Category Archives: The Basics

Virginia Woolf – The Basics

House moves, breakdowns, family deaths and suicide

I was in Waterstones in the literary biography section and I came across this darling of a little book and I couldn’t resist.

Blog  It seemed like a good place to start my learning about Virginia’s life.


Growing Up at 22 Hyde Park Gate, London

Virginia was born on 25 January 1882 and grew up at 22 Hyde Park Gate with Mum and Dad, a sister, two brothers, two half sisters and two half brothers. Quite a houseful. A house full of people, conversation, letters, books and mementos. Busy and interesting. The boys went to school but Virginia stayed at home reading and writing and devouring her father’s library like there was no tomorrow.

Photograph by Michael Taylor

This is Hyde Park Gate. Not number 22 but you get the idea. A very expensive place to live. Virginia lived at no. 22 and apparently Nigel Lawson lived at no. 24 and Winston Churchill at no. 26. I know that they were all alive together between 1932 and 1941 but I don’t think they were ever neighbours. Imagine Virginia popping over for dinner parties hosted by Nigella. Lovely idea but sadly it never happened.

Holidays in Cornwall

Holidays were spent at Talland House, St. Ives, Cornwall. Virginia’s father rented this house from 1881 before Virginia was born to 1895 when she was thirteen and Virginia’s mother died. Leslie Stephen, his family and servants would travel from London to St. Ives. The family would walk on the moors, swim and play games. Virginia loved to play cricket. The view from the house was of Godrevy lighthouse which inspired her novel, ‘To the Lighthouse’. Talland House still exists today in 2015 but it seems that there are plans to build a block of flats and a car park which will spoil the view of the lighthouse from Talland. Objections are  being made.

The Death of Virginia’s Mother (1895)

Julia died in 1895 aged just 48 after she became ill with rheumatic fever. Leslie Stephen’s grief was all consuming and, full of self pity, his relationship with his children suffered. They felt imprisoned and the girls, who did not go to school, were housebound with him.  Stella (Julia’s daughter from her previous marriage) took on the role as housekeeper in her mother’s place but she also died a couple of years later and it fell to Vanessa (Virginia’s full sister) to take on this role after her.

Virginia’s first mental breakdown (1895)

Virginia was heartbroken when her mother died. She suffered her first breakdown at the young age of 13.

The Death of Virginia’s Father (1904)

Leslie became ill with abdominal cancer and died two years later on 22 February 1904, aged 69. Virginia was 22.

Virginia’s second mental breakdown (1904)

After her father’s death, Virginia was in bed for months suffering from depression. She refused to eat and heard voices telling her to do things.

The move to 46 Gordon Square, Bloomsbury (1904 to 1907)

46 Gordon Square, Londres, Royaume-Uni

Photo: Myrabella / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0 & GFDL

After Leslie Stephen died, Vanessa moved the family to 46 Gordon Square to make a new start and six months after her father’s death, Virginia recovered from her illness. In a letter written in September 1904 she stated that:

All the voices I used to hear telling me to do all kinds of wild things have gone.

 At Gordon Square Vanessa and Virginia had more space. It gave Virginia ‘a room of her own’. At Hyde Park Gate there was only a bedroom each where they could read or see friends but here at Gordon Square they each had a sitting room; there was a large double drawing room, and a study on the ground floor and the house had been completely done up.

Virginia’s brother, Thoby, started to invite his Cambridge friends to their home on Thursdays for evenings of discussion about art, politics and ideas and such. This was the beginning of the ‘Bloomsbury Group’. It was a bohemian group of people; they didn’t follow convention and they didn’t conform. They were ‘avant-garde in that they were ground breaking and pioneering and, I like to think, a group of ‘oddballs’ who didn’t give a damn about what people thought!

Virginia started to review books and write essays but then, in 1906, her brother Thoby died.

The move to 29 Fitzroy Square (1907 to 1911)

 A year later Vanessa married Clive Bell and as a result Virginia and their other brother, Adrian, moved to 29 Fitzroy Square. I have a friend who will be interested to know that these buildings are fronted in Portland stone brought by sea from Dorset. Other Bloomsbury members lived nearby and their meetings still took place.

The move to 38 Brunswick Square (1911 to 1915) 

Virginia and Adrian moved again, this time Virginia was the only woman in a house with four men (Keynes, Grant, Adrian and Leonard Woolf). Keynes and Grant lived as a couple on the ground floor. Adrian was on the first floor, Virginia had the next one and Leonard lived at the top of the house, in love with the landlady. They were married in St Pancras Town Hall in August 1912. She was 30; he was 31. They called each other Mandrill and Mongoose.

Virginia’s third mental breakdown (1913)

After her honeymoon, Virginia had a further breakdown. In 1913 she took an overdose of sleeping tablets.

The move to Hogarth House, Richmond (1915 to 1924)

Hogarth House 1

Photo:  Tony Grant

In 1917, the Woolfs bought a printing press. It was hoped that this venture may help with Virginia’s well being as they taught themselves the business of printing books. In 1919 they bought their summer retreat, Monk’s House.

Monk’s House will be our address for ever and ever. Indeed I’ve already marked out our graves in the yard which joins our meadow. (Virginia, letter 1919)

The move to 52 Tavistock Square (1924 to 1939 )

The Woolfs left Hogarth Square for Tavistock Square. This house was later bombed in WW2. In 1925 Virginia began a relationship with Vita Sackville-West. Tavistock Square was the scene of one of the four suicide bombings in London in July 2005 where 13 people lost their lives after an explosion on a double decker bus.

The move to 37 Mecklenburgh Square (1939 to 1941)

The Woolfs moved to Mecklenburgh but spent most of their time at Monk’s House as war approached. Mecklenburgh was bombed in 1940.

Virginia’s final breakdown (1941)

Virginia sensed that a fourth breakdown was on the way and she couldn’t face the thought of her and Leonard living through another episode. She drowned herself in 1941 in the River Ouse. She was 59.

Moving home

From researching all these house moves in seems extraordinary to me (who has lived in the same house for the last 23 years) that someone can move house so much! Since Virginia’s father died in 1904 she moved house 6 times, on average every five or six years.