Art-y Outings: Virginia Woolf’s Writer’s Eden

Monk’s House sits in the tiny rural village of Rodmell, carefully tucked away behind the rolling Sussex downs.

The first time I visited the area, I completely missed this lovely gem. Although there were plenty of other beautiful places to visit, admittedly I was thoroughly disappointed to have missed my idol’s homestead.

The next time, however, I made it my mission to get there.

After following the yellow brick road for about ten miles and taking way too many pictures of the countryside, me and my boyfriend finally stumbled upon the National Trust’s most prized possession (in my own humble opinion, anyway).

“It wasn’t hard to see where the woman herself got her inspiration”

To any unknowing onlooker, the place may be written off as just another beautiful cottage in the village. But a second glance will tell you that this was the summer home of one of England’s most enigmatic modernist writers.

I was buzzing with excitement as we made our way to the admissions desk, looking at all the Woolf-themed merchandise and ready to bounce off the ceiling. After gaining admittance from the lovely man behind the counter and telling him all about studying Woolf’s work at university, he wished us well and we headed inside.

Let me set the scene to truly give justice to the garden we walked into. It was a beautiful sunny day at the beginning of August. The rain that had plagued Brighton and Sussex the previous day had long since passed and we were rewarded with liquid gold sun and clear skies. This made the view in front of us all the more appealing, and it wasn’t hard to see where the woman herself got her inspiration.

The garden was filled with a plethora of stone sculptures – including one of herself and her husband Leonard – and allotments. It backed onto a churchyard with a beautiful medieval Church, and they had even left the same deck chairs and set of boules out that could be seen in the pictures inside the writing shed. You were even allowed to interact with everything around you, just as the Bloomsbury group had done all those years ago.

We migrated into the house, and the first thing I saw was a seemingly unfinished manuscript for a story called The Orchard. I was completely in awe of the place, and travelled from room to room, drinking in the vast collections of books and variety of art that was featured all over the place.

But of course, the place that was of most interest to me was Woolf’s own room. The title to one of her most famous essays, A Room of One’s Own, was focused on her very own bedroom and writing room. I learnt from one of the volunteers that she would often write late into the night, the floor being a sea of crumpled up paper by the time the morning swung around.

I also couldn’t help but discuss Woolf’s famous lover, Vita Sackville-West. I was told they had enjoyed a sexual relationship for some years, before then reverting to being just friends. Sackville-West went on to have many other female lovers after that time, but Woolf stayed with Leonard until her death.

Another volunteer was talking to some people about the structure of the house itself. Woolf’s room was an extension off the side of the house, so that she had her own space. What was once the bathroom was just below ground level, and apparently had a habit of flooding. Woolf herself had apparently said that it was as though the River Ouse had come gushing through the house to greet them at times like this!

Another thing of interest would be the fact that other than a small bookcase of novels in Woolf’s room, none of the Woolfs’ collection remain inside the house, since they were sold to an American professor a few years back. However, the books in the house do still try to imitate those that were there originally.

We also visited a little shed in the garden, which was also another of Woolf’s writing spots. Her diaries tell of her convincing Leonard to convert it for her. Inside there was a large selection of photos of the Bloomsbury group that were taken at the house. I still can’t believe I visited a place where so many influential people discussed and articulated what would in the future materialise into some of the greatest novels and ideas of our time.

After reading To the Lighthouse as a part of my degree syllabus, it was truly awe-inspiring to be able to see where those ideas were conceived, and to learn a little more about the woman behind it all.

I heartily recommend this to any bibliophiles out there!

Esther Kearney

Featured image and article images courtesy of Esther Kearney.

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2 Comments on this post.
  • Jeannette Kearney
    28 August 2017 at 20:48
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    Your article makes me want to visit.A particular favourite of my own is George Bernard Shaw a home in Wheathampstead where he had a little writing shed that rotated to catch the light of the day so he could write. Well done Esther.

  • assuntina
    28 August 2017 at 21:16
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    Great piece Esther!

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