Slender walking stick with a curved handle, made of light-colored wood

Virginia Woolf’s walking stick
Wood, before 1941
Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature


Virginia Woolf's walking stick

Transcript below

Anna Deavere Smith: This walking stick belonged to Virginia Woolf, one of the great modernist writers of the 20th century—known for such novels as Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse, and her influential feminist essay A Room of One’s Own. The New York Public Library holds the largest collection of Virginia Woolf manuscripts and letters in the world. Declan Kiely, Director of Special Collections and Exhibitions at the Library:

Declan Kiely: While we have this mass of manuscripts by Virginia Woolf, they’re in some ways more inert and less animate than a cane, this object that she used. It once had kinetic energy. And I think it brings us into a more intimate connection with her as a person.

Anna Deavere Smith: Woolf suffered from numerous ailments throughout her life, and she used this walking stick for support.

Declan Kiely: It’s something that, in a way, conveys her human frailty and, ultimately, her mortality. This object accompanies her right up to her last moments.

Anna Deavere Smith: If this cane is, in some ways, a symbol of Woolf’s life, it’s also inextricably tied to her death. On March 28th, 1941, Virginia Woolf drowned herself in the River Ouse. That day, her husband, Leonard, wrote a letter to their friend Vita Sackville-West.

Declan Kiely: The letter reads in part, “[Virginia] has been really very ill these last weeks & was terrified that she was going mad again. It was, I suppose, the strain of the war & finishing her book [...] I think she has drowned herself, as I found her stick floating in the river, but we have not yet found the body.”

End of Transcript

Dr. Declan Kiely is Director of Special Collections and Exhibitions at The New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. We gratefully acknowledge the editorial guidance of Dr. Amanda Golden of the New York Institute of Technology, Dr. Mark Hussey of Pace University, and Dr. Anne E. Fernald of Fordham University.

The New York Public Library holds or manages the copyright(s)