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Leonard went over it, and says it’s a most delightful house and strongly advises you to take it . . . It has a charming garden, with a pond, and fruit trees, and vegetables, all now rather run wild, but you could make it lovely.

That was Virginia Woolf’s description of Charleston in a letter she wrote to her sister Vanessa Bell in 1916.

Vanessa took her sister’s advice. She arrived at Charleston in Firle, Sussex, via taxi in October of the same year. She would call it her home for the rest of her life.

She did not arrive alone, however. She was accompanied by her children, Julian and Quentin; fellow artist and sometimes lover Duncan Grant; his lover, David Garnett; a nurse; a maid; a cook; and a dog named Henry who would be memorialized forever on a wall in the home’s library.

Vanessa made the home her own until her death in 1961. During the years of the Great War, she lived there full time. Afterwards, she and her children, who now numbered three and included Angelica, her daughter with Duncan, born on Dec. 25 1918, moved back to London and used Charleston as a summer home.

The golden age of Charleston

During the interwar years, which Quentin Bell described as “the golden age of Charleston,” famous friends from the worlds of literature, art, and politics, visited the home on a regular basis. By the start of World War II, Charleston became the family’s full-time home and a wartime refuge once again.

After the death of Vanessa’s husband Clive Bell in 1964 and Duncan in 1978, Angelica Garnett, lived at Charleston alone until 1980, when the Charleston Trust was formed. It is this entity that set about restoring the house to its current state, circa 1950s, with all of the furnishings and personal items left behind by its occupants preserved intact.

Literature Cambridge road trip to Charleston

We visited Charleston, known as Bloomsbury in the country, as the first charming stop on our coach trip, once our Literature Cambridge course on Virginia Woolf’s Gardens ended last month.

Exterior door to Vanessa and Duncan’s studio at Charleston

We toured the home, with every surface painted and decorated by Vanessa and Duncan — from doors to woodwork to furniture to bathtubs. There was so much to see that it was impossible to take in every detail, even though it was my second trip.

Here’s what we saw as we soaked up the Post-Impressionist beauty and palpable energy of this unique home:

  • Clive’s ground floor study, with its fireplace designed by Roger Fry and its fireplace surround and window embrasure decorated by Vanessa
  • The dining room, with its black walls stenciled in grey and yellow by Duncan and Quentin and its large round wooden table decorated by Vanessa.
  • The second floor bedrooms of Duncan, Clive, and Maynard Keynes, where he wrote The Economic Consequences of the Peace 
  • Vanessa’s first floor bedroom with its en suite bath that scandalized the residents of Firle and its French doors that open to the lavish garden
  • The library, with its book-lined walls and Duncan’s painting of dog Henry below the north wall
  • The green bathroom, with its bathtub decorated with a 1969 painting of a nude by Richard Shone
  • The artists’ studio, constructed by Vanessa and Duncan in 1925, where they worked together until World War II, when Vanessa had her own studio built at the top of the house.

Tour Charleston in words and photos

Photographs are not permitted inside the home, as some of the artwork displayed is owned by private individuals.

But I recommend the book Charleston: A Bloomsbury House and Garden if you want to read more about the home and view its gorgeous, colorful, and individualized rooms. You can also take a room by room photo tour of the home on the Charleston website.

As a result of the ban on interior photos, I had to limit my photography to the outdoor spaces. But the home is famous for its beautiful garden, so scroll down for a pictorial walking tour.

Then take a look at the Blogging Woolf post about our Literature Cambridge trip to Monk’s House that same day, where photos were permitted inside and out.

The pond at Charleston lies beyond the lawn that fronts the house. In 1917, it was larger and deeper and was the home of carp and eels. Quentin Bell’s sculpture of a levitating woman is installed on the far shore.

Charleston as seen from the farm track to the home. The gravel, the lawn, bushes, and the facade of the house are the same as in the time of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant.

The close-boarded wooden gate to Charleston, with a square pillar topped by one of two urns cast by Quentin Bell in 1952. They sit on either side of the gate.

Entry to the walled garden at Charleston

Toadstool sculpture within the gate of the walled garden

Tile plaque mounted inside the flint and brick wall noting garden restoration details

Small pond lined with ceramic tiles, originally decorated by Vanessa about 1930 but replaced with copies by Quentin.

Hollyhocks frame a cast of a Giovanni da Bologna sculpture of a modest lady in the Charleston garden. She stands in a corner beneath an apple tree.

The flint and brick garden wall with a row of casts of antique heads, many of which have been replaced over the years.

This window at Charleston frames a pot of red geraniums.

A view of Charleston from in front of the pond

Cressida Bell items for sale in the Charleston gift shop

Fabrics for sale at the Charleston gift shop, with designs by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant

 

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Fall Events

What: Study Day on Reading The Waves
When: Saturday 21 September 2019
Where: Stapleford Granary
Cost: £90/£80 students and Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain members.

What: Ellie Mitchell, Talk on Reading Ritual in The Waves
When: Tuesday 15 October 2019
Where: Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge
Cost: Free talks for Town and Gown

What: All-day reading of The Waves
When: Sun. 27 October 2019
Where: Cambridge
Cost: Free but places are limited. Email info@literaturecambridge.co.uk if you would like to attend.

Summer 2020 Courses

Virginia Woolf’s Women, 19-24 July 2020. An intensive week of lectures, seminars, tutorials, walks, talks, and visits to places of interest in Cambridge.

Reading the 1920s, 26-31 July 2020. An intensive study week on literature from the decade following the First World War. Authors include T.S. Eliot, E.M. Forster, Lawrence, Woolf, Radclyffe Hall, Helen Zenna Smith, Edmund Blunden.

Discount for early bookings. Members of the VWSGB can book at the student rate, subject to availability.

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Once our Literature Cambridge course on Virginia Woolf’s Gardens was over, it was time for a pilgrimage. So on a bright and sunny July Saturday, we climbed aboard our coach and headed to Monk’s House from Cambridge.

Our driver dropped us off in Rodmell after our three-hour trip and we literally headed down The Street. After a brief walk, we arrived at the front gate of the country home that Virginia and Leonard occupied, beginning in 1919.

It was magical. Walking through the gate and down the path, I felt as though I was on hallowed ground, following in the footsteps the Woolfs had made.

We ate lunch in the garden, watched a dramatic reading of a scene from Between the Acts, with Virginia’s Writing Lodge as a backdrop, toured the ground floor of the home fitted out with the Woolfs’ belongings, and wandered through the garden filled with colorful and profuse blooms.

Follow along as I share some photos from our day.

Front gate of Monk’s House

The path behind the Monk’s House gate

As the Monk’s House guidebook states, “Books dominated the house.” And books are the first thing you see as you enter through the low back doorway. They line the stairs to the second floor.

Off to the left is the original Monk’s House sitting room, furnished with pieces ranging from the 17th to the 20th centuries. The still life design on the fire screen is by Duncan Grant, with the needlework by his mother, Ethel Bartle Grant. The upholstered armchair to its right was Virginia’s favorite, featuring a print by Vanessa Bell.

Another view of the original Monk’s House sitting room, which was created when the Woolfs knocked down a partition wall in 1926. It combined areas for reading, writing, and eating. Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant painted the dining table — with its geometric design of criss-cross strokes — and four chairs in the early 1930s.

The square coffee table in the center of the room is topped with tiles by Duncan Grant. They depict Venus at her toilet.

A table and six painted chairs with needlework panels designed by Vanessa Bell dominate the dining room. The needlework panels depict bowls of flowers against a window. Grant’s mother completed the embroidery.

The Monk’s House dining room fireplace

The oil portrait of Virginia Woolf painted by Vanessa Bell in 1912. It hangs on a wall between the stairway and the dining room at Monk’s House.

The doorway, framed with roses, that leads from the garden to Virginia Woolf’s bedroom at Monk’s House

Virginia Woolf’s bedroom was part of an extension to Monk’s House built in 1929. It truly was a room of her own as one had to enter it from the garden, as in the photo above.

The fireplace in Virginia Woolf’s ground floor bedroom is decorated with tiles that were a gift from Vanessa Bell. They depict a ship with a lighthouse in the distance.

Virginia Woolf’s Writing Lodge, built in 1934 and and extended in the 1950s by Leonard for his companion Trekkie Parsons. The new space is now used as an exhibition room.

This table sits inside the Writing Lodge covered with her tortoiseshell glasses, folders with handwritten labels that she used for her manuscripts, pen and ink, newspapers, and wads of rumpled paper.

Just one view of the extensive Monk’s House garden, lovingly tended by Leonard, with the central part consisting of a series of small spaces enclosed by plants and joined by a network of narrow paths.

The Millstone Terrace, whose name comes from the millstones the Woolfs found in the garden.

The Fish Pond, one of three ponds Leonard installed, this one on a narrow strip of south-facing garden enclosed on three sides by flint walls.

The lawn at Monk’s House where the Woolfs played bowls and visitors today continue the tradition.

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Our marvelous Literature Cambridge course on Virginia Woolf’s Gardens ended last Friday. But perhaps the best was yet to come.

Our class, along with some of those enrolled in this week’s Fictions of Home class, went on an all-day outing to Monk’s House, Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s home in Rodmell, and Charleston, the nearby home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant and others. Beautiful, incredibly moving, and breathtaking.

I’m traveling today, so only have time to post these tweets. But I promise to provide more about the trip after I am back in a room of my own.

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We have already followed Virginia Woolf to locations at Newnham College, King’s College, and the Fitzwilliam Museum during our time at the Literature Cambridge course Virginia Woolf’s Gardens.

But today, the first overcast, drizzly day since we arrived, we went off on our own. We made a trek to nearby Grantchester — and two other spots in Cambridge we just discovered.

The Orchard

Virginia Woolf, along with Maynard Keynes and E. M. Forster, was a member of the Bloomsbury Group and a member of the Grantchester Group as well. Focused around poet Rupert Brooke, who lived in the picturesque Grantchester, the latter group met at Orchard House there, where Brooke is said to have hosted wild parties.

The original pavilion of The Orchard still exists, and one reaches it via a long path from High Street surrounded by a quiet green lawn dotted with apple trees and dark green deck chairs grouped around tables.

An outdoor display board tells the story of the Grantchester Group. Indoors, photos and a display case of Rupert Brooke books, photos and memorabilia, tell his story. Photos of other writers and celebrities, including Woolf, cover the walls.

Byron’s Pool

The river Cam runs through Grantchester Meadows, which includes Byron’s Pool. In the early 1900s a group of Cambridge undergraduates and their friends, dubbed the neo-Pagans, bathed there, according to the University of Cambridge website.

Rupert Brooke and Virginia Woolf are also said to have swum naked by moonlight at Byron’s Pool in 1911. Today, cars on the M11 roar past that spot.

Now one must be a member to obtain access to pool, as entry is not granted without a key. But a gracious friend of someone affiliated with the Literature Cambridge course drove us down the nearest Cambridge road behind the pool, and we snapped a photo of the field that fronts it.

One warm night there was a clear sky and a moon and they walked out to the shadowy waters of Byron’s Pool. ‘Let’s go swimming, quite naked,’ Brooke said, and they did. – Rupert Brooke: A Biography by Christopher Hassall (1964)

The Porch

Also in Cambridge, we found The Porch at 33 Grantchester St., the home of Caroline Emilia Stephen, Woolf’s aunt. Her niece and Woolf’s cousin, Katharine Stephen, was a librarian and later the Principal at Newnham College, where Woolf gave her “Women and Fiction” talk in October 1928.

Both Woolf and her sister Vanessa Bell stayed with their aunt at The Porch when they visited their brothers Adrian and Thoby during May Week at Trinity College. Woolf herself made “formational visits” to her aunt, who she sometimes called “the nun,” from 1904 to 1906. Virginia and Adrian also lived with Stephen for a period of time in 1907, after Vanessa’s marriage to Clive Bell.

As Jane deGay writes on the Leeds Centre for Victorian Studies Blog: “[Caroline] Stephen played a key role in helping Virginia Woolf distance herself from patriarchal ideologies by developing a radical approach to religion and spirituality that was deeply feminist.”

A Quaker, it was this aunt who at her death in 1909 left Woolf the £2,500 inheritance that gave her a modest income of her own. The amount indicates the special relationship she had with Woolf, as she left Adrian and Vanessa just £100 each.

Sign directing visitors to The Orchard Tea Garden in Grantchester, where Virginia Woolf drank tea with Rupert Brooke and others.

The original pavilion where Woolf and others met for tea on rainy days

Sign noting the literary significance of the original pavilion at The Orchard

Information board outside the pavilion noting members of the Grantchester Group, which included Virginia Woolf

Just two of the photos lining the walls inside the pavilion. Woolf’s is on the right.

Past this field of grasses and wildflowers and the stand of trees beyond sits Byron’s Pond, where Woolf and Brooke went skinny dipping.

The Porch, 33 Grantchester Rd., Cambridge, the home of Woolf’s Aunt Caroline Emilia Stephen. Woolf and her sister Vanessa Bell stayed here.

Closeup of the home’s sign, identifying it as The Porch

 

 

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A Room of One’s Own. We have read it. We have discussed it. We have been inspired by it. But today 23 of us got an up-close view of Virginia Woolf’s original draft manuscript for the book. Now you can, too, thanks to Leonard Wool and the Fitzwilliam Museum.

At the Fitzwilliam

Leonard Woolf donated a large piece of the manuscript to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge in 1942, after the museum’s director requested that Leonard give the institution something related to Virginia’s work. But because it was wartime, the manuscript lay neglected for nearly 50 years.

Titled “Women & Fiction,” it is the first draft of the book Woolf would eventually call A Room of One’s Own, and it has two other connections with Cambridge. The book had its origins in two talks on women and fiction that Woolf gave at Newnham and Girton Colleges in Cambridge in October 1928. And a lunch Woolf ate in Dadie Rylands’ room at King’s College inspired the luncheon scene in the first chapter of the book.

Background of the manuscript

Our visit to the Fitzwilliam to view Woolf’s manuscript was today’s outing for the Literature Cambridge course on Virginia Woolf’s Gardens. Dr. Trudi Tate, director of the course, shared some of the book’s background.

Dr. Trudi Tate

”Woolf worked incredibly quickly on this book, so fast, in fact, that she found it difficult to read her own handwriting when she had to type it up,” Tate said.

”As Beth Daugherty tells us, she wrote a huge amount of the book in two months, March and April 1929. She began to create the book in her mind when she was lying in bed, recovering from illness. She drafted it rapidly, in ‘one of my excited outbursts of composition’ (Diary 3, 218-19),” Tate explained.

Significance of the manuscript

The manuscript’s significance as the working draft for A Room of One’s Own was not recognised by scholars until the 1990s, according to the Fitzwilliam’s website.

At that time, S.P. Rosenbaum published a full transcription (1992). In his introduction, he gives details of Woolf’s lectures at the Cambridge colleges and traces the text’s evolution — from talks to magazine article to feminist polemic in book form.

The 20 pages from chapter three of the manuscript that are not part of the Fitzwilliam document are preserved separately in the Monks House Papers at the University of Sussex.

Creative process of the book

Tate detailed how Woolf’s writing process for Room included several stage of creation:

  1. the lectures, including the “Women & Fiction” essay and the “Women in Fiction” draft viewed at the Fitzwilliam
  2. A Room of One’s Own typescript
  3. A proof copy of the book
  4. The first published edition of the book, published by the Hogarth Press in Britain and Harcourt Brace in the U.S. in 1929.

Digitized version available online

The digitised version of the manuscript that was once on display at the Fitzwilliam as part of the museum’s past exhibition “Virginia Woolf: an exhibition inspired by her writings” is available online. View the entire manuscript on the Fitzwilliam Museum website.

A side view of Virginia Woolf’s manuscript of “Women & Fiction,” which was the first draft of “A Room of One’s Own.”

The cover of Woolf’s draft manuscript for “Women & Fiction”

Page one of the manuscript, with Woolf’s own edits. Note: This page is the same color as the others but the lighting makes it look lighter.

Page seven of the manuscript with Woolf’s edits and margin notes

Page 12 of the manuscript

Each student in the Literature Cambridge course Virginia Woolf’s Gardens was able to view the manuscript up close and take photos of it.

After learning about the manuscript and viewing it, the students in the Literature Cambridge course from countries including Japan, Italy, Germany, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, India, the UK, and the U.S., took turns reading the first chapter of “A Room of One’s Own” aloud.

Some of the 23 students in the Literature Cambridge course on Virginia Woolf’s Gardens

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Botanic Garden gates

Today at the Literature Cambridge course on Virginia Woolf’s Gardens, we went To the Lighthouse.

Not literally. But that was the focus of both the lecture by Trudi Tate and our small group tutorials this morning, before we veered off across the land to the Cambridge University Botanic Garden. There, garden historian Caroline Holmes led us on an afternoon tour of plants from all over the world.

We didn’t make it through the entire 40 acres of the garden that opened in 1846. Nevertheless, we saw, felt, and sniffed a wide variety of the more than 8,000 species growing there.

Discussing the garden in To the Lighthouse

Predictably enough, our morning discussions about To the Lighthouse focused on Woolf’s use of the garden in her 1927 novel. In her lecture, Tate touched on ways the garden connects to mother and memory, as well as the Victorian past.

Later this morning, in our four-person tutorial group led by Karina Jakubowicz, two things stand out to me from our discussion. One was the way the urns full of red trailing geraniums fail to attract Mr. Ramsay’s full attention but cause him to go off on intellectual tangents. The other was the meaning of Mrs. Ramsay’s green cashmere shawl in the “Time Passes” section. We all thought there was more to explore there.

Walking the gardens

Now for photos from the day, starting at Wolfson College, home of this year’s Literature Cambridge course, and ending with a walk through the Cambridge University Botanic Garden.

The Wolfson College garden where two of the four tutorial groups at this year’s Literature Cambridge class discussed Woolf’s “To the Lighthouse” this morning.

Entrance to the Cambridge University Botanic Garden on Trumpington Street

The knowledgeable Caroline Holmes provided the history of the trees and other plants at the Botanic Garden during our tour, adding a touch of humor throughout.

The iconic fountain designed by David Mellor, a focal point at the eastern end of the Botanic Garden’s Main Walk

Path through the Winter Garden

Floral close-up

One of the many trees on the Main Walk of the Botanic Garden

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