Monthly Archives: December 2015

Virginia’s first car 1927

Virginia and Leonard bought their first car in 1927 as a result of the success of To the Lighthouse. By all accounts it was either a Singer Junior or a Singer Senior.  I don’t have a photograph of either of these but today I went for breakfast to The Carding Shed, Hepworth, where there is a display of classic cars. One of these was a 1929 Chrysler Saloon which, although not the same as a Singer, will give you an idea of what The Woolfs’ car looked like.


Photo: my own

The car gave Virginia freedom from walking, cycling or travel by train. It allowed her to travel thousands of miles as far as Italy, France and Ireland. Both Virginia and Leonard had driving lessons and after only a few weeks Virginia was able to drive alone in the countryside. However, not long after her initial enthusiasm for driving, she drove into a hedge and preferred to be a passenger after that.

Here is a little bit of driving history:

In 1903 the first driving licences were introduced in order to identify vehicles and their drivers. However, no test was necessary. The licences cost the equivalent of £25 today.

in 1927 Virginia started to learn to drive. She would never have had to take a driving test. The speed limit at this time was 20mph.

In 1935 testing became compulsory for all new drivers. A candidate would arrange to meet the examiner in a railway station or somewhere as no test centres existed at this time.  Windscreen wipers were used for the first time.

Keeping up with the Joneses?

I her diary for July 1927 Virginia commented about the car that ‘the Keynes have one too – a cheap one’. Presumably hers was an expensive one.


Image courtesy of Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History

For information, the average price of a new car in 1927 was £380 which is the equivalent today of nearly £21k.


Vanessa Bell (1879 to 1961) artist and interior decorator



Portrait of Vanessa Bell by Roger Fry 1916: Wikipedia, Public Domain.

Vanessa was Virginia’s sister and like Virginia, she was educated at home. She studied languages, maths and history and had drawing lessons. Vanessa went on to study painting at the Royal Academy, London and at the Slade School of Art.

During my research for this post, I have read that Vanessa began at ‘The Slade’ in 1901. The Slade is the art school of The University College London and is world renowned. However, though she apparently started there I can’t see her name amongst the Slade’s notable alumni, nor indeed on any alumni list. I can see Duncan Grant’s name there (and incidentally, Antony Gormley’s*) but not Vanessa’s.

I wonder if Vanessa actually finished her degree?

Vanessa Stephen married Clive Bell in 1907 and although they remained close and never divorced, she drifted in to a relationship with Duncan Grant. They had the same artistic taste and were on the same wavelength in their creativity. Duncan had homosexual relationships but remained close to Vanessa and they had a daughter, Angelica, together.

Vanessa excelled in portraits but she preferred to paint still lifes and interiors until in 1914 she focused more on abstraction. Vanessa was influenced by viewing works by Picasso and Manet which turned her attentions towards abstract painting. Her paintings showed a departure from reality, compositions were simplified and colours were vibrant. Vanessa chose real life subject matter but she distorted colour and form by simplifying the subject and using broad bands of colour.  In one painting of Virginia she paints none of her facial features; a characteristic of abstract painting.

Abstract painting exists on a scale of departure from reality. Forgive my ignorance as I am not an expert in the visual arts but I see abstraction as being on a scale from 1-10 with 1 being a recognisable realistic interpretation of a subject (e.g. a portrait that you can recognise as a person) to 10 being unrecognisable as any real life subject.

In my degree days we briefly studied Rothko and his paintings using blocks of colour and rectangular shapes. These are paintings that I would score as a ’10’ on my abstraction scale and indeed, Vanessa did paint in this manner. However, the painting I mentioned above that shows no facial features I would score as perhaps a ‘4’ as Virginia is clearly recognisable as a person even if not as herself.

Vanessa’s creativity did not stop at paintings. Her style was to decorate walls, doors, furniture, ceramics, fabric, and in fact any surface you could think of.  When I visited Charleston Farmhouse earlier this year, I noticed that even the side of the bath didn’t escape!

  • Gormley is another of my faves but maybe that needs to be another blog!

Getting Sorted

My Virginia mini-library

I have been feeling a little disorganised, book wise. I have close to fifty books in my Virginia mini-library and they were getting out of hand. A big pile of fiction, short fiction, non-fiction, biographies, autobiographical writings, general reference and Woolf specific reference. Needless to say I didn’t know exactly what was hiding in the pile and I didn’t know what to read next. So, I have spent the last hour making a proper library for them … see my sticky labels below? Biography, non-fiction etc?

You would be surprised but this was not quite as easy as it sounds. For example I have a book Virginia Woolf, Memoirs of a Novelist and at first glance I assumed it was autobiographical. Wrong. It is actually a collection of short stories.


I feel much better now and much more organised. I am also aware that I have been spending a lot of time on other aspects of my blog and not on the books. I will put that right very soon – there are just too many interesting tangents!

Gingernut Biscuits

In Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, Mr Ramsay offers his daughter,

… from his own parcel, a gingerbread nut, ….

Ginger biscuits are my personal second favourite biscuits and it seems that they were favourites of the Bloomsberries as well. Jan’s Ondaatje Rolls, in The Bloomsbury Cookbook, provides the recipe. I can imagine the members of the Thursday evening Bloomsbury Group passing round the biscuits to facilitate their debating and discussion.

This recipe makes six biscuits. So, compared to my previous Bloomsbury baking experiences, where the cake recipes were sufficient to feed a football team, this wouldn’t even sustain the fairy on my Christmas tree.

These are the meagre ingredients:


The stuff in the glass is Golden Syrup. In the dish are baking soda, ground ginger and a pinch of salt. The other ingredients are flour, sugar and butter.

I rubbed the butter in to the dry ingredients and then added the golden syrup to make a dough. As you can see, the amount was tiny. I wondered if this would actually be enough to make six biscuits.

Going in to the oven for ten minutes, cooling, and …. six perfect ginger biscuits. I was having friends around later that day and we all had one each and they were absolutely delicious.

That’s not all I gave my friends to eat by the way.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson 1809 to 1892


Photo by Julia Margaret Cameron [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Well I am really getting side-tracked now.

Learning about  Virginia has led me, via Virginia’s Great Aunt, Julia Margaret Cameron (the famous photographer), to Tennyson who was a friend of Julia’s and a fellow member of the ‘Freshwater Circle’.

The only things I knew about Tennyson before my research, was that he wrote ‘The Lady of Shalott’ and ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’.

I now know that he was Poet Laureate after Wordsworth and accepted his peerage in 1884. So, he was only Lord Tennyson after the age of 75! He died at age 83.

A real surprising thing that I have learned (and please forgive my ignorance) is that he wrote the following:

‘Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all’

In Memoriam A.H.H.

I would  (almost) have bet my life that it was Shakespeare. Well well well. Every day is a school day, so they say.

In Memoriam A.H.H. is considered to be a masterpiece;  written after the very early death of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam, it is an account of the poet’s thoughts and feelings as he mourns and grieves for his friend.

I hold it true, whate’er befall;

I feel it when I sorrow most;

‘Tis better to have loved and lost

Than never to have loved at all.

It is an epic poem  written in four line stanzas with an ABBA rhyming scheme. It is written in iambic tetrameter (da DUM, da DUM, da DUM, da DUM). Maybe the ‘heartbeat’ rhythm speaks louder than the words.

This is where he lived, on the Isle of Wight.


Farringford House [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Julia Margaret Cameron, photographer

The greatest portrait photographer of the Victorian Age

Born 1815, died 1879.

Julia Margaret Pattle was born in Calcutta and became an innovative British photographer, famous for photographing Victorian celebrities. She is credited with pioneering photography as an art form and with taking some of the first close up portraits. These portraits were usually cropped closely round the face and taken in soft focus. Her famous ‘sitters’ included Charles Darwin and Alfred Lord Tennyson and of course, Virginia’s mother, Julia.

As well as being a famous photographer, Julia Margaret was also Virginia Woolf’s Great Aunt. As we know, Virginia’s mother was Julia Stephen. Julia’s mother was Maria Pattle who had a sister, Julia Margaret. This well known Victorian photographer was therefore Virginia’s grandmother’s sister – Virginia’s Great Aunt.

In 1838 Julia Margaret married Charles Hay Cameron who was twenty years her senior. As we speak, my resident genealogist is trying the find a link between him and the Prime Minister today, David Cameron.

Q. Was Virginia related to David Cameron?

A. Yes

Well, my genealogist has been on the case and yes, there is a relationship. Get ready. David Cameron’s Great Great Great Great Great Grandad (William Hay, the 17th Earl of Erroll, 1772 to 1819), was uncle to Charles Hay, the gentleman who was married to Virginia’s Great Aunt.

…..    mmmm that’s what I thought.

Julia Margaret has been described as generous, talented, intelligent, eccentric and enthusiastic. She was ambitious and, with adjectives like this, she was unlike the stereotypical passive Victorian woman. Julia came to photography when her daughter gave her a camera as a gift. She was forty eight at the time so she found this passion in later life.

When Charles retired  in 1848 they moved from India to England.

The Cameron’s house , Dimbola Lodge, Fresh Water Bay,  Isle of Wight.

In 1860 Julia and Charles bought two adjacent cottages that served as her home and studio. She converted the coal shed into a dark room and the hen house into a studio. She named this home ‘Dimbola Lodge’ after her husband’s coffee and tea plantations in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Julia certainly moved in the circles of some of the  highest in society in Victorian England.

Alfred Lord Tennyson lived nearby and attracted artists and visitors to the area. These people came to be known as the Freshwater Circle – I imagine a bit like the Bloomsberries – a group of artists, writers and thinkers. Dimbola Lodge sounds like it was an earlier version of Charleston Farmhouse; a meeting place for bohemian artists, writers and poets; people like Tennyson and Lewis Carroll, author of Alice in Wonderland.

Dimbola Lodge around 1871
Dimbola Lodge nearer present day

Photograph 1: By Editor5807 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. Both photographs in the public domain.

In 1875 Julia and Charles moved back to his estate in Ceylon where Julia took fewer photographs. Chemicals were not as easy to obtain and neither was pure water for developing and printing and indeed, there was a smaller market for her work.

Julia died in 1879, in Ceylon, after catching a chill.


An extremely brief history of English Literature

Old English (or Anglo Saxon)

For this period think before 1066 and think Beowulf. This epic poem was a first major work not written in Latin or Greek. Just a quick sidestep while I put this long standing query of mine to bed:

Q. How on Earth is it pronounced?

A. Bay uh wulf (I find ‘Bayer wulf’ easier to remember and it’s almost the same)

Middle English (or medieval)

For this period think 1066 to 1550 and think Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. A major theme of this period was Christianity and the difference between an ideal Christian life and the actual reality of life.


For this period think up to 1650 and think Shakespeare. The English Language of the time doesn’t look too different  to what we know today. There is a move away from religious ideals towards self interest and a secular focus.

Eighteenth Century

Think 1700’s and think Henry Fielding or Samuel Richardson. This was the period of the ‘novel’ and the role of the individual in society with a desire for social order.

Romantic Period

Think early 1800’s and think Jane Austen, and Blake and Wordsworth and Shelley and Keats and Coleridge.  Austen was certainly writing of social order and conduct and manners which is slightly at odds with the poets. For them, this was the period of nature, the imagination, the sublime and the transience of life.

Victorian Literature

Think 1830 to 1900. Time for Charles Dickens, Charlotte Bronte, Tennyson and Browning. A period of great change; Darwin’s The Origin of Species threw science into the equation, Freud’s work made people think about the darker side of human nature and society was becoming more complex. There was huge social reform, industrialisation and the building of an Empire.


Think early 1900’s and think Hardy, Conrad, T S Eliot and ….. Virginia Woolf. This is a period where life was felt to be so confusing that making sense of it all was a challenge. There was a decline in religion and there was World War which broke the traditional order of life and plunged it all into chaos. The result was a boom in the arts as an expression of feeling. Works of this type are undeniably often difficult to understand, and Virginia’s works are certainly challenging, but authors were only trying to make sense of all the confusion.