An ‘Ophelia-like Suicide’?

I am now reading Living in Squares, Loving in Triangles by Amy Licence and I have not reached the end of the first page before I have been intrigued. Amy Licence describes Virginia as:

a writer of impenetrable text, an exacting diarist, the member of a social elite, and an Ophelia-like suicide (sic).

So, I wondered, just how did Ophelia die? Well it seems that after her boyfriend (Hamlet) killed her father (Polonius), she suffered from insanity; singing nonsense and behaving irrationally. She jumped/fell from a tree and drowned in the water below. Her death has resulted in much debate and critics have discussed,

Was it suicide or was it an accident?

According to Gertrude, the Queen of Denmark, Ophelia climbed a tree to hang garlands of flowers, a branch broke, she fell into the water and drowned due to her heavy clothes. But the viewer never sees the scene directly so we only have Gertrude’s interpretation. A different view is that after her father’s death (her boyfriend having murdered him), she became suicidal. Indeed, she was denied a full Christian funeral as it was believed that she had killed herself.

There is an ambiguity and the reader has to make his or her mind up. Whichever way it is interpreted though, I can see why Amy Licence refers to Virginia’s suicide as ‘Ophelia-like’ as there are similarities between them;  no mother, their fathers’ deaths, their madness and the deaths by water.

The difference though is that Virginia’s fate was a real life tragedy and not a Shakespearean one.


2 thoughts on “An ‘Ophelia-like Suicide’?

  1. Hello there. I hope you enjoyed Living in Squares. I wondered if you might be interested to read some of my thoughts on Shakespeare’s telling of Ophelia’s death, which was inspired by the actual death of a man just outside Canterbury, in the 1560s. I can’t resist the urge to bleed different eras and characters into one and the fragility of Ophelia’s mind, her response to her father’s death and her ambiguous end have long intrigued me. I’m glad my connection between the two interested you. Best wishes, Amy


  2. Hi Amy. Many thanks for your comment and yes, I was very interested in your connection between Virginia and Ophelia. Thank you for the link to your article which I have just read, and found fascinating. Information like this can bring an author to life, don’t you think?.

    I find that it can be difficult to think of people from hundreds of years ago and imagine what must have inspired, motivated and interested individual personalities; it is just this sort of insight that makes Shakespeare more ‘real’.

    I did enjoy Living in Squares. It has made a significant contribution to my insatiable quest for ‘all things Virginia’.

    On a general note, I share your interest in Austen and Woolf and of women’s lives, modernism and gender issues, though my interest at the moment falls between the late 1800s and mid 1900s, a bit later than yours. Regards. Adele.


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