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Got £3.5 million? If you do, you can buy Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s home in Richmond. The site where they founded the Hogarth Press in 1917 is up for sale again, but this time at a lower price.

In the fall of 2017, the refurbished home, where the Woolfs lived from 1915-1924, was on the market for a price of £4.4 million. It sold in 2019 for £2.95 million, property records show.

Before the redo

Emma Woolf in front of a vine-covered Hogarth House in Richmond in 2016.

The Woolfs’ former home on The Green wasn’t always pristine. Back in June of 2016, when I visited it with Emma Woolf, the Woolfs’ great-niece and the daughter of publisher Cecil Woolf, the front was covered with thick, overgrown vine that nearly obscured the blue plaque marking it as an historic site.

At that time, unpainted plywood covered the main entrance and a list of “Site Safety” cautions was plastered to the front door of the Georgian brick home in south west London.

A lot has changed since then, as you will see when you take a look at the recent stories picturing the luxurious new state of the Paradise Road home.

A bit of Hogarth House history

I wrote about the Woolfs in Richmond back in 2010, as follows.

According to Julia Briggs in Virginia Woolf an Inner Life (2005), the Woolfs took the lease on the property on Virginia’s 33rd birthday. Hogarth House was part of the present Suffield House, which at that time was divided into two separate homes. The Woolfs occupied half of the Georgian brick home, moving there in early March of 1915.

One of England’s famous blue plaques, added in 1976, is affixed to the house to commemorate the Woolfs’ residency. The plaque is one of 15 in Richmond.

Richmond, Woolf’s writing, and the Great War

The Hogarth Press began publishing at Hogarth House in July 1917. Woolf published Two Stories, Kew Gardens, Monday or Tuesday and Jacob’s Room between 1917 and 1924. Interestingly enough, Woolf could see Kew Gardens from the rear windows of Hogarth House.

When German air raids during World War I disturbed the sleep and the safety of the Woolfs and their servants, they moved to the basement at night. And when peace came, Woolf celebrated along with other Richmond residents.

On July 20, 1919, she wrote her diary entry about the “peace” celebrations:

After sitting through the procession and the peace bells unmoved, I began after dinner to feel that if something was going on, perhaps one had better be in it…The doors of the public house at the corner were open and the room crowded; couples waltzing; songs being shouted, waveringly, as if one must be drunk to sing. A troop of little boys with lanterns were parading the Green, beating sticks. Not many shops went to the expense of electric light. A woman of the upper classes was supported dead drunk between two men partially drunk. We followed a moderate stream flowing up the Hill.

Richmond makes its way into Woolf’s later novels as well. In The Waves (1931), for example, the reunion dinner at the end takes place at Hampton Court, which is located in Richmond. In the novel, Bernard calls it the  “meeting-place” for the group of six longtime friends.

Likes and dislikes

Like most things in life, though, Woolf wavered between liking and disliking Richmond. Briggs says that even though Woolf described Hogarth House in one of her diaries as “a perfect house, if ever there was one,” by June of 1923 she was anxious to move back to London. In a diary entry that month, she wrote, “we must leave Richmond and set up in London.”

In March of 1924, the Woolfs left Richmond to move back to London. They set up housekeeping and publishing at 52 Tavistock Square.

More on Virginia Woolf in Richmond

For an in-depth look at Woolf and Richmond, read Peter Fullager’s 2018 book Virginia Woolf in Richmond. Published by Aurora Metro Books, it provides an overview of the 10 years that Virginia and Leonard spent in Richmond, just a 15-minute train trip from central London.

In it, Fullagar explores Virginia’s diaries and letters, along with Leonard’s autobiography, to reveal how Richmond influenced Virginia’s personal life, as well as her writing life, from 1914-1924.

Hogarth House in June of 2016, overgrown with vines and with its front entrance boarded up and papered with “Site Safety’ cautions.

The blue plaque noting the historical significance of the Woolfs’ residency in Hogarth House was nearly obscured by overgrown vines in June of 2016.

Sign directing visitors to parking for Paradise Road, the location of Hogarth House.

Booth in the train station welcoming visitors to Richmond.

Richmond train station

 

Adriana Varga of Nevada State University delivered a paper at this year’s Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf, part of a panel on “Feminist Spaces.” Her title was “Jo Hamya’s Three Rooms and Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own: Ethical and Aesthetic Affinities in the Age of Brexit and the British Housing Crisis.”

The novel she discussed, Three Rooms, is, as Adriana pointed out, as applicable to the U.S. today as to Britain (now more than ever, I would add), in its emphasis not only on unaffordable housing and insufficient employment, but on sexism and racism, disinformation in social media.

Paying homage to Woolf

From the epigraph to the last page, Hanya pays homage to Woolf and makes connections to A Room of One’s Own, starting with three quotes in the epigraph, the third of which reads: “Clearly the mind is always altering its focus, and bringing the world into different perspectives.”

The first-person narrator is a young middle-class woman of color who has a temporary position as a postdoctoral research assistant. She lives in a furnished room in an Oxford house that once had been the residence of Walter and Clara Pater. The blue plaque outside reminds her daily that she occupies borrowed space. A housemate asks if she’s read “this Pater chap,” and she replies that she has, and that his sister was impressive too: “She dealt in languages, taught Greek to Virginia Woolf so that Woolf might hear the birds better.”

Punctuated by quotes from Woolf, Pater, Yeats, and others, the narrator’s day to day life is dominated by place and race, politics and economics.

In England, there was no question of home: depending on who you were, it was either always there, or not. It all worked by empire, by assumption. An orphan girl could advertise and inherit another woman’s burnt trove. Orlando found nothing different within themselves in the same mirror, hung within the same ancestral abode.

A student tells her, “The country’s going to hell and I can’t finish my essay … how do I know what matters … the pound hit a twenty-month low … what use was an English degree now that fake news had eliminated the meaning of words anyway?”

Another decries the required reading as dead and lazy:

They had been given Heart of Darkness so that they couldn’t say the course hadn’t covered questions of imperialisim and race. They had been given Mrs. Dalloway so that they couldn’t say the course hadn’t addressed feminism.

When her post ends, she moves to London to work for low pay and tentative status at a prestigious fashion magazine. Unable to afford even a room, she sublets the sofa of a friend of a friend for £80 a month.

Focusing on space

I’ve highlighted the narrator’s travails, but Hamya, in an interview, stresses that her focus is on space rather than character or dialogue. The context is rooms—the narrator’s downward trajectory in contrast to those in power, occupying rooms at Eton and Oxford, chambers in Westminster and country houses—in a climate of right-wing nationalism and the precarity of life for women of color.

When her employment contract isn’t extended, she has no choice but to move back to her parents’ house, into her childhood room, which isn’t hers either—she doesn’t even have house keys. On the train there, she muses about her circumstances and the link between the lack of personal space and her ability to achieve anything: “I had not found a job with which I could afford to put my life in one place.”

I’m grateful to Adriana Vargas for bringing Three Rooms to my attention and for her excellent conference paper.

On Sept. 11, one of England’s famous plaques noting the literary historical significance of a particular location will be unveiled at Talland House, Virginia Woolf’s summertime home in St. Ives from 1882-1894.

Blogging Woolf was part of a pilgrimage to Talland House in 2004. This photo depicts the front right corner of the home.

Unlike London’s Blue Plaques, this one will have a black background and white letters, the colors of the Cornish flag.

Although Woolf sets her 1927 novel To the Lighthouse in the Hebrides, St. Ives is its true location and inspiration. Godrevy Lighthouse, three miles out across the bay, was part of her view each summer and inspired the titular pilgrimage made by the novel’s family, the Ramsays.

How it came to be

Woolfians from around the globe raised nearly £4,000 to help fund the plaque, which was championed by Maggie Humm, author and vice-chair of the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain. She says the property, Talland House, is a “crucial part of the Woolf story.”

Humm, author of the novel Talland House,was a major force behind the effort. She advocated for the move by providing St. Ives Town Council with useful and persuasive information about the summers Woolf spent at Talland House until the age of 12.

The society proposed the idea for a plaque 20 years ago but stepped up its efforts during the past four years. The St. Ives Town Council approved the idea in March.

We first reported about this effort in October of 2021.

Community response

The proposal for the plaque elicited more than a dozen comments from supporters, local and otherwise.

Here is one from the woman who has restored the Talland House gardens to the glory of Woolf’s time:

The research I have undertaken to inform me about which heritage plants to use in the garden has revealed, beyond my initial imaginings, just how important Talland House and St Ives were to Woolf and to what was to become a groundbreaking new form of literature and key component of Modernism. In her memoirs she describes a philosophy of life that was formed in the garden at Talland house, that she carried with her throughout her life and that fed into her work, informed it even. The house, and gardens, significance cannot be underestimated! – Polly Carter

And here is another from a St. Ives resident and a former resident of Talland House:

As an ex-resident of the house I met many people who had travelled to St. Ives purely for the Virginia Woolf connection; often I would see them in the road looking up to the house and would go and talk to them. Seeing how much the house and surrounding area meant to these people, a plaque honouring Virginia and marking the place that inspired her so much would be perfect. I spoke to previous owners of the building who said Virginia Woolf fans have been coming for years. Chris Roberts

Note: Talland House sits above Porthminster beach. This blog’s header photo depicts a 2004 view of the beach from just below Talland House.

Max Richter’s release of his 33-minute ballet “Exiles” has been out for a year, but I just discovered it. On it, is “filler” that includes a previously unreleased outtake from his ballet “Woolf Works,” inspired by the writings of Virginia Woolf.

Of note for readers of Woolf is the eight-minute piece “Flowers of Herself,” which  provides an orchestral soundtrack for the opening of Woolf’s 1925 novel Mrs. Dalloway. It includes the tolling of Big Ben by tubular bells and provides the musical energy of a bustling street scene as we imagine Clarissa winding through the streets of London on her walk to “buy the flowers herself.”

According to BBC World Service, as “One of his most intricate and attractive orchestral pieces, “Flowers” receives an outstanding performance by the young musicians of the Baltic Sea Philharmonic led by Kristjan Järvi.

The next three sessions in the Woolf Salon Project are dedicated to a study and open discussion of Virginia Woolf’s anti-war polemic Three Guineas (1938).

Details of the sessions

  1. What: Woolf Salon #20 – “Let It Blaze! Let It Blaze!”
    Date:
    Friday, July 29
    Time: 3-5 p.m. ET (New York); 12 p.m.–2 p.m. PT (Los Angeles); 4–6 p.m. Brasilia; 8–10 p.m. BST (London); 9–11 p.m. CEST (Paris)
    Homework: Chapter 1 of Three Guineas, along with endnotes.
  2. What: Woolf Salon #21 – “Our Mothers Will Laugh”
    Date: Friday, Aug. 25
    Time: 3-5 p.m. ET (New York); 12 p.m.–2 p.m. PT (Los Angeles); 4–6 p.m. Brasilia; 8–10 p.m. BST (London); 9–11 p.m. CEST (Paris)
  3. What: Woolf Salon #22- “Unnatural Daughters”
    Date: Friday, Sept. 30
    Time: 3-5 p.m. ET (New York); 12 p.m.–2 p.m. PT (Los Angeles); 4–6 p.m. Brasilia; 8–10 p.m. BST (London); 9–11 p.m. CEST (Paris)

How to join

Anyone can join the group, which meets on one Friday of each month via Zoom and focuses on a single topic or text. Just contact woolfsalonproject@gmail.com to sign up for the email list and receive the Zoom link

Background on the Salon

The Salon Conspirators — Benjamin Hagen, Shilo McGiff, Amy Smith, and Drew Shannon — began the Woolf Salon Project in July 2020 to provide opportunities for conversation and conviviality among Woolf-interested scholars, students, and common readers during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

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