Take a Tour of Virginia Woolf’s Life in London

Get an insight into what inspired the author with Street View

By Google Arts & Culture

Virginia Woolf (test plate for “The Dinner Party”) (1978) by Judy ChicagoNational Museum of Women in the Arts

Considered one of the most important British writers of the 20th century, Virginia Woolf was a pioneer in using stream of consciousness as a narrative device. Her words and characters often explore the human condition and reflect on the societal impact of the First World War in Britain. Her timeless writing has been immortalized in classics such as Mrs. Dalloway To The Lighthouse, and The Waves as well as, A Room of One’s Own – an extended essay that urged the male-dominated literary world to make space for female voices.

Born and bred in London, Woolf once said of the city: “The streets of London have their map, but our passions are uncharted. What are you going to meet if you turn this corner?” She observed London in detail and often drew upon its chaos, depicting it in many of her works. To get more insight into how she was inspired by her environment and the people she saw, take a tour of Virginia Woolf’s London with Street View.

22 Hyde Park Gate, Kensington

This was Virginia Woolf’s childhood home. Born Adeline Virginia Stephen in 1882, she lived here with her parents Julia Prinsep Duckworth Stephen – a philanthropist and Pre-Raphaelite model, and Sir Leslie Stephen – a celebrated critic and author. She also lived there with her older sister Vanessa, older brother Thorby, and younger brother Adrian.

The Kensington dwelling is just a short stroll from the Royal Albert Hall and is adorned with three English Heritage blue plaques – one for Woolf’s father, her sister, and the writer herself.

46 Gordon Square

Throughout her life, Woolf suffered with mental health issues, which were later diagnosed as bipolar disorder. When Woolf’s father died in 1904, the writer had her second nervous breakdown. This led to the writer and her siblings selling the family home and moving to 46 Gordon Square in Bloomsbury.

While there, the family became part of The Bloomsbury Group – a group of associated English writers, intellectuals, philosophers, and artists made up of those who had studied at Cambridge or worked in Bloomsbury. A key feature of the group was the way their works and approach celebrated the importance of the arts.

King's College London, Ladies Department

While growing up Woolf was taught at home by her parents, but by 1897 she wanted to experience formal education. At the time Woolf was only permitted to attend the separate ladies department of King’s College London, located near Kensington Square.

Here she spent four years studying Latin, Greek, and History and came into contact with some of the early reformers of women’s education, including Lilian Faithfull, principal of the Ladies’ Department and Clara Pater, a tutor and pioneer in the movement for educational equality among women.

Burley House, 15 Cambridge Park, Twickenham

When Woolf suffered from episodes of ill health she descended into a deep depression. There was little break in regards to Woolf’s literary output during these times, and to aid recovery, Woolf often broke away from the claustrophobic nature of London.

The author went to the city’s outskirts and stayed at Burley House in Twickenham in 1910, 1912, and 1913. The residence was said to be a private nursing home for women with “nervous disorders”. Although it’s a private residence now, you can still stroll by the house and see the greenery and space that surrounds the property.

Hogarth House, Richmond

Enjoying the fresh air that the outskirts of London provided, Woolf moved to Hogarth House in Richmond in 1915. She lived there with her husband Leonard Woolf, who was also a writer.

Situated on Paradise Road, it was here that Woolf and her husband founded Hogarth Press, which still exists today as an imprint of The Crown Publishing Group. Starting in the dining room, the press grew from a hobby to a business when the pair began using commercial printers. The Woolfs published each other’s books as well as the works of other members of the Bloomsbury Group.

Tavistock Square, Bloomsbury

After a decade in the suburbs, Woolf left Hogarth House and returned to the city in 1924. She moved to 52 Tavistock Square and found the area to be full of inspiration. Many passages of Mrs Dalloway and To the Lighthouse echo this, and the vivid depictions of city life were inspired by what she called “street hauntings”, which involved the writer watching people interact with the cityscape.

The original building no longer remains having been burned down during the Blitz in the early 1940s. The Tavistock Hotel now sits in its place and there is a bronze bust of the author in Tavistock Square serving as a nod to her presence in the area.

Monk's House, Rodmell, East Sussex

After Tavistock Square, Woolf moved to 37 Mecklenburgh Square in 1939. Another air raid in 1940 destroyed the house, so Woolf and Leonard moved to Monk’s House in Rodmell, East Sussex, a property the pair had owned since 1919.

While at the 17th century cottage, once again Woolf found herself in a heavy depression triggered by the onset of the Second World War, the tepid reception of a biography she’d written, and Leonard’s involvement in the Home Guard. The writer committed suicide in 1941 by drowning herself in the River Ouse. Her husband buried her cremated remains beneath an elm tree in the garden of their house and Leonard continued to live there until his own death in 1969.

Virginia Woolf (test plate for “The Dinner Party”) (1978) by Judy ChicagoNational Museum of Women in the Arts

By stopping off at the various places Woolf lived, studied and worked over the years before her untimely death, we also get a glimpse into the influential people she met along the way. This insight is invaluable and provides us with a snapshot of a writer whose literary influence is still felt today.

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