Virginia Woolf: blue stocking turned fashion junkie


How cruelly Virginia Woolf was treated in death, being played by Nicole Kidman in a big prosthetic nose, says Vivien Lash.


When Virginia Woolf was fed up with the Bloomsbury world and everyone in it, she wrote two suicide notes — only a weirdo (or a writer!) leaves two drafts — and jumped into the river wearing her husband’s raincoat weighted down with bricks. The notes, scrawled in sinister, spidery handwriting, are on display at the National Portrait Gallery in Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision (July 10 – October 26, 2014).

Virginia had such a nice life. Why did she want to leave that room of her own for the damp riverbed and say goodbye to being sucked up to at parties by T. S. Eliot and Lady Ottoline Morrell, she of the famous ‘bird’s beak vagina.’ The great thing about being a novelist is that you get to diss your ex’s genitalia and call it fiction — but the lady is dead, let’s not rake over old bags.

Woolf started as a blue-stocking but turned into a fashion junkie after her affair with Vita Sackville-West. Like Princess Diana after her, she was dressed by Vogue, whose editor sourced Matisse print dresses and mannish tailoring for her to wear with her big flat shoes.


To be fair, Mrs. Woolf had lost all her teeth by the time she ruined her hair jumping into the River Ouse. So many parties, so little sanity! She left the gossipy Bloomsbury world behind to be cruelly treated in death, being played by Nicole Kidman and a big prosthetic nose in The Hours. The exaggerated nose was supposed to make Kidman look intelligent, but instead it dominated the film, leaving the audience to wonder if Sam Taylor-Wood was her stand-in.


While poring over Woolf’s suicide notes at the NPG, a lady wrapped in mink — despite the heat wave — shouted in my ear, “I knew her…and her sister. That one ran off with a poufta.” Well, I doubt if Vanessa Bell ran anywhere, not in those Victorian skirts. But my new crumblie friend is at least 124 — she probs knows lots of dead people. Stinky Minky pressed her nose to the glass, trying to sniff Woolf’s suicide note while I tried to avoid inhaling her. Why do old people whiff? Does everyone over 40 go off? I couldn’t resist holding a mirror up to check if she was a vampire.


Dying is a good career move. Sylvia Plath wasn’t a best-seller until after her suicide. Marilyn was immortalized after dying in her Chanel No 5 — though we only have Karl Lagerfeld’s word on that. She might have been wearing mascara as well.


Jumping and hanging are seen as male deaths, while pills and razors are considered more feminine. Dorothy Parker bandaged her slashed wrists in pink ribbons before deciding she ‘might as well live.’


Death is something that can’t be controlled. It’s as unpredictable as walking in Vivienne Westwood platforms or falling in love with someone evil. But at least you can decide how and where to be buried. There are worse ways to spend a holiday than visiting the dead glamorous graveyards of Europe full of celebrity corpses. A cemetery is sexier than cremation, which is so suburban. Glamorous graveyards are as hard to get into as Upper East Side mansion blocks.


It’s almost worth buying Byron’s leaky palazzo on the Grand Canal to qualify for burial in San Michele with Stravinsky and Diaghilev. Venice’s Island of the Dead has more famous creatives in it than Florians. Though top art slut and Venice resident Peggy Guggenheim rejected the offer of a plot in San Michele, preferring to be buried with her dogs in her palazzo’s garden. Ah well, at least Peg had good taste in art.


Lighting a candle for jowly Jim Morrison in Pere Lachaise is a bit too American-tourist for me, but I do take lilies to the pure and impure Colette’s grave nearby and absinthe to Oscar Wilde — in case he’s bored in hell. And I can never resist a trip to the cemetery in the ancient village of Heptonstall, near Wuthering Heights, to see Sylvia Plath. Did Sivvy leave a suicide note? Was it destroyed, like her last diary, by her troll husband Ted?


Would I write my suicide note in lipstick or blood? Or leave a cryptic tweet like L’Wren Scott and Peaches Geldof? But of course I’m too shallow for suicide. I’ve missed the deadline for dying young, but I can still have old boyfriends crying over my glossy white coffin. It’s just a shame that so many undertakers are necrophiliacs.


Being fitted for a coffin is probs easier than being fitted for a dress. You don’t have to hold your breath. And deciding what to wear to my own funeral is just another thing that’s not my problem. But I will leave strict instructions with the manservant anyway. Of course the audience is all that matters. A funeral without a crowd is like a celebrity without a stalker. Naturally, the inscription on my tombstone that so many disciples will cry over: Shallow Not Stupid.

Read more Vivien Lash in the new e-book version of Spying on Strange Men — at less than the price of a classic martini cocktail.

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