Have any of you taught a course on Woolf in London? That question from Jane Garrity of the University of Colorado at Boulder prompted a discussion on the VWoolf Listserv that elicited plenty of ideas this week.
What follows is a compilation of some of the suggestions and experiences shared by members of the list.
I also recommend taking a look at In Her Steps on this site. On that page, I share some of my experiences when I took a class called “England in the Steps of Virginia Woolf,” along with additional travel information and links.
Touring Woolf’s England
Eliza Kay Sparks, a retired professor from Clemson University, took a group of five young women to England for two weeks and shared the trip itinerary and details with list members, as well as on her blog, Blooming Woolf.
Anne Fernald of Fordham University shared her proposal for a class abroad centered on Transatlantic Women Modernists, including her list of proposed field trips and her rationale for including them on the itinerary.
Suzette Henke of the University of Louisville taught a two-week Modern British Literature course in London in May 2011 that included a significant Woolf component. She said teaching a Woolf class in London is “quite a memorable teaching experience, as the whole of London is a giant classroom.”
Jeanette McVicker of the State University of New York at Fredonia taught a course called Literary London: Seminar on Virginia Woolf in 2011. She taught it in tandem with a colleague’s course on contemporary British women writers, titled Women Writing London. She has shared both her course syllabus and the trip iinerary that includes readings matched with excursions. Although the Women’s LIbrary included in the itinerary is no longer in existence, McVicker said one can request special access to the Museum of London’s archive, which has a wealth of material on the suffrage movement as well as holdings of Woolf-related work.
Sparks recommended starting with a Big Bus tour around London on the first day to orient everyone to the city “and keep them awake and absorbing light rays without requiring a lot of physical exertion.” Henke suggested an afternoon boat trip on the River Thames, “illustrated by passages from Woolf’s diaries describing her thoughts about the Tower of London.”
And while there is plenty to do in Woolf’s city of origin — and students can chase down locations from Night and Day, if they’ve read it — Sparks recommends giving students one free day to explore on their own.
- Houses and parks, including Carlyle’s House, 22 Hyde Park Gate, Kensington Gardens and Chelsea
- Mrs. Dalloway walk, which according to Fernald will allow students to “hear Big Ben’s chime, sit in Regent’s Park, walk through Bloomsbury, and
past the Cenotaph,” and window shop at Hatchard’s bookstore, thereby giving “students a powerful flavor of the book’s geography.”
- The London Scene walk to places mentioned in the essays can, according to McVickers, be “bolstered by exhibits and archives at Museums of London (the special collections person there is superb and generous) and Docklands.”
- British Library, an important stop according to Fernald because “Woolf and many other writers of the period composed their works and researched in the Reading Room of the old British Library, now preserved as an exhibit within the British Museum.” Henke agreed that an afternoon’s field trip to the British Library and its special collections is a “must.”
- British Museum
- National Gallery, where Sparks recommends finding Virginia as Clio in Boris Anrep’s mosaics.
- National Portrait Gallery, where you can visit the top floor tea room with “an utterly glorious view over Charing Cross,” according to Sparks.
- Richmond and Kew
- Hampton Court
- Persephone Books, Nicola Beauman’s small press in Bloomsbury that is dedicated to republishing popular fiction from the period and is located in a building that was once the grocery store where Leonard and Virginia Woolf shopped. Fernald called it “a tribute to the combination of art and commerce that was central to
Bloomsbury,” “a feminist institution today,” and a living memorial to the [Modernist] period.
- Lincoln’s Inn will give students a good connection to The Years, according to McVicker.
- King’s College, London, where Anna Snaith has done “path-breaking archival research showing the extent of Virginia Woolf’s university-level education,” according to Fernald.
- Cabinet War Rooms and Imperial War Museum, which Fernald described as “invaluable to understanding the context of war in this period and women’s roles in both wars.
- Sparks’ group also paid a visit to Cecil Woolf and Jean Moorcroft Wilson.
- Cambridge, where you should be sure not to miss the turn to Newnham, said Sparks.
- Oxford, for a connection to A Room of One’s Own, said McVicker.
- Sussex, including Monk’s House and Charleston Farmhouse. Sparks recommends chartering a bus for those. Fernald
said a visit to these sites is important because Charleston is “full of valuable post-impressionist paintings by Bell and her contemporaries” and a “visit to these sites would give students a flavor of the city-and-country split that was central to Woolf. Henke’s experience with her class bore this out. As she wrote: “Our very best field trip was a Saturday excursion to Charleston and Monk’s House. We found that the most convenient and economical way to get to Charleston by public transport was by taking a train from Victoria Station to Lewes, then hiring taxis to Charleston. We were able to book a private tour of Charleston at noon, prior to the public entry to the property. Because of a special festival, we caught a bus to Monk’s House, then got taxis back to Lewes. Really a fabulous day!”
- Knole House in Kent, which gives you “Orlando at every turn,” said Sparks.
- St. Ives in Cornwall, which Sparks described as the “highlight of the trip” and “SO worth the long train ride, which they
totally enjoyed as a great way to get a sense of British scenery.” While there, she recommends renting a boat to go out to Godrevy Lighthouse. Andre Gerard, publisher of Patremoir Press, suggested adding Tren Crom Hill, just outside of St. Ives, to the itinerary. “The landscape is little altered since Virginia’s day, and you can easily imagine her and her siblings walking and running in it,” he wrote. Woolf also described the site in “A Sketch of the Past.”
- Hampstead, where you can see Keat’s house, which Woolf visited, along with Katherine Mansfield’s “The Eyebrows.” According to Sparks, “The views of the city are spectacular, and I rode back on top of a bus, a long ride, but gave me such a flavor of London.”
- Virginia Woolf, Life and London: A Biography of Place by Jean Moorcroft Wilson.
- From the Lighthouse to Monk’s House: A Guide to Virginia Woolf’s Literary Landscapes by Katherine Hill-Miller (Duckworth, 2001).
- The London Scene by Virginia Woolf
- Woolf novels: Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, Night and Day, and Orlando
Links to Woolf courses
- Literature Cambridge: Virginia Woolf, 18-22 July 2016
- Blooming Woolf
- English 3504 (old)
- English 35024 (new)
- Virginia Woolf Seminar
- VW & Bloomsbury
- VW: Fiction & Essays
- Women & Writing: Revisiting VW
Links to sites
- In Her Steps
- Visit Virginia and Leonard’s home, Monk’s House
- Visit Charleston Farmhouse
- Visit Knole House
- Visit the gardens, library and study of Vita Sackville-West’s Sissinghurst Castle
The regular Sunday walk was to Trick Robin or, as father liked to call it, Tren Crom. From the top, one could see the two seas; St. Michael’s Mount on one side; the Lighthouse on the other. Like all Cornish hills, it was scattered with blocks of granit; said some of them to be old tombs and altars; in some, holes were driven, as if for gate posts. Others were piled up rocks. The Loggan rock was on top of Tren Crom; we would set it rocking; and be told that perhaps the hollow in the rough lichened surface was for the victim’s blood. But father, with his sever love of truth, disbelieved it; he said, in his opinion, this was no genuine Loggan rock; but the natural disposition of ordinary rocks. Little paths led up to the hill between heather and ling; and our knees were pricked by the gorse the blazing yellow gorse with its sweet nutty smell. – Virginia Woolf, “A Sketch of the Past”
Revised April 17, 2015
Revised April 20, 2015
Revised April 22, 2015