There is no doubt that Virginia Woolf spent a great deal of time in Charleston Farmhouse, East Sussex with her sister and brother in law, Vanessa and Clive Bell. We can see Bell's portrait of Virginia Woolf, painted in Charleston in 1912, now in the National Portrait Gallery London. And we can see the furniture that was bought for Vanessa by her sister in the drawing room.
Virginia Stephen married writer Leonard Woolf in 1912. The two of them had a loving marital relationship, and they also collaborated professionally. Virginia (1882-1941) and Leonard Woolf had two places of their own. They had their normal London flat in Mecklenburgh Square, Bloomsbury, but increasingly spent time in their old weatherboard cottage in Rodmell, close to Lewes. It was called Monk’s House, bought by the Woolfs as soon as possible after WW1 ended. Improvements were made to the home with the income from Virginia's books.
Monk’s house, front entrance.
Bought in 1919, two-storey extension added in 1929
Clearly all the important Bloomsbury Set visitors who frequented Charleston House were also regulars at Monk House eg Roger Fry and Lytton Strachey. These two modest homes in East Sussex, only 10 ks apart, provided a rural idyll for the Bloomsbury Set.
Two aspects of life at Monk’s House made it perfect for Virginia Woolf’s writing career. Firstly the couple bought the house with a well established garden and orchard that provided peace and tranquillity after the hubbub of Big City living. And this was even more so when, a decade later, they bought another field next to the house to increase the splendid rural views.
Monk’s house, Virginia Woolf’s writing lodge
Added in 1921.
Secondly one of the sheds in the backyard was converted into a writing lodge for Virginia. It must have been peaceful because here she wrote important parts of Mrs Dalloway, The Waves and Between the Acts out in her lodge. In fact the National Trust says that her final novel, Between the Acts (published July 1941), is full of references to the traditions and values of Rodmell and its residents. A very appealing social space emerged when a paved seating area was laid in front of the writing lodge.
Contemporary photos captured the Woolfs and their friends, lounging in deck chairs, drinking and dozing in the summer sun. The Monk’s House albums include the 1,000 photos in Maggie Humm’s book Snapshots of Bloomsbury: the Private Lives of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell, 2006.
The National Trust inherited Monk’s House in 1980. The gardens are wonderful and the ground floor, including sitting room, dining room, kitchen and Virginia's bedroom, is open to the public. But check www.nationaltrust.org.uk for open days.
Socialising in the sun. (L-> R) Angelica/Vanessa/Clive Bell, Virginia Woolf, Maynard Keynes. Photo credit: More Bloomsbury Group & Friends 2
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