[Vwoolf] The Big Sleep

Jeremy Hawthorn jeremy.hawthorn at ntnu.no
Fri May 15 13:50:08 EDT 2020

 From what I have been able to discover online, one of the signs that 
Virginia was heading for a bout of what she called "madness" was 
sleeplessness. Apparently when Leonard consulted a doctor about the 
advisability of her having children (without telling her), one of the 
symptons he reported was sleeplessness. No references as I'm shut out of 
the library, but this comes from a number of sources.

My wife was born in Vardø in the extreme north of Norway, and lived 
there until her mid thirties. Up there the sun disappears for two and a 
half months in the winter, and doesn't set for the same period of time 
in the summer. She says that if you don't have clear markers (a working 
day for example), then you do lose a sense of time, and sleeplessness is 
a very common problem. I have been there twice with her. Once was in the 
summer, and it is very weird to see little children playing happily at 2 
a.m. out of doors. We drove along the coast from Vardø to Kirkenes and 
then took a plane home. It was a memorable journey: stunning white-sand 
beaches (but cold sea!), a glimpse of beluga whales, deserted German 
military camps that were frozen in time (and a moving museum of the 
resistance). The quality of the light there is very special, but hard to 
describe; "pastel" is the nearest I can get to it. So when all this 
virus stuff is over, there's an idea for a holiday!

Incidentally, Google gives very few hits for "the big sleep" meaning 
death prior to Raymond Chandler, and most are North American, often 
Native American.

Also incidentally: I asked a Jewish friend who had lived some time in 
the north of Norway how the Sabbath could be observed when sunset lasts 
two and a half months. "There are special dispensations" he replied. I 
think that observant Muslims go by the time in Mecca when it's 
impossible to go by local time.

Jeremy H

On 15.05.2020 19:24, Mary Ellen Foley wrote:
> I've been enjoying the sleep discussion, Jeremy and all --
> I would have thought the fact that Leonard carried veronal when they 
> travelled would argue, along with your quote about the sleeping 
> draught, would be all the evidence we needed to be certain that Woolf 
> had sleep issues, but as for her sleep patterns?  I wish I knew.  But 
> surely Leonard documented these, while he was documenting every 
> calorie she consumed and every penny they earned or spent?  So his 
> notebooks might enlighten there.
> And all those hours of enforced bed rest while ill would likely lead 
> to sleep problems, sleeping in the daytime being detrimental to sleep 
> at night, if you do too much of it.  Also (I don't have access to my 
> books right now to check, but) wasn't being awake for days one of her 
> symptoms when she was "mad"?
> By the by -- I once knew in California an Icelander who, accustomed to 
> living where there was no light for months and then no dark for 
> months, just let himself sleep when he was tired and get up when he 
> was refreshed.  He found that he fell into a 25-hour cycle, a pattern 
> that has been reported elsewhere, too.  As for Jan, he would come into 
> the lab every day for a while, coming in later and later until he was 
> only coming in at night and we never saw him until he went round the 
> cycle again. He never mentioned any first- and second-sleep 
> phenomenon, though, in letting himself sleep as nature (seems to have) 
> willed.
> Mary Ellen

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