A student asked me that question recently, and I had to think for a moment before I could give her an answer.
We had just finished reading Three Guineas for a class I teach on gender roles in war and peace. The students were not familiar with Woolf. Some of them admitted being afraid to read her novels, as they had heard she was “difficult.” Most had not read more than a snippet or two of A Room of One’s Own.
The student raised the question of Woolf’s writing posture when we took a break in our discussion of Three Guineas. She had read that Woolf did all of her writing standing up, she said, and found it unbelievable that Woolf — or anyone — would be able to do so much writing on foot. It sounded exhausting.
I was excited by her question. It meant that despite the rumored or real “difficulty” of Woolf’s writing, this student had appreciated her enough to find out more about her.
I told my student that I thought Woolf had used a stand-up desk as a young woman living in her parents’ home in Kensington. I mentioned, too, that I recalled seeing a regular desk and chair in Woolf’s writing lodge at Monk’s House in Sussex.
Later, I found a photo posted on Flikr by Renaud Camus that pictures the desk. The Smith College Libraries Woolf in the World online exhibit also links an image of Robert Browning’s portable desk to a quote from one of Woolf’s letters in which she asks for “a desk that shuts up… something that would hold all my letters, papers, ink pots, & shut up & lock, & have drawers, & harmonise with my sister’s decorations.”
And, of course, one can order one’s own Woolf-alike stand-up desk, as long as one has the necessary stamina for writing on foot, as well as the requisite funds.
Read more about where writers write and the routines they follow — including a mention of Woolf’s — on the BBC Web site.