Virginia Woolf’s handwriting analysis

Handwriting sample: Virginia Woolf

I begin to hear voices, I can’t concentrate”, wrote Virginia Woolf in her last letter (above mentioned), giving voice to the unhealed, finally unsufferable contradiction between her need to be clear-minded and mentally concentrated, the fact – tangible as well – that some facets of her Ego joined in other, alien dimensions, and the impossibility to accept both issues in her life. However, her handwriting explains this psychological complexity, these two apparently unconciliable and opposite facets. From a viewpoint, her being an inborn talented critic, her deep thinking, penetrating and amazingly original: her handwriting with a well-balanced triple width above average and a marked width between words, together with a powerful conceptual originality as well (very high Methodically Uneven, at least 8/10). Her intelligence is also dominated by an elan and passion which a rational mind can hardly contain (Forward Slant, Dynamic, Springing). Thus, her mental activity proceeds at a high rate, through a deepening of concepts more and more original and simple, through an unending restless critical elaboration, pushed by her impatience and nervousness if she has to spend too much time about concrete details. Her graphical obscurity, due to high speed (Rushing) and powerful criticism (Spacing between Words) leads her to chronic dissatisfaction, firstly with herself: she was never satisfied with what she obtained, because her intellect and criticism were much more powerful than what she could express (Dark). Dissatisfaction makes reprocessing hard, because, though her concept was very clear, the words she seeked for to express it were not as clear. Her handwriting lacks calmness, therefore patience necessary to correcting, reprocessing, investigating fades away. When she is led by the passion of original intuition, she proceeds at a fast pace, thus doubtless about her doing. But her talents are so strong, that necessarily give her a kind of fatigue, due to an excessive exploitation of her powerful resources. Of course, in such moments, she loses the warm enthusiasm that supports her, and at the same time the power of self-criticism increases, to reinforce her feelings of indecision, difficulty to conclude and lack of self-confidence about what she did. This only whenever tired, because usually she is perfectly aware of the power of her thinking and intuitions.

From a graphological point of view, Virginia Woolf shows better inclined to essays than to fiction. An essay writer, actually, who had no patience to read first what others wrote, because of her strong and immediate conceptual thinking (Methodically Uneven, Spacing between Words, Rushing): she feels the strength of her ideas and she tries hard to give them an expression as essential and incisive as possible. To give strength to her originality there is also a remarkable angularity, which roots the subject in her choices.
And what about the disturbed world of her inner voices, which she truly feared? Apparently, nowadays the psychological instruments for interpretation are more open than in Virginia Woolf’s times. While then it seemed impossible that rational intelligence and criticism could coexist with phenomena such as those she perceived – thus necessarily one of them had to be considered wrong – now the theoretical models to be utilized are more free about it. The birth itself of transpersonal psychology schools confirms a new view of the Ego, fully immersed in a world much vaster than the one hypotized by old psychology.
Thus, the fact that Virginia Woolf heard “voices” is not definitely to be considered alienation, but just openness of a personality to psychic dimensions, you say, transpersonal. In fact, her handwriting shows not only exceptional mental qualities, but also exceptional qualities of her feeling, deeply original, sensitive, intuitive. What psychic dimensions all this linked her to? She really got the qualities of an “intuitive visionary”, of a “clairvoyant” (Methodically Uneven, Rushing, Springing), which she nonetheless refused because not consistent with the role she choose to play and others around her confirmed: a perfectly intelligent and rational woman, and nothing else (though this was already, for many people, too much for a woman!)
Her handwriting, not by chance, in addition to the qualities previously listed, shows a marked unevenness in the graphical pressure, with several domains of Filiform, thus an increased sensitivity of feeling. It is visible also the sign Top Opening of A-O occurring frequently and this reinforces more and more her sentiment’s reactivity. Her inclination to sexual tenderness (Top Opening of A-O), consequently her capacity to feel the subtle game of sex attraction, together with the strength of her temper and mind which wants to understand in depth the reasons, the right of its existence and the terms of such an attraction basing on gender differences, are the components of her personality that makes it possible to her prefiguring an analysis of women condition in patriarchal society, as an inner life experience and reappropriating of the specificity of feminine sentiment.
Therefore, she had to deal with an enormous patrimony of qualities of intelligence and feeling, and it is not surprising this exhausted her. Moreover, she feared all represented her obscure “clairvoyant” side; consequently, she accepted it only partially and, for this reason, sometimes it imposed itself on her against her will in the form of psychosis. In other times, she felt deeply connected to and nourished by her inspiration.
Also her difficult attitude toward sexuality is to be reconsidered in a more differentiated context: her problems arised from her feeling not too little, but too much (Top Opening of A-O), passionately (Springing), exigently (Methodically Uneven), in a difficult, unruly, scarcely compliant way (Straight Extensions, Left Bent Extensions, Spacing between Words). Thus, not due to a cold feeling, but to a difficulty of allowing herself to yield to a not-cerebral side of life. And this side, as seen above, took its revenge. Where and how, in her life, Virginia Woolf allowed herself to behave as a passionate woman? Her personality was lined and contained and protected by her rationality and her capacity to look at reality and see it as it was, unveiled.
Virginia Woolf in her lifetime obtained great acknowledgement as a fiction writer and a literary critic, but none of these gave her self-confidence, or a warranty; thanks to her amazing sensitivity, she gave voice to the feminine condition of being uprooted which recently found meaning and analysis in the “thought of differences”. She is the first woman to have understood and analyzed so clear-headedly the inhibitions blocking women expression publicly and the impossibility or difficulty, for many of them, to go out and show themselves to a world not belonging to them, but shaped onto different-masculine-values. About it, she wrote: “Behind us is the patriarchal system: the home walls, with their nothingness, immorality, hypochrisy, servility. In front of us the world of public life is opening up, with its obsessivity, envy, aggressiveness, greed ” (5)
If a woman endowed with all the mind, temper and will qualities as Virginia Woolf found it impossible to adapt herself to masculine dominant values, what could we say about all women who throw themselves into careers still now, for many issues, based on masculine values, showing handwritings clearly informed by a predominant feminine feeling, as Carol Gilligan calls it, oriented to cooperation and connection (characterized by the substantial sign Curved)?
The knowledge about the specificity of feminine feeling and consequent problems regarding integration of women in the present society is the key which allows us to understand the thousand kinds of depression, anorexia, bulimy, obsession getting more and more numerous in the Western culture due to an increasing freedom for women
As Virginia Woolf wondered about women emancipation: “Where the procession of learned men is leading us?” and furthermore “Do we really feel like to join up this procession? At what terms are we going to join it up?”(6).

Notes

  • Phyllis Chesler, Women and madness, Einaudi Editore, Torino 1977, p. 19.
  • Myra e David Sadker, School in the Eighties, in Psicologia Contemporanea, Giunti Editore, Gen/Febr. 1986, p. 8/11.
  • Carol Gilligan, In a different voice. Psychological theory and women’s development, Feltrinelli Editore, Milano 1987, p. 38.
  • Anne Stevenson, Life of Sylvia Plath, Serra e Riva Editori, Milano 1990, p. 8.
  • Virginia Woolf, Three guineas, Feltrinelli Editore, Milano 1992, p. 106.
  • Ib., p. 92.