Exploring the life and work of Virginia Woolf, the iconic and influential writer associated with the Bloomsbury Group, the (notorious) wide-ranging network of writers, artists and friends in the early decades of the 20th century.
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This area in the centre of London is named after William de Blemund who in 1201 built a manor house on land just to the south of what is now Bloomsbury Square.
When the members of what would be called the 'Bloomsbury Group' moved here in the early 20th century, it was a far from fashionable address.
There are many locations which have connections to the Group, including:
- The Reading Room at the British Museum immortalised by VW in A Room Of One’s Own (1929) in the description: ‘the vast dome … the huge, bald forehead which is so splendidly encircled by a band of famous names’
- Gordon Square, where many of the Group, including Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey, and Vanessa and Clive Bell, lived at various times. Duncan Grant painted this Interior of No. 56.
- Tavistock, Fitzroy, Mecklenburgh and Bedford Squares
For details of the significance of each address, see Bloomsbury Group locations
Charleston, an eighteenth century farmhouse near Firle, East Sussex, was the home of Vanessa Bell, her fellow artist and lover, Duncan Grant, the writer, David Garnett, her sons and an assortment of animals from 1916.
The adults decorated the walls with murals and filled the house with their paintings, ceramics and painted furniture. Vanessa’s husband, Clive Bell, moved to Charleston in 1939 adding more paintings, books and furniture.
The Bells, Grant and their children lived at Charleston until their respective deaths. Vanessa and Grant, who died in 1978 aged 93, are buried at the local cemetery.
Berwick Church also has some stunning murals painted by Grant, Vanessa and her children after it lost some of its windows during Second World War bombing.
Charleston is now a museum and contains a collection of paintings and lithographs by Grant, Vanessa, Fry, Picasso, Derain, Walter Sickert, Nina Hamnett and others in the gallery.
Much of the original furniture by Vanessa and Grant remains and the garden has sculptures by Grant and Vanessa’s son, Quentin Bell, who wrote a biography of Virginia Woolf.
Virginia and Leonard Woolf moved to Monk’s House in Rodmell, East Sussex in 1919.
Over the years many friends and associates visited, including Vita Sackville West, Lytton Strachey, E.M. Forster, Maynard Keynes, T.S. Eliot, Fry, Grant, Garnett and Vanessa Bell.
Here VW worked on To The Lighthouse (1927), Orlando (1928) and The Waves (1931).
Monk's House is now a National Trust property and contains painted furniture and china decorated by Grant, Vanessa and Quentin Bell. Every room is hung with paintings by the family circle.
In 1941 Virginia Woolf committed suicide by drowning herself in the nearby river Ouse. Her ashes are buried in the garden, which remains much as the Woolfs left it.
Leonard lived here until his death in 1969. There is a large open lawn where they played bowls, three ponds, a formal garden and an orchard.
Sissinghurst, Vita Sackville West’s house and garden, is home to the first hand press used by Virginia Woolf in the early days of the Hogarth Press. Virginia gave it as a gift to Vita in 1930.
Virginia and Vita were occasional lovers. Orlando (1928) is VW's fantastic biographical study inspired by Vita, which traces the history of the youthful and aristocratic Orlando through four centuries in both male and female manifestations.
Vita Sackville West created the garden with her husband, Harold Nicolson, between 1930 and 1938.
It is now open to the public and one of the great gardens of the country.
Freshwater, Isle of Wight
In 1923 Virginia Woolf wrote her only play, Freshwater, a comedy in three acts, concerning her great aunt, the pioneering photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79)
The play is set amidst the Victorian bohemia of Dimbola Lodge, where Virginia Woolf’s parents first met.
Amongst the local poets, novelists and artists at that time were Alfred, Lord Tennyson, G.F. Watts, Ellen Terry, Lady Annie (Thackeray) Ritchie, and William Allingham.
In January 1935, Virginia rewrote the play and it was performed in Vanessa’s studio at 8 Fitzroy Street by and for members of the Bloomsbury Group.
Nearby Farringford House, Tennyson’s former home, is now a hotel.
Dimbola Lodge is a museum with a permanent exhibition celebrating the life and work of Julia Margaret Cameron. In addition there are touring photographic exhibitions, tea rooms, and regular literary and artistic events.
Talland House was the Stephen family holiday home, where VW (née Stephen) spent many summers. Henry James and Rupert Brooke also stayed here. The area inspired her deeply and left a lasting impression:
‘Probably nothing we had as children was quite so important to us as our summers in Cornwall … to hear the waves breaking … to dig in the sands; to scramble over the rocks and see the anemones flourishing their antennae in the pools’.
From Porthminster beach, the distant vision of Godrevy Lighthouse was transformed into a potent literary motif in VW’s exploration and overcoming of the tyrannies of the past in To The Lighthouse.
Virginia Woolf Literary Trail
For more information on these locations, please see our Virginia Woolf Literary Trail
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