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King’s College, Cambridge

It’s day two of the Literature Cambridge course Virginia Woolf’s Gardens, and we spent two hours touring the gardens of King’s College, Cambridge. Then came the best part of all. We saw the window of a room that was the setting for a scene in Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own.

Not a room of her own

That important part of our tour came at the end, as we got a look at the second floor window of the room overlooking the college green where, our guide told us, Woolf wrote the first chapter of A Room of One’s Own (1929). Later, Trudi Tate, director of Literature Cambridge, corrected that statement. Instead, she told us, the room was the setting for the well-appointed lunch Woolf describes in the first chapter of Room.

The room, of course, was not her own, but was the quarters of Dadie Rylands. Women were not admitted to King’s until 1972, so they obtained their degrees at the University of Cambridge’s two women’s colleges, Newnham, founded in 1869, and Girton, founded in 1871.

We were not able to visit the actual room that helped inspire Woolf, as it is now the accounting office for the college. Ironically, it was off limits to Woolf pilgrims, we who revere her feminist polemic about the ways the patriarchy limits women. I do admit that our group of more than two dozen would have crowded such small quarters.

Bloomsbury paintings in the hundreds

However, after viewing the Provost’s Garden, we were taken inside the nearby Provost’s Lodge. There, we were shown two first-floor rooms hung with original paintings by Bloomsbury artists Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, Roger Fry, and Dora Carrington.

I took plenty of photos of the paintings we saw, but publication of them — even on the internet — is not permitted without permission, and we did not want to trouble our gracious guide to obtain that.

As it turns out, hundreds of paintings by Grant and Bell are hung around the college, many of them donated by Maynard Keynes. A catalogue of the Bloomsbury art is in the works, but it will be several years before it is ready. We were told that it may be available in digital format.

Corrected and updated: 17 July 2019

Virginia Woolf wrote the first chapter of “A Room of One’s Own” in Dadie Rylands’ room at King’s College, Cambridge, which was behind the second floor window shown here.

This was part of the view Woolf would have seen from Dadie Rylands’ room at King’s College, Cambridge, where she wrote the first chapter of “A Room of One’s Own.” As our guide told us, the buildings, the lawn, and the gardens have changed little since Woolf’s day.

Woolf mentions undergraduates punting on the river in “A Room of One’s Own.” They, and tourists, still do that today on the River Cam located just beyond the lawn pictured above.

In the Provost’s Garden at King’s College, Cambridge, a private place we viewed on our tour.

A flower bed in the Provost’s Garden, with a pot of colorful sweet peas growing up a trellis.

Giant magnolias from the U.S. frame a doorway in the Provost’s Garden.

Sun-kissed floral closeup in the Provost’s Garden.

The Wine Room in the Provost’s Lodge is filled with paintings by members of the Bloomsbury Group. It is often used now as a seminar room. The 23 students in our group snapped lots of photos of the art.

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Eleanor Crook created a life-sized Virginia Woolf that was presented, fully dressed, inside a room of her own — a wooden wardrobe — on Oct. 21.

The finished wax work Woolf was placed in the foyer of the newly refurbished Virginia Woolf building at 22 Kingsway at King’s College, London. Woolf was a student at the former King’s Ladies’ Department where she took classes in Greek, Latin, history and German between 1897 and 1902.

To find out more about the unveiling, scroll down for the tweets posted on Twitter.

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Eleanor Crook is creating a life-sized Virginia Woolf that will be presented, fully dressed, inside a room of her own — a wooden wardrobe.

The finished wax work Woolf will be placed in the foyer of the newly refurbished Virginia Woolf building at 22 Kingsway at King’s College, London.

by Lady Ottoline Morrell, vintage snapshot print, June 1923

by Lady Ottoline Morrell, vintage snapshot print, June 1923

Crook, a sculptor and medical artist, will dress her creation in clothing modeled after the dress, shawl and hat Woolf wore in a 1923 photograph taken by Lady Ottoline Morell. It pictures Woolf sitting side by side on a garden bench with Lytton Strachey. She is smoking.

According to Crook’s website, she was asked by the historian Dr. Ruth Richardson and by King’s College London to make the wax version of Woolf.

You can view her progress on the sculpture by viewing photos Crook has included on her website. She expects the work to be finished in October.

Woolf was a student at the former King’s Ladies’ Department where she took classes in Greek, Latin, history and German between 1897 and 1902.

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Virginia Woolf never had any formal college education. Or so the story goes. A recent discovery in the King’s College archives, however, tells a different tale than the one told by biographers and Woolf herself.

The discovery shows course descriptions, exam pass lists and registrations for Vanessa and Virginia Stephen at King’s College Ladies’ Department, 13 Kensington Square, between 1897 and 1901.

In 1871 King’s College London began lectures and classes to meet women’s needs for higher education. In 1885, this became a department at the college known as the Ladies’ Department. In 1900 students began preparing for internal degrees. As a result,  the Ladies’ Department became known as the Women’s Department in 1902, after Woolf stopped attending classes.

From the age of 15 to 19, Woolf took classes in continental and English history, beginning and advanced Greek, intermediate Latin and German grammar at the King’s College Ladies’ Department. She also had private tutors in German, Greek and Latin. One of them was Clara Pater, sister of critic and essayist Walter Pater.

Her sister, artist Vanessa Stephen, studied Latin, art and architecture between 1899 and 1901, records show.

While at King’s, Woolf reached examination level standards in some of the subjects she studied and took Greek from George Charles Winter Warr, one of the foremost Greek scholars of his day. She also came into contact with some of the leading reformers of education for women, according to Christine Kenyon Jones and Anna Snaith, who discovered Woolf’s King’s College records.

Anna Snaith

You can read about their discovery in the Kings College Report, Number 17 (2009). The report of their findings is titled “A Castle of One’s Own.” It appears on pages 28 to 33 in that issue.

The discovery is also explained in an article by Kenyon Jones and Snaith published in volume 16 of the Woolf Studies Annual, which is just out. Many images from the King’s College archive are included in the piece, which is titled ‘Tilting at Universities’: Virginia Woolf at King’s College London.’”

The latest volume of the Woolf Studies Annual also includes articles by:

  • Bette London on the culture of memorialization and A Room of One’s Own
  • Janice L. Stewart on Woolf, Freud and Leslie Stephen
  • James F. Wurtz on To the Lighthouse and Empire
  • Monica J. Miller on Woolf’s servant characters
  • M-C Newbould on Woolf’s un-Victorian Sterne
  • Nicky Platt on Pointz Hall’s debt to Freud

The volume is available from Pace University Press. According to Mark Hussey, Pace UP is also offering reissues of the following:

  • Helen M. Wussow’s transcription of ‘The Hours’
  • The British Museum Manuscript of Mrs. Dalloway
  • Edward L. Bishop’s transcription of Jacob’s Room, The Holograph Draft.
  • Women in the Milieu of Leonard & Virginia Woolf: Peace, Politics, and Education ed. Wayne Chapman and Janet Manson.

For more about books related to Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group, visit the Books page on Blogging Woolf.

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