Caramagno opens with this quote from one of Woolf’s letters: “As an experience, madness is terrific I can assure you, and not to be sniffed at; and in its lava I still find most of the things I write about. It shoots out of one everything shaped, final, not in mere driblets, as sanity does. And the six months-not three-that I lay in bed taught me a good deal about what is called oneself.” (Virginia Woolf, Letters 4: 180). I feel that this quote sums up so much about Woolf as a writer and explains many of the whys in Mrs. Dalloway. Caramagno more or less uses this quote as proof of what he believes of Woolf, that her illness allowed her to write in a way that was so drastically different from others.
An interesting common view that Caramagno brings up is that “Woolf became an artist because she was a neurotic, that she filled her books with references to death and strange desires for a depersonalized union with the cosmos because she was afraid to live fully outside fiction.” The first part of this statement I fully agree with; however, I am not certain I completely agree that she did not live fully. Yes, she placed limits on herself to some degree but I think that she lived as fully as possible with her illness and those things that she could not do within her real life-she lived out in her fiction. She does what she thinks is best not only for herself but for her family.
Caramagno suggests in his article that Woolf was describing the sane and insane versions of herself in Mrs. Dalloway via Clarrisa and Septimus-that she was aware of her manic-depressive state and used the novel to portray the ups and downs of her mindset. He believes that Woolf was searching for a connection between her sane and insane sides (aka Clarrisa and Septimus) via her writing. That she was attempting to make the two parts of herself come together somehow.
Caramagno speaks to the nature of Woolf’s manic episodes. He explains that when people experience this mania “They re-create the world and replace it with inflated visions of themselves.” This would explain why so many of Woolf’s works had to do with either herself, people she knew, or a combination of the two. It seems to me that she used this mania to her advantage and portrayed the lives of others in the way that she perceived them. Caramagno explains that Woolf’s manic episodes differed in their severity. That when she was only mildly manic she was able to direct that extra energy into her works; only when she was severely manic did she become “mad.”
Caramagno says that the depressed spend a lot of time looking back over their entire lives searching for the moment that caused them to be depressed. Perhaps this would also explain Woolf’s reasons for writing so much about her own life and childhood; maybe she was using her writing to explore her past and find that moment that Caramagno speaks of. He believes this moment to have been when Woolf suddenly loses her mother because her first breakdown occurred not much longer after that.
Caramagno, Thomas C. “Manic-Depressive Psychosis and Critical Approaches to Virginia Woolf's Life and Work.” PMLA. Vol. 103, 1988. 10 -23.