Sunday, February 18, 2007

More Wilberforces in history

(Clockwise from top: Virginia Woolf, Elizabeth Robins, Olivia Wilberforce)

Every time I turn around these days, I find another story about a William Wilberforce descendant. This time it's the story of Octavia Wilberforce, granddaughter of his son Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, the nemesis of Thomas Huxley.

The seventh child of seven children, Octavia refused a proper marriage, and chose instead to self-finance a medical education. Along the way she became the lesbian lover of the American playwright and novelist Elizabeth Robins. Olivia purchased a practice in Brighton, where she lived near the famous writer Virginia Woolf and her husband Leonard.

Olivia became the Woolf family doctor, and on March 26, 1941, Leonard asked Dr. Wilberforce to visit Virginia, concerned about her mental health. Wilberforce advised that no action be taken. The next day, Virginia committed suicide by walking into a nearby river and drowning.


Anonymous said...

It's amazing how these Wilberforces keep popping up. Take care that you aren't sidetracked! It's interesting to note that Woolf had a long history of suicidal tendencies as well as being bisexual, and yet Wilburforce advised no action taken. Woolf had jumped out of a window the first time--the last time, she jumped off a bridge and succeeded.

Michael Patrick Leahy said...

I don't think we should be too hard on Olivia Wilberforce for failing to keep Ms. Woolf from her date with destiny. Dr. Wilberforce was a family practitioner, and not trained as a psychiatrist.

As for Ms. Woolf's method of exit from this world -- I read that she filled her pockets with rocks, then walked into the river. The jumping off story is a little more dramatic.

In any event, it's sad she apparently suffered from this long term mental illness, and no one apparently was able to help her.