A lodge of her own

Patio and deckchairs in front of Virginia Woolf’s writing lodge

Another visit to the literary south coast of England finds us at Monk’s House at Rodmell in East Sussex, the home of Leonard and Virginia Woolf. We start at Virginia’s Writing Lodge, essentially a superior garden shed, completed in 1934.

Inside the lodge, on the table, are Virginia’s glasses, folders, papers and writing materials, all reportedly neater and tidier than it would be in the lodge’s heyday; elsewhere a typewriter is at hand, and spare deckchairs and rackets are available for fine weather pursuits.

Inside the writing lodge
A corner of the writing lodge

However, Virginia’s preference was to write in an armchair with a board across her knees. In her bedroom at Monk’s House an armchair with a Chinese embroidered shawl draped over it is where she’s said to have done a lot of her composing. Behind, on the bookshelves, are the set of Shakespeare volumes she hand-covered as a form of therapy.

Virginia’s writing armchair
Bookshelves in the bedroom

Her bedroom, with its lovely parquet flooring, was an addition to the old cottage, and featured (naturally) her bed, a fire, a porcelain washbasin and … more bookshelves. By the bed she would keep writing materials as she suffered from insomnia.

A bed of her own

IN the older part of the house, in the sitting room, books are everywhere in evidence, along with artwork by Virginia’s sister Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and other Bloomsbury artists.

Sitting room corner
Leonard’s writing desk

One of the joys of the Woolfs’ country retreat was the garden, with secluded areas and contrasting ‘rooms’ (though less formal than those of their friends at Sissinghurst). Above is a shepherdess — minus her crook — in the sheltered side garden fronting the road; below is a glimpse of the church, the graveyard of which backed onto the grounds of Monk’s House.

Finally, here’s the view from the writing lodge over the East Sussex countryside, an aspect of the calm and serenity she desperately sought when things were getting black.

25 thoughts on “A lodge of her own

  1. The house looks wonderful–all those books, and that garden–I think I’m going to move in. I’ll probably just take some books and be outdoors reading while the weather is good. How nice to see where she sat and wrote–interesting that it was in an armchair and not as a desk.

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    1. It’s a very intimate kind of cottage, albeit with a large garden to maintain, somewhere she could escape to when things got too hectic in London. It’s very peaceful and calming, though reportedly it was always very untidy, with books littering the stairs rather than in neat piles as here!

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  2. I think it is possible to stay there, though not in Virginia’s own room – that might be too spooky! I fulfilled my own dream to visit the cottage on a tour not unlike yours of the various literary landscapes of Sussex – lots to discover!

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    1. I know upstairs (originally Leonard’s domain) was not open to visitors, Lizza, reserved as it was for National Trust staff, so I don’t know if the current policy is to allow overnight stays—though that’d certainly be an experience to relish.

      Hope to post photo tours of Sissinghurst and Charleston sometime—sadly one couldn’t snap all the interiors at either of these places.

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  3. I went to MH and Charleston about a month ago – it was a very dark and rainy day, hopeless for photography. It’s lovely to do the two together, though. It’s much less idyllic than it looks, though – I sympathised with Eliot (or was it Auden?) who got so cold there that he scorched his trousers huddling over the fire. I thought the Shakespeare set was lovely – the lady who restored and recovered them was there when we visited – and also the little fireplace in the bedroom, painted by Vanessa with the original lighthouse at Godrevey Point.

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    1. A month earlier it was late summer and it looked comfy and homely, but I can imagine that with those brick floors and lack of insulation it would not be so comfy! I took a snap of the fireplace, for use at a suitably bookish moment—such as when I finally get round to reading To the Lighthouse.

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  4. Lovely to see this. I think her circle mainly quite hardy, not made soft by central heating as we are today. With all the sentimental hoo ha about the First World War it is salutory to remember her account of a deeply traumatised young soldier in Mrs Dalloway.

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    1. Speaking personally, we’ve only had central heating at the touch of a switch for the last four years, since we’ve moved to our present home. Before we had an idiosyncratic (euphemism for ‘inefficient’) solid fuel central heating in a stone farmhouse for ten years, preceeded by years with even more inefficient heating in Victorian or Regency houses from childhood onwards, so I’m not unacquainted with the virtues of hardiness!

      I confess I’ve yet to read Mrs Dalloway, or indeed read anything Woolfian/Bloomsbury beyond Orlando, but I aim to remedy that in the near future (I’ve a couple of Sackville-West volumes awaiting my attention). I’m trying to avoid much of the piousness mixed with jingoism that’s on offer for the masses, reserving my energies for anger at politicians and manufacturers who make conflict and war their prime business.

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      1. It is worth reading Mrs Dalloway just for Virginia Woolf’s account of the last day in the life of Septimus Smith, a young soldier psychologically damaged by war.

        In my youth I was obsessed by the Bloomsbury set. Could have made my forune on a quiz show answering questions about their lives and works.

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        1. Hope that the pictures for you helped locate Virginia in the space she spent a lot of time in from the mid-thirties onwards, Gert. And please be gentle with me when I finally get round to reviewing Bloomsbury classics!

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    1. So pleased to potentially help and inform your students, Stefy! Given that the National Trust tend to prettily and tidy up their properties, I don’t mind that Virginia was less houseproud than the photos suggest, it’s just lovely to be able to envisage somewhere where she worked and was refreshed—even though it was near here that she waded into a river and deliberately drowned herself.

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  6. Such superior photo-taking skills, Chris, makes me feel like I am there! I am not sure if I am going to embarrass myself as an American, but is it just that or do these rooms and such seem so small? There. I said it…:)

    At any rate, I love the green color of the walls and the decoration around the fireplace. Thanks again for another ‘tour’!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Laurie, though to be honest almost anywhere I pointed my phone camera was photogenic!

      As to the small rooms (or should I say cosy?) you have to remember this was originally a farm worker’s cottage. Virginia wrote, “It is an unpretending house. These rooms are small…” But as a weekend retreat, with fruit trees and access to long countryside walks, Virginia and Leonard found it ideal despite its primitive state (no inside toilet, liable to flood, no electricity, no mains water) when they bought it in 1919. The colours Virginia chose herself, the other decoration was by her sister and Duncan Grant.

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        1. Aside from the fact that Britain is historically really quite a crowded island, most ordinary people have small properties (by US standards, anyway) and even the rooms in new builds on housing estates have been steadily shrinking over the last fifty years. By those standards, the Woolfs’ property here was quite generous (Virginia even had her own extension, as well as the writing lodge) allowing for the fact that the couple had staff to accommodate as well.

          But, agreed, there was a lot of space for the well-tended grounds, though I took fewer photos of these.

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    1. I believe Virginia chose the palette colours for the walls, Robert — greens and pomegranate, blues and yellows. They are so restful and complement the countryside setting.

      As for the books, these are all replacements, not the originals: the guidebook says that Leonard’s and Virginia’s library of six thousand books was sold to Washington State University after Leonard died, including “one of the most complete sets of Hogarth Press books in existence”; these were, of course, the series of books handprinted and published by the Woolfs themselves.

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        1. Do visit Virginia’s sister’s Vanessa and Clive Bell’s Charleston, which isn’t too far distant, on your trip; and, if you can manage, also see Sissinghurst Castle just over the border in Kent.

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