Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date


Publication Title

Twentieth-Century British Literature




Virginia Woolf's experiences as a manic-depressive influenced her vision of reality and, in tum, her aesthetics. Manic-depression is a "cyclic" illness-cyclic in the sense that the manic-depressive moves alternately between two extreme psychological states. Hence, he experiences reality in terms of two opposite perspectives. Psychotic depression involves what Jung describes as the experience of the "shadow." That is, looking into the unconscious, the individual sees his own reflection. He takes a risk in looking, for as Jung says, "The mirror does not flatter, it faithfully shows whatever looks into it; namely, the face we never show to the world because we cover it with the persona, the mask of the actor." This confrontation with one's own "helplessness and ineffectuality" opens the door to experiencing what I refer to as the void-what Jung describes as "a boundless expanse full of unprecedented uncertainty, with apparently no inside and no outside, no above and no below, no here and no there, no mine and no thine, no good and no had." Hence, it is an experience not only of nothingness hut also of formlessness.1 Thus, in depression the manic-depressive sees life as transitory, meaningless, and formless. In mania, on the contrary, he sees life as eternal, significant, and whole. Virginia Woolf embodied in her vision of reality the paradox inherent in her experiences as a manic-depressive; she concluded that life is both transitory (ever changing) and whole (never changing).

Original Publication Citation

Bazin, N. T. (1987). The spherical vision. In H. Bloom (Ed.), Twentieth-century British literature (Vol. 5, pp. 3115-3122). Chelsea House.