“I feel so intensely the delights of shutting oneself up in a little world of one’s own, with pictures and music and everything beautiful.”
I have in the past completely identified with this quote from Virginia Woolf’s first novel The Voyage Out which was completed in 1913.
Today those words take on a whole new meaning.
Her husband described Virginia as a genius, as being a very rare combination of imagination and intelligence. He termed it: “leaving the ground” when she would give the most fantastic account of a perfectly ordinary thing that had happened or something that she had seen.
She went on to write at least twelve novels, with A Room of One’s Own and Mrs Dalloway being two of the most well-known.
By the time her first novel was published in 1915 Virginia was living in Richmond with her husband Leonard Woolf. They were part of a group of friends, talented individuals including writers, politicians and artists who met regularly and had lived close to each other in Bloomsbury, London. They became known as the ‘Bloomsbury Group’.
According to Leonard (normally a) ‘very happy,’ Virginia fought with periods of intense physical and mental anguish. Her dedicated husband hoped that a move to the quieter life of the suburbs might help to ease nervous tension. Virginia was not happy with living outside of central London where she had grown up. She is quoted as saying:
“This is my right; it is the right of every human being. I choose not the suffocating anaesthetic of the suburbs, but the violent jolt of the Capital, that is my choice. The meanest patient, yes, even the very lowest is allowed some say in the matter of her own prescription. Thereby she defines her humanity. I wish, for your sake, Leonard, I could be happy in this quietness …But if it is a choice between Richmond and death, I choose death..”
Virginia eventually got used to her more provincial surroundings and was active in the community. She ran a women’s cooperative guild branch in Richmond – the Women’s Cooperative was set-up to promote instructional and recreational classes for mothers and girls. A bit like the Women’s Institute but more political and serious.
The Woolfs lived at Hogarth House. Paradise Road. They were both keen amateur printers so when they saw some printing equipment for sale on the Farringdon Road they decided to buy it.
With nowhere else to put it, it sat on their dining room table and from these small beginnings, the Hogarth Press was born in 1917. It went on to publish some of the greatest writers of the time, including T.S. Elliott, Katherine Mansfield and EM Forster. One of the successes of the Hogarth press was down to its minimal overheads by running the business from their home.
Later The Hogarth Press moved permanently with the Woolfs to Sussex where they had a home. In 1941 succumbed to a particularly terrible period of personal suffering. She filled her pockets with stones and drowned herself in the Ouse River.
Her final letter to her husband included these heartbreaking words:
“I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer“
The loss of such a profound talent and an incredible mind is immeasurable. Yet, of course, it was her mind, her sometimes enemy, which faltered and gave her such grief that had the ability to conceive, convey and teach so much beauty.
This quote is from The Lighthouse where she speaks of waves…
“It seems impossible that their calm should ever return or that we should ever compose from their fragments a perfect whole or read in the littered pieces the clear words of truth.”
You can find more about these lines at one of my favourite blogs BrainPickings: bit.ly/2S3MpJI
Linocut by Alison Headley www.alisonheadley.co.uk
By Unknown – Woolf in the World: A Pen and a Press of Her Own: Marriage, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=58286243
By George Charles Beresford – Filippo Venturi Photography Blog, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50293324