Alex Belsey

Written Out of Life: The Decision to Die in the Journal of Keith Vaughan

On the morning of 4th November 1977, the British painter Keith Vaughan (b.1912) ingested a lethal cocktail of barbiturates and thus ended his life. His final journal entry trailed off into a tiny, illegible scrawl as the drugs took effect; when his body was discovered he was still seated upright, pen in hand. The last volume of Vaughan’s journal chronicles a cancer-stricken existence that had become ‘hell’ or simply a ‘non-life’. This paper explores how he used journal-writing and re-reading at a time of great physical and emotional pain to reflect upon his life and his reasons for leaving it. This paper argues for the crucial role that Vaughan’s journal played in justifying to him (and those who would discover it) how taking his own life was the only honourable and appropriate act possible.


Alex Belsey is an AHRC/LAHP-funded PhD candidate in English Research at King’s College London. Alex read for his BA in English at Goldsmiths College, London, and studied the MA in Life-Writing at King’s. He is based in the Department of English at King’s and is affiliated with the Centre for Life-writing Research. His doctoral research is an archival project on the journal of British painter Keith Vaughan (1912-77) and the relationships between life-writing, constructions of selfhood, and art practice. His other research interests include literature and life-writing of the late nineteenth century, and the life and works of Irène Némirovsky (1903-42). Alex recently edited the fourth issue of ‘Stet’, the peer-reviewed postgraduate research journal of the English Department at King’s.

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