I’s were simply bit parts she played in her great role as a writer and thinker.