search slide
search slide
pages bottom

Charleston & Monk’s House

In  April of this year I visited the home of Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell et al ‘Bloomsbury in Sussex’ otherwise known as Charleston. See the link

My interest in Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell is a long standing obsession and I was curious to see the place in which this group of literary and visual artists, critics and journalists had made their spiritual home as early as 1916. The house is beautifully restored and decorated by the Charleston Trust with the aid of Ms. Gage and you can tour on specific days and see the lives and works of these artists in situ. It is like walking into somebody’s house, temporarily as if they had just popped out to get the dog in from the garden, and you charleston intanticipate their return any moment. The artwork is fabulously bizarre and faded in places as Vanessa & Duncan cared little for posterity: what if damp and time effaced them? They could always whitewash them over and begin again.. The beautiful garden has been replanted and was at its zenith florally speaking, and the visit is pure delight. Apparently people come again and again to visit and I can well see why; events and exhibitions are maintained in true Bloomsbury style. Thanks to Penny for a brilliantly informative visit.

monks house extJust a few miles away in Rodmell is Monk’s House, the home of Virginia and Leonard Woolf from 1919-1969, as far as Leonard is concerned; VW took her own life by drowning herself in the river Ouse in 1941. Here is a far more low-key setting, a house no more than a basic country cottage decorated by  the Omega workshop group (Roger Fry, Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and others) but with a splendid garden which is well documented in LW’s and Quentin Bells’ diaries and biographies. Virginia’s garden writing lodge is the most poignant part of the visit; a sparse, bare place, totally isolated from the main house, as if she could not work with even the comparatively little bustle produced by her political journalist of a husband, dogs, two live-in servants, soon to be replaced by a daily. The rooms are set monks housedeep into the garden and have an underwater aspect to them as if one were surrounded by waving seaweed. Books and writing materials abound, as one would expect, and a throwback to Charleston in the decor. Monk’s House is set right in the middle of the village, somewhat strange for someone who found ‘ordinary people’  generally exasperating, while the relative  isolation of Charleston was offset by a gregarious and lively group of bohemians who made their own rules and defied the legal and political etiquette of the times, along with a healthy form of disrespect  for accepted sexual and social mores. Thoughts to ponder in an age of total conformity. Those of you who are interested in Virginia Woolf’s novels will be surprised by the elegant complexity of her prose and the country simplicity of her surroundings: proof that she really did lead ‘a life of the mind’.