A Feminist Rebellion: Virginia Woolf and Monk’s House

In these worrisome times, while ‘home’ is becoming a widespread phenomenon, looking into a writer’s house and daily life might give a different perspective to the people being stuck behind the walls, especially intellectuals.

1. A Look Through Writer-Space Relation and Monk’s House

When we want to internalise a writer deeper —a passionate reader would never want to limit the relation between the writer and themselves with only the writer’s books— their houses open in front of us like a surprise box. What if a home is an office, atelier, in other words, the production place of two writers? Then it might give a lot of hints both about their writings and personalities. Furthermore, visiting a writer’s house or city might affect how you read them: While I may see Istanbul from a different perspective after reading Orhan Pamuk, I may also experience London differently after reading Charles Dickens. Eventually, we do not talk only about language when we talk about literature: City and country culture, the experience of space and memory appear as the factors that affect the writer; the cities and places might be identified with their writers. In his book ‘Experiencing Architecture’, Rasmussen says that even a skyscraper seems in the form of a statue when we look from an aeroplane and that it is starting to transform into a place which is made for humans when the plane began to descend, and based on this he claims that architecture is not created to be seen but to live in it. (p.12) When it comes to talking about a writer in the place she lives in, we will be looking into the interior of the Monk’s House ignoring its exterior to read the writer from a different perspective.

Monk’s House is the sixth house of Virginia Woolf after the family house in Kensington, London, which she describes as “Where everyone knows everyone and everything about everyone”. Before their move to this house, they lived in a house called ‘Asheham House’ near Beggingham. When her sister Vanessa and her husband Duncan Bell lived in Charleston Farmhouse, Virginia made a closer tie with East Sussex. In 1918, when the landlord wanted them to move from Asheham, they started searching for a new house in the same neighbourhood, and they bought Monk’s House in auction for 700 sterlings. They moved to the house on 1st September 1919. As ‘the famous writer’ for locals in Rodmell and as ‘the writer from the county’ for her acquaintances, Virginia spent only her weekends, holidays and summer months at first, but after their house in Meclenburgh Square in London was bombed during the World War II, it became their permanent resident. In the beginning, they planned to use the house as a cottage which they could do gardening, long walks -and readings and writings for sure-; but later they decided to stay there forever. Thus, they even pointed out their burial places. As changing houses regularly was one of the reasons for her depression, she must have been relaxed after this decision.

Virginia Woolf expert Theodore Koulouris identifies Sussex for Virginia as “the place exactly she wants to live”. When she first saw the house, it is said that she did not like the kitchen and the bathroom and found the rooms too small, but that she was impressed with the garden’s abundance. While one of the reasons which make her depression worse was her over-socialising, thus after a speedy life in London, the countryside affects her mood positively as we see that she wrote her diary on 2nd August 1924: “The country is like a convent. The soul swims to the top.” We identify a woman here who devoted her life to literary production had an “appropriation” [environmental psychology] both with the Monk’s House and with the countryside. Göregenli points out (pp. 124-125) the “appropriation” process in the human-space relationship: “… we can not own the places, but we can add them a lot of things from ourselves… we identify ourselves and our identities with them.” (Demir, p.200) Psychology interprets the space as data on the creation of identity and emphasises sociocultural structure. In Marxist studies, which take urban space as the main object of analysis, space is accepted as the result of social effects, namely social production, and the use of space in social life comes to the fore. (Solak, p.15) When we consider the place with its architectural definition as a “physically located place” and its philosophical interpretation, we can get closer to understanding the private and literary life through the place where she lives. Based on the argument that space shapes people in modern societies and that people shapes space in classical societies; we can argue that space also affects literature and that we found the projections of the places where Virginia lived in her works with a quotation from Orlando: “In short, every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life; every quality of his mind is written largely in his works…” (p. 106)

Monk’s House is important because it is both a living and a production place of two intellectuals. Even though houses, cafes, trains, hotel rooms, jails and hospitals are places which a writer produce literature, we know that Virginia Woolf leads a home-oriented life and determines her home as the central place of production. Conrad classifies the Monk’s House as Woolf’s professional house as it is a production place. Ozcan finds significant proof about how Virginia transferred her relation with the places to her literary. Based on the similarity of several spatial features, Woolf’s latest novel, Between the Acts, suggests that Pointz Hall, where the story passes, is a reflection of Monk’s House in which Woolf lived and inspired while creating Pointz Hall; both houses are dated to the eighteenth century, both of them have pretty large gardens located next to the church, and both are redecorated by their subsequent owners —Woolfs and Olivers. (p.16)

When I visited Rodmell to understand why Virginia loved this place so much, I had a feeling that I was in a different space in time. I didn’t see anything apart from horses, bales of hay and lampposts when I followed her footsteps on the path she walked through River Ouse. I didn’t even hear a voice. Despite the feeling of isolation, I thought that this path was like a vein that ties her house to daily life. Then I realised that this geography is a perfect environment for mental focus; thus, her fondness for Rodmell became understandable to me. She expresses this feeling in her diary: “How happy I am: how calm, for the moment how sweet life is with L here, in its regularity & order & the garden & the room at night & music & my walks & writing easily & interestedly.”

2. Rooms: Being Surrounded By the Objects of Remembering

They start to decorate the house with the help of her sister Vanessa; they want the home to be both a comfortable and a beautiful place. Therefore, we understand that Virginia gives a house a broader meaning than just a place to live under its roof. They buy some of the old furniture of the house in an auction; in this way, they want to feel a connection with the house historically. Meanwhile, they face difficulties such as mice wandering around the bedroom, floods in the kitchen, and bitterly cold rooms in winter. Furthermore, they had to use a toilet outside, named “a romantic chamber” by Virginia. Later in 1927, she wrote to Vita Sackville-West that they built two bathrooms in the house with the money she earned from Mrs Dalloway and The Common Reader. The electricity comes to the house in 1931, telephone line in 1932, and water in 1934.

They always picked meaningful art pieces of Bloomsbury artists Roger Fry, Frederick Perter, Angelica Garnett, Vanessa, Duncan and Quentin Bell to hang on the walls. It is estimated that the painting on the fireplace shows the Glazebrook family, the house owners in the 19th century: The house was home to three different families before the Woolf and from the 18th century, respectively, Clears, Glazebrook and Verrall. It is known that Virginia Woolf does not like to be photographed and drawn, such that there are only a few photographs that she looks directly at the lens. The portrait in this room, estimated to be made by Vanessa in Asheham House, is her first known painting. The facial lines are not evident in another incomplete picture, but she is shown with many books around in the house in Tavistock Square. We make inferences about the couple’s relationship with their pets via paintings in the place: There are portraits of their dogs Sally, Nigg, Bell and their cat Sappho in different rooms. The other picture in the dining room is Quentin Bell, who is the son of Vanessa and is the writer of the biography of V.W. There is another painting of him made by his mother in the living room. One of her passions is to support women productivity and the labour force. She supports her sister’s artistic production by collecting her paintings and writing her exhibitions’ texts. The cups and plates on display in the glass cabinet in the kitchen next to the dining room were made by Bloomsbury artists. The navy blue dinner plate belongs to Virginia, the museum guide said. Virginia’s relationship with the kitchen is limited to making bread and jam, baking cakes. She sees even this limited activity as things that prevent her from writing. 

I feel simply happy in the living room. I suppose Virginia’s favourite peppermint green colour on the wall affects this: When we think that colours are a symbol that expresses the function, I believe that this restful colour is specifically chosen. Obviously, after long and tiring working hours, Virginia wanted to feel peaceful while she was finishing the day by eating, resting, listening to music. It seems that the hand of the Bloomsbury group touched everything in this room: The “V.W.” monograph behind the chairs around the large dining table was made by Vanessa Bell, whom we found handicrafts in many places at home, including the table in the dining room, the fireplace in Virginia’s bedroom. The coffee table in the middle of the room is made with ceramics by Duncan Grant. The books are scattered all over the house like paintings; in bookcases, tables, coffee tables, and even stairs. Unfortunately, all books were sold after Leonard Woolf died. These six thousand books, including the Hogarth Press complete works, is now at Washington State University. It is not difficult to imagine that the house was invaded with newspapers, magazines and books scattered, and I think it cannot be expected to be different. “A messy house”, Leonard says. 

Virginia’s bedroom is separated from the house’s main entrance, with direct access from the garden; this is an area where it provides the isolated environment she desires. This independent entrance creates a perception in me: If we do not count the pets, in this house where a family of two lives, there is a house within the house, and this belongs to Virginia. The couple always slept in separate rooms. It has also been repeated in books written about Virginia, where their relationship has been almost free from sexual contact since the beginning of their marriage. The starting point of this division, which we can read as a reflection of this relationship, which the museum official calls “a kind of sponsorship”, is to facilitate Virginia’s writing life. Conrad sees this split as a reflection of their social and political thoughts and their unconventional marriages (p.63), and she believes that their being economically independent in this extraordinary marriage is also effective. (p.67) Perhaps this is unavoidable for such intense intellectual lives. Regarding the information above, the house is also a revolt against the patriarchal domestic arrangement of British society and, therefore, one of the first symbols of a changing world. 

The bedroom is a spacious place that receives daylight from two fronts, which Leonard describes as “Her room tended to become not merely untidy but squalid.”. L. Everett says that sheets of paper filled the room with heaps; on chairs, tables, even the ground. There are three bookcases in the room, but the most attractive one is undoubtedly the thin, four-shelf bookshelf next to the armchair due to the thirty-nine Arden edition Shakespeare in it. She is a regular reader of Shakespeare; she wrote in her diary that she sometimes needed to read him to “relax the muscles.” (Jones, p. 233) Virginia bound the books by hand in 1936. The museum guide says that Virginia sees bookbinding as a kind of therapy and applies it as a special treatment for headaches during her life. Although these books were purchased first, they have been donated to Monk’s House again. What strikes me in the room is the walking stick leaning against the fireplace, which brought the image of Leonard finding near the river on the day she committed suicide into my mind. They don’t know where the original is, but I was told that this one is a copy.

The garden of the house is an extensive area divided into sections: an Italian garden decorated with a statue, made after their trip to Tuscany in 1933; a vegetable garden where products are still being grown and can be purchased from the museum store for donations; a greenhouse and a playground… They either sold the non-consumed vegetables and fruits at the Lewes Women’s Institute or presented them to their friends. While Garden is Leonard’s passion, Virginia’s relationship with the garden is at the level of assisting him by weeding dead flowers, picking fruit. For a writer who is so fond of writing, the garden would probably waste time like the kitchen. There are many other details about the garden. Still, my observation is that they established the famous “organic life” of today, away from the chaos of the big city; in green, with their animals and producing their fruits, vegetables and honey. Since the graves of both authors are here, this trip is inevitably a visit to the tomb. At the bottom of one of the two elm trees where her ashes are buried, from the novel The Waves, “Death is the enemy. Against you I will fling myself, unvanquished and unyielding o Death! The waves broke on the shore.” is written on the tombstone.

3. Writer’s Retreat Place: The Writing Lodge

The famous ‘room of Virginia’s own, “The Writing Lodge,” is an example of small, wooden structures mostly built to preserve garden furniture in English homes, while a window is added to the building to make it livable. Virginia uses the lodge for only writing during the day, so the place meets the lodge’s operational meaning of ‘staying in a place as a guest’. According to Karabulut, with the industrial age, people’s demand for separate spaces where they will spend time with different activities is prevented from the beginning, working and ho. A are combined, and a structure in which production and reproduction go hand in hand was created. (p.12) Although the production life and home life seem to be combined in Woolfs’ house, we see that an isolated space devoted only to production and separated from home life is created with the inclusion of the Writing Lodge. Woolf makes Public-private space criticism from the view that women are identified with the house but that the house is not a place where women can be free. (p.16) At this point, we can argue that V.W. has provided her domestic freedom with her writing lodge and a separate bedroom. L.W. seems to make this freedom possible with the garden.

The Writing Lodge, whose landscape is Caburn Mountains and the South Downs, is far enough from the house to provide an isolated working environment. Nevertheless, this was not possible due to Leonard’s garden work since the fruits collected from the garden were being stored here before the building was expanded. We know that Virginia was uncomfortable with the noise of gardening and its usage as an apple store. Karabulut thinks that Peter Walsh’s interruption to preparing for the party by entering Clarissa Dalloway’s private room in her novel Mrs Dalloway represents this ailment in Woolf texts. With the nervousness of the possibility of division of production process, they take action to build a new building in 1934 to end this unrest of Virginia, who stocked spare inks and pens beside her even when she was writing on the sofa. Virginia liked this new lodge built under a large tree that spreads to the branches and its patio where she can host her guests. After Virginia’s death, Leonard expanded it to be used as a painting studio for his then-spouse Trekkie Parsons. The installation of various versions of “The Room of One’s Own” is now displayed in this additional section. Rasmussen’s assertion that a building that expresses work and mental concentration should be plain and practical seems to be confirmed here: a writing desk, an office chair, a rocker, a few chairs and a few sunbeds for the patio. There are files, labels, glasses, cigarettes and trays, inks, and document drawers on the writing desk. Virginia mostly does not write at her desk, but she does her corrections at the table at the end of the day.

The writer’s daily ritual is essential in evaluating the house as a living area, not an architectural phenomenon. The day at Monk’s House starts at 8 am every morning with breakfast. Virginia then goes to the bathroom to check out what she wrote the day before after looking at her incoming letters. “She used to talk, talk, ask questions, and answer on her own. You would think that there were two or three other people with her above.”, says their cook Louie Everett. Leonard confirms her: “She always read aloud the sentences she wrote the night before; the bathroom was a good place to make sure they sounded properly.” Afterwards, until the 5th at noon, she works in the bedroom; if not, she works in the Writing Lodge. “We didn’t even have a holiday one day unless we were too sick to work or travel,” said Leonard Woolf in his autobiography. He says that they spent eleven months of the year working.

In the afternoons, she walks towards Downs or Charleston after a quick meal. These 2-4 hours walk is an essential piece of her daily routine. “All the time on the downs, across the water-meadows, or along the river bank, in front or at the back of her mind was the book or article she was writing or the embryo of a book or story to be written.” in ‘Downhill All the Way’ says Leonard Woolf. She explains the function of these walks for her writing in her diary: “The way to rock oneself into writing is this. First gentle exercise in the air.” Also, in ‘Street Haunting’ while she describes a room as “For there we sit surrounded by objects which perpetually express the oddity of our temperaments and enforce the memories of our own experience.”, can we say that the writer, who says that she used these walks, which occupied an important place in her daily ritual, to be escaped from these memories and self, and to be alone with the mind?

While the couple is drinking their tea at four o’clock in the afternoon, they write a letter or diary. After dinner, they read something in the living room and listen to music on the gramophone. Despite being Leonard, who has a passion for music, Virginia has been enjoying music since her childhood, and this affection affects her writing life. In a letter to Elizabeth Trevelyan: “It’s strange, I’m not completely musical, but I think as if they were music before I wrote my books.” Then, in a letter to Roger Fry, she says that writing is like composing music. We know that Virginia also wrote in her bedroom until she went to sleep. According to his maid, as soon as she comes up with an exciting idea – on the teapot, on the seats of the chair, on the edges of the fireplace – in short, she leaves little notes all over the house. (Jones, p.95) Here the items in the place appear as tools that are included in the production process.

The couple is conservative in terms of their houses and private lives. For this reason, they only invite very close friends such as Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, Lytton Strachey, T.S. Eliot, Vita Sackville-West, E.M. Forster, Ethel Smyth to their homes. Virginia’s thinking about guests coming home is as follows: “The truth is, I like it when people come, but I love it when they leave.” Even though Virginia did not like to hire a maid at home, she needed someone for cooking and cleaning that prevented her from writing, namely killing “the angel at home”*. Serving the house from 1934 until she died in 1969, Louie Everett says that the couple planned their days punctually, and they were careful not to spoil this plan.

4. Virginia’s Insurrection With Her House 

We interact with space, especially with our homes. As reported by Akgül, in the literary works, especially in novels, where events occur and where people realise their occurrence accepted as “a decoration of events”, which they perceive their surroundings, their views about life, their personality development. These places shape their identity, values, judgements and often give information about them. (p.95) When it comes to a writer like Virginia Woolf, who is known for her power to observe and convey her surroundings, the possibility of reality in her fiction becomes evident. Thus, while a novel or a story with a biographical character becomes more attractive to the fan-reader, the house where the writer once lived can have a similar meaning: The place and things obtain a sense with humans.

Even the Harem in the Eastern palaces, which is one of the first places that come to mind when it comes to women and places, had to be shared with the sons of the sultan and the male palace servants life and management. In the Woolfs’ house, there wasn’t the conventional system based on male domination of the British community, but a positive division that arranging the house based on facilitating Virginia’s life. Even though Virginia Woolf’s last years at home have passed with a fear of death over the possibility of the Nazis invading England, she indirectly struggled with Hitler through this division she created as a woman in Monk’s House. The domestic order she established in the house, and the daily routine of her which opposed the roles attributed to femininity was an insurrection to the 3K teaching of Nazi: “kinder, kuche, Kirche” – child, kitchen, church.

The angel in the house” is the name that Virginia recommended to women to kill the spirit that exists in every woman as instincts such as cleaning, cooking and making everyone else’s life easier.


Akgül, Çiğdem. “An analysis of Ayla Kutlu Novels in Terms of Space and Memory”, Fe Dergi, No.1 (2011), 95-107.

Conrad, Emy Christine. “Virginia Woolf: Rooms, Relationships, and Writing”, M.A. Of Liberal Studies, Simon Fraser University, 2010. 

Demir, Güler. “Examination of Library Spaces in the Context of the Third Place Paradigm of Oldenburg”, Bilgi Dünyası, Cilt: 18, No: 2 (2017)

Karabulut, Demet. “Reading Relation of Modernity and Space Through Virginia Woolf’s and Arnold Bennett’s Works”, DTCF Journal, 58.1 (2018), 440-461.

Özcan, Seçil. “Tracing Literary Architecture: Spatial In-Betweenness In Virginia Woolf’s Between The Acts”, The Graduate School of Social Sciences of Middle East Technical University, 2015.

Harris, Alexandra. Virginia Woolf, Thames&Hudson, 2011

Jones, Danell. The Virginia Woolf Writer’s Workshop, New York: Penguin Random House, 2007

Masset, Claire. A Souvenir Guide “Virginia Woolf at Monk’s House” East Sussex, National Trust

Rasmussen, Steen Eiler. Yaşanan Mimari, Istanbul: Remzi Kitabevi, 9. Edition, 2017

Urgan, Mîna. Virginia Woolf, Istanbul: Yapı Kredi Publishing, 9. Edition, 2018

Woolf, Virginia. Orlando, Vintage Classics; 1. Edition, 2016

Woolf, Virginia. A Writer’s Diary, Mariner Books, 2003