We went to Monk’s House yesterday, the Sussex home of Virginia Woolf. I’m not a great fan of Woolf’s writings but the house is not far from us, and it was such a beautiful May morning we decided to go across and look at the cottage set in its gorgeous gardens.
In one of her diary entries, Woolf wrote about Monk’s House,
Back from a good week at Rodmell – a weekend of no talking, sinking into deep safe book-reading; & then sleep: clear transparent; with the may tree like a breaking wave outside; & all the garden green tunnels, mounds of green; & then to wake into the hot still day, & never a person to be seen, never an interruption; the place to ourselves; the long hours. DIARIES 1932
In those days, you had to go down a rutted cart-track to get to the house, a path beyond leading to the famous water-meadows where Virginia met her death by flinging herself into the slow-moving but deep River Ouse. It shows the depth of depression she must have experienced, for the surrounding countryside and nearby coast with its chalk cliffs is spectacularly beautiful and (you might think) would refresh any soul.
The house is now owned by the National Trust who have tried to restore it to how it must have looked when Virginia and Leonard lived there. The whole house is full of period books, piled high in stacks, lying around on tables, above the beds. The rooms are full of little set-piece displays like this corner of the living-room:
Or this bedroom, now furnished just as it would have been in the Woolf’s day. The Trust have got so good at this sort of thing.
Leonard Woolf was a collector of cacti and the Trust have re-created the conservatory with a look that Leonard himself may have liked:
The Woolf’s had a full-time gardener who provided them with most of their fresh produce when they were in residence. The gardens are now largely run by a team of volunteers and what a fantastic job they make of it:
The Woolf’s had many literary friends visiting them at Monk’s House and there is a display of photographs of various writers sitting in the house and gardens, including T S Eliot, Lytton Strachey, Roger Fry, Vita Sackville-West, Vanessa and Clive Bell and Maynard Keynes. The National Trust have taken one group photograph and tried to recreate the exact location as it would have been on one languorous Sunday afternoon when the Woolf’s were in residence with some house-guests.
I was amused to find that the National Trust have been able to retrieve Leonard Woolf’s old green house from a nearby garden and are reinstating it at Monk’s House. I have no doubt that they will make a magnificent job of this and fill it with the plants that Leonard loved so much.
Anyway, enough of poor Virginia. For a useful overview of her life and significance I recommend Elizabeth Wright’s book, Brief Lives: Virginia Woolf. Olivia Laing’s book To The River includes a fair amount about Monk’s House and Virginia’s death, but from the perspective of a Woolf aficionado. I enjoyed reading the book Mrs Woolf and The Servants by Alison Light which gives a rather different perspective on the esteemed writer.
For another blog post on Monk’s House (with more photographs) by “Steerforth” on his blog The Age of Uncertainty click here.
My reading has gone all to pieces in the last month or so. Far too many false starts, the worst perhaps being seven days wasted in Jo Nesbo’s new book, The Son.
After a couple of fairly serious history books I fancied a bit of a break so downloaded The Son to the Kindle. It was one of those books which wasn’t good enough to keep me happy, but not quite bad enough to abandon. I finally got sick of it after 300 pages or so, suddenly thinking, “Why am I wasting my time on this?” It’s not that it’s particularly bad, just that for the weight of the story, it’s far too long – like so many other Scandi-crime novels.
I will try to write a couple of more in-depth reviews before too long; I’m having a few days in Normandy soon when I hope to do get back into some more intensive reading.