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Botanic Garden gates

Today at the Literature Cambridge course on Virginia Woolf’s Gardens, we went To the Lighthouse.

Not literally. But that was the focus of both the lecture by Trudi Tate and our small group tutorials this morning, before we veered off across the land to the Cambridge University Botanic Garden. There, garden historian Caroline Holmes led us on an afternoon tour of plants from all over the world.

We didn’t make it through the entire 40 acres of the garden that opened in 1846. Nevertheless, we saw, felt, and sniffed a wide variety of the more than 8,000 species growing there.

Discussing the garden in To the Lighthouse

Predictably enough, our morning discussions about To the Lighthouse focused on Woolf’s use of the garden in her 1927 novel. In her lecture, Tate touched on ways the garden connects to mother and memory, as well as the Victorian past.

Later this morning, in our four-person tutorial group led by Karina Jakubowicz, two things stand out to me from our discussion. One was the way the urns full of red trailing geraniums fail to attract Mr. Ramsay’s full attention but cause him to go off on intellectual tangents. The other was the meaning of Mrs. Ramsay’s green cashmere shawl in the “Time Passes” section. We all thought there was more to explore there.

Walking the gardens

Now for photos from the day, starting at Wolfson College, home of this year’s Literature Cambridge course, and ending with a walk through the Cambridge University Botanic Garden.

The Wolfson College garden where two of the four tutorial groups at this year’s Literature Cambridge class discussed Woolf’s “To the Lighthouse” this morning.

Entrance to the Cambridge University Botanic Garden on Trumpington Street

The knowledgeable Caroline Holmes provided the history of the trees and other plants at the Botanic Garden during our tour, adding a touch of humor throughout.

The iconic fountain designed by David Mellor, a focal point at the eastern end of the Botanic Garden’s Main Walk

Path through the Winter Garden

Floral close-up

One of the many trees on the Main Walk of the Botanic Garden

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This afternoon, as part of our Literature Cambridge course on Virginia Woolf’s Gardens, we visited Newnham College in search of Virginia Woolf. We found her in several places.

Garden walk

Lottie Collis leads us on a garden tour.

First, we found her in the gardens, as we were led on a walking tour of the college’s four gardens by Lottie Collis, head of the garden team. We went from the original mid-Victorian garden with winding paths to the Arts and Crafts garden focused on form and function, to the sunken rose garden. All were in place in 1928 when Woolf visited.

Each garden was peaceful and beautiful in its own way, providing sensual stimulation to the eye as well as the nose, particularly when among the roses. In that outdoor space, the air smelled like heaven.

Site of the talk

But the most exciting part of the tour for me was our visit to Newnham’s dining hall, the site where Virginia Woolf gave her October 1928 talk on women and fiction. That talk, along with one given at Girton College, became A Room of One’s Own (1929), a landmark text for feminists worldwide.

The size, grandeur, and light-filled beauty of the room took my breath away. It was a room fitting for someone of Woolf’s current stature and the women who came before her. It was completely unlike the small, dim setting I had imagined for Woolf’s famous talk about the poorly treated women students she described.

Reactions to Woolf’s Newnham College talk

Woolf came to Newnham at the invitation of the Newnham Arts Society. Her audience that day is estimated at roughly around 40, but since no records were kept of the luncheon menu or the participants, it is difficult to be certain of the number or of the food served at the lunch.

Reactions to her talk about women and fiction were mixed. The first, published in the student magazine Thersites during the Michaelman Term of 1928, was positive. The next one, published years later in A Newnham Anthology of 1970, was not.

The woman who led our tour of the dining hall shared them both with our class and with Blogging Woolf. And we share them below, along with photos from our garden tour and our visit to the dining hall.

Exhibit of Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group

The Newnham College Library has a special exhibit of Hogarth Press books by Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group on the second floor of the new wing of the library. We viewed the exhibit. But sadly, photographs were not permitted. All of the materials are housed in the library’s special collections.

1928 commentary on Woolf’s talk.

Commentary on Woolf’s talk published in the Newnham Anthologies of 1970.

Mid-Victorian style garden outside Newnham’s Old Hall.

Students in the Literature Cambridge class, Virginia Woolf’s Gardens, walk the path on a tour of Newnham College gardens.

Just one view of one of the Newnham Hall gardens.

Students in the Literature Cambridge Virginia Woolf’s Gardens course In the Sunken Rose Garden at Newnham College.

Closeup of a yellow rose in bud in the Sunken Rose Garden at Newnham College

A perennial bed at Newnham College

The Newnham College dining hall where Virginia Woolf gave her famous talk on women and fiction in 1928.

Another view of the Newnham College dining hall where Woolf spoke in 1928.

A view of the elaborate, light-filled dining hall ceiling at Newnham College.

Alcove in the Newnham College dining hall.

View of the gardens from along the corridor leading to the Newnham College dining hall where Woolf gave her famous 1928 talk.

 

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