This, the first instalment of my latest series about authors, is dedicated to two bizarre author deaths. I chose this rather macabre subject matter as death is one of the themes in my second novel, Necropolis, a humorous work of dark fiction, due for release early next year (date to be confirmed soon).
Notable works: To The Lighthouse, Mrs Dalloway, Orlando: A Biography, A Room of One’s Own.
Novelist, essayist, publisher and critic Virginia Woolf was an influential interwar writer and an important member of the prominent Bloomsbury Group of intellectuals. Regarded today as a foremost modernist and one of the major English language lyrical novelists, Virginia Woolf was an experimental writer, who achieved considerable popular and critical success during her lifetime. Her notable works include the experimental parodic biography, Orlando: A Biography, in which the hero’s life spans three centuries and both genders.
Woolf’s existence was not without its tribulations however. The talented writer suffered from depression throughout her life, several episodes in her younger years being so severe that she was sent to a mental institution. It was the onset of World War II and the destruction of Woolf’s London home in The Blitz, alongside the poor reception of her biography of late friend Roger Fry that were to send matters spiralling out of control.
Shortly after finishing the manuscript of her last novel, Between the Acts (posthumously published), Woolf entered a deep depression. On the 28th March 1941 the author put on her overcoat, filled the pockets with stones and walked out into the River Ouse near her home in Sussex. After her body was finally discovered on the 18th April, Woolf’s husband, political theorist and author Leonard Woolf, had her cremated remains buried under an elm tree in the garden of their home in Rodmell.
Notable works: The Glass Menagerie, A Street Car Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
American playwright Tennessee Williams found fame with his play The Glass Menagerie (1944), a big hit on Broadway in New York. More success followed and by 1959 Williams had two Pulitzer Prizes, three New York Drama Critics Awards, three Donaldson Awards and a Tony Award to his name.
However the glory was not to last and the 1960s’ and 70s’ saw the talented playwright facing professional failures and personal problems. These may in part have been due to his increasing alcohol and drug consumption, as well as the death of former partner Frank Merlo in 1963. Beloved sister Rose being diagnosed with schizophrenia and his own dysfunctional upbringing, Williams’s father was a heavy drinker with a violent temper and his mother overbearing, could also have been factors in the playwright’s descent into depression, drugs and commitments to mental health facilities.
On the morning of February 26th 1983, Williams was found dead in his suite at the Elysee Hotel in New York. The medical examiner’s report indicated that the cause of death was Williams having choked to death on a cap from a bottle of eye drops. It was noted that alcohol and drugs might have contributed to his demise, as they may have suppressed the gag reflex. The bizarre nature of the playwright’s death was to be the subject of much scrutiny over the forthcoming years. A forensic detective who reviewed the file stated that it was an overdose that killed Williams, whilst friend Scott Kenan claimed someone in the coroner’s office invented the bottle cap scenario.