George and Gerald
Virginia had two half brothers who had the same mother as Virginia, but a different father. The boys’ father was Herbert Duckworth; Julia’s first husband until he died. Virginia’s father was Leslie Stephen as we know; Julia’s second husband until she died. There were also half sisters from both Julia’s and Leslie’s sides (Stella and Laura) but I want to talk about the two brothers.
Both George and Gerald Duckworth were educated at Eton and then Cambridge. George was a public servant and has a very impressive CV including being secretary to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Austen Chamberlain. Gerald founded the publishing company, Gerald Duckworth and Co Ltd, which continues to be successful today.
However, alongside these successful public personae, there seems to have been a sinister side to the brothers. Both have been accused of sexual abuse towards both Virginia and Vanessa as children and young adults.
In ‘Sketch of the Past’ an autobiographical essay, Virginia writes about being very small and, speaking of Gerald, says, ‘I can remember the feel of his hand going under my clothes …. his hand explored my private parts too.’
Virginia goes on to write how she resented and disliked it and hoped for it to stop, but it didn’t. She comments how she instinctively knew that it was wrong, despite her young age. When Virginia was six, Gerald was 18. Some think that this early sexual abuse was to blame for Virginia’s lifelong suffering with mental illness. After this abuse by Gerald at about six years of age, Virginia (and Vanessa) continued to suffer abuse by both brothers into teenage years.