“Indeed there has never been any explanation of the ebb and flow in our veins—of happiness and unhappiness.”- Virginia Woolf, Jacob’s Room
In 1919 Virginia Woolf and her husband Leonard, leading lights of the literary Bloomsbury Group, bought this modest weatherboarded house in the main street of Rodmell as a retreat from London life.
The large garden and beautiful view across the river Ouse to the hills beyond made up for some of the disadvantages of the house. These included a well as the only source of water and oil lamps for lighting.
During their years at Monk’s House the Woolfs entertained some of the best-known literary and artistic figures of the day. Among the visitors were Vita Sackville-West, Lytton Strachey, E.M. Forster, Maynard Keynes, T.S. Eliot and Roger Fry. Many were members of the Bloomsbury Group which Virginia and Vanessa founded with their brother Thoby.
There are only echoes of Virginia Woolf at Monk’s house but the house is full of reminders of the talented circle in which she moved. At Monk’s House there are pieces of painted furniture by Vanessa and Duncan Grant in post-Impressionist style. In the sitting room there is a table and chairs in muted abstract designs relieved by a panel of peaches on the back of each chair. Decorated china by Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell and her son Quentin is displayed on the mantlepiece and in the dresser in the tiny kitchen. Every room is hung with paintings by the family circle. There are paintings and portraits by Vanessa including a haunting likeness of Virginia.
The garden is still as the couple left it. There is a large open lawn where they played bowls, some fine old trees and three ponds. Near the house there is a formal garden where paths, yew hedges and flint walls shelter a herbaceous area.
Virginia and Leonard Woolf divided their time between Monk’s House and their London house until 1940 when the latter was bombed. After the novelist Virginia Woolf took her life in 1941, drowning in the River Ouse, her ashes were scattered under an elm just beyond the garden of Monks House.
The plaque which her husband, Leonard, raised to her memory is now inside the garden. It has a quotation from her novel ‘The Waves’.
I told you in the course of this paper that Shakespeare had a sister; but do not look for her in Sir Sidney Lee’s life of the poet. She died young—alas, she never wrote a word. She lies buried where the omnibuses now stop, opposite the Elephant and Castle. Now my belief is that this poet who never wrote a word and was buried at the cross–roads still lives. She lives in you and in me, and in many other women who are not here to–night, for they are washing up the dishes and putting the children to bed. But she lives; for great poets do not die; they are continuing presences; they need only the opportunity to walk among us in the flesh. This opportunity, as I think, it is now coming within your power to give her. For my belief is that if we live another century or so—I am talking of the common life which is the real life and not of the little separate lives which we live as individuals—and have five hundred a year each of us and rooms of our own; if we have the habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think; if we escape a little from the common sitting–room and see human beings not always in their relation to each other but in relation to reality; and the sky. too, and the trees or whatever it may be in themselves; if we look past Milton’s bogey, for no human being should shut out the view; if we face the fact, for it is a fact, that there is no arm to cling to, but that we go alone and that our relation is to the world of reality and not only to the world of men and women, then the opportunity will come and the dead poet who was Shakespeare’s sister will put on the body which she has so often laid down. Drawing her life from the lives of the unknown who were her forerunners, as her brother did before her, she will be born. As for her coming without that preparation, without that effort on our part, without that determination that when she is born again she shall find it possible to live and write her poetry, that we cannot expect, for that would he impossible. But I maintain that she would come if we worked for her, and that so to work, even in poverty and obscurity, is worth while.
Virginia Woolf (A Room of One’s Own)
For Lucy had her work cut out for her. The doors would be taken off their hinges; Rumpelmayer’s men were coming. And then, thought Clarissa Dalloway, what a morning—fresh as if issued to children on a beach. What a lark! What a plunge! For so it had always seemed to her, when, with a little squeak of the hinges, which she could hear now, she had burst open the French windows and plunged at Bourton into the open air. How fresh, how calm, stiller than this of course, the air was in the early morning; like the flap of a wave; the kiss of a wave; chill and sharp and yet (for a girl of eighteen as she then was) solemn, feeling as she did, standing there at the open window, that something awful was about to happen; looking at the flowers, at the trees with the smoke winding off
them and the rooks rising, falling; standing and looking until Peter Walsh said, “Musing among the vegetables?”—was that it?—”I prefer men to cauliflowers”—was that it?” — Mrs.Dalloway, Virginia Woolf