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Virginia Woolf and Bloomsbury
Women have served all these centuries as looking-glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of a man at twice its natural size.
Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own (1929)
Virginia Woolf was born Virginia Stephen in London, at Hyde Park Gate in Kensington, and was educated at home. In about 1903, George Duckworth - her elder half brother with whom she endured a disturbingly abusive relationship - attempted to enter Virginia and her sister Vanessa into London society, but it was never, but her reclusive nature and high intellectual tendencies prevented Virginia from interacting with the London set. When her father died a year later, the Stephen siblings moved to dingy understated Bloomsbury. Their first house was at 46 Gordon Square, and was the place where Woolf began to write concertedly. Shortly after the move, her brother Thoby, who had been at Cambridge University, began to invite his friends to visit the family. Amongst the guests were the economist John Maynard Keynes, the artist Clive Bell, Lynton Strachey the biographer, and Virginia's future husband, the critic Leonard Woolf. These were the early members of the Bloomsbury Group. A plaque on the wall at Gordon Square celebrates Keynes' residence there rather than Virginia's.
The group put paid to the notion that Virginia was wilfully anti-social, orientating her within a new set which despised orthodoxy, disapproved of society gossip, and gave its women equal licence with its men. Another of its defining characteristic was its delight in sexual freedom and welcoming of homosexuality. Later the art critic Roger Fry and novelist E.M. Forster joined the group.
In 1912 Virginia and Leonard Woolf were married. For nine years they moved away from Bloomsbury to Hogarth House in Richmond, where in 1917 Virginia established the Hogarth Press. A plaque on the wall of the building in Paradise Road remembers their time there. The press grew from a hobby pursued with a hand-printing machine into a serious business concern publishing works by members of the Bloomsbury Group, as well as works on psychoanalysis and works by foreign writers in translation. During their first year at Richmond, Woolf also completed her first novel, The Voyage Out, which she had been writing for six years and was eventually published by Gerald Duckworth. Her second novel, Night and Day and her third, Jacob's Room were both composed at Richmond, as was Mrs Dalloway, although they had moved back to Bloomsbury by the time of its publication.
In 1924, the Woolfs took a house at 52 Tavistock Square, continuing to operate the Hogarth Press from there. It was in Tavistock square that Woolf became a best-selling writer and she composed To The Lighthouse (1927), Orlando (1928), The Waves (1931), The Years (1936) while they were there. The Tavistock Hotel now stands of the site of their house. Fifteen years later they moved again - bringing the press with them - the short distance to 37 Mecklenburgh Square, but in 1940, the house was bombed, forcing them to retreat to a country existence in Rodmell, Sussex. 1957 William Goodenough House replaced their house on the north side of the square. After Virginia Woolf's suicide in 1941, Leonard Woolf remained in charge of The Hogarth Press until selling the company to Chatto and Windus in 1946.© David Thorley, 2007.
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