Trigger Warning: Suicide

As a third-year English and Media student studying Virginia Woolf, our module organised a visit to her home, Monk’s House, which is now a National Trust site. 

Virginia Woolf is known for her experimental modernist writing and popularisation of the stream of consciousness style that landed her in the literary hall of fame. Her best-known works include The Waves and To The Lighthouse. She alternated between London and the village of Rodmell, deep in the Sussex Downs, for the last 22 years of her life until her suicide at age 59 in Lewes in 1941.

To the good fortune of all literary buffs, feminists, and English students in Sussex, Monk’s House is preserved as it was when Woolf called it home, instead now full of knowledgeable and friendly volunteers in each room. Despite only being a fifteen-minute drive from Falmer campus, the cottage feels like another world. A sense of intense isolation, both peaceful and suffocating, lingers in the air, amplified by the endless views of Sussex Downs. 

Image: Maisie Knights

Prior to my visit, I avoided looking at photos of the house so I could go into the experience blind. They say one’s home gives a direct glimpse into the mind, and this is certainly the case for Virginia Woolf’s quaint little cottage. Traces of her linger everywhere, frozen in time: mismatched reading chairs, overflowing bookshelves in every room, delicate teacups and saucers. It’s an eclectic blend of everything she and her husband, Leonard (also an author), adored. The majority of the furniture is personally decorated by loved ones and members of the Bloomsbury group, a collection of artists and writers who are discussed in more depth below. 

A personal highlight from this trip was viewing Woolf’s private writing shed, hidden among the greenery of the back garden. In her essay A Room of One’s Own, Woolf explores the disadvantages faced by female writers due to their lack of privacy when writing. To see the desk at which such revolutionary and historic literature was produced left me feeling motivated and uplifted as a young female writer facing different challenges. Woolf has often been viewed as a feminist and queer icon, and a visit to Monk’s House is a window into her life essential for anyone interested in learning more about her, whether they have read her works or not.

Monk’s House re-opens for visitors on 29 March 2024. Pre-booking is essential and available on their website.

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