THE ISLE OF WIGHT CONNECTION
Dates available throughout June and July 2022.
If you want a new and enhanced understanding of Virginia Woolf’s life and work, spend some time in her footsteps on the Isle of Wight.
Dimbola Lodge, in Freshwater Bay, is the former home of Woolf’s Great Aunt; the pioneering Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, whose striking Pre-Raphaelite style portraits quite often featured Woolf’s mother Julia Prinsep Duckworth.
Cameron bought two adjacent cottages, later linking them with a gothic tower, to become a quirky ramshackle building that seems entirely in tune with its former owner and her somewhat bohemian lifestyle.
The lodge became something of a creative hub at the heart of a community of artists, writers and thinkers dubbed the ‘Freshwater Circle’, and included the likes of Alfred Lord Tennyson, Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, William Alingham and Cameron herself.
Tennyson’s nearby home, Farringford House was another cultural centre. It is one of the Island’s most important Grade 1 listed historic estates, and has been restored to its 19th century heyday. In this secluded spot on the Isle of Wight, the new Poet Laureate and his family sought a retreat from the clamour of London life. But while Farringford provided a tranquil domestic haven, it also attracted many of Tennyson’s eminent friends, becoming a locus of intellectual and artistic activity.
It was on the island that Woolf wrote her only play Freshwater: a three act comedy satirizing the Victorian Era. Although only performed once in her lifetime. It has been translated into many languages and produced in many countries since.
Virginia Woolf researched the life of her great-aunt, publishing her findings in an essay titled Pattledom (1925) and later in her introduction to her 1926 edition of Cameron’s photographs.
Queen Victoria, her island residence Osborne House and her love of the Isle of Wight, figured large in the lives of the Freshwater residents. Osborne House itself was a salon outpost for the Freshwater Circle.
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BE STILL MY BEATING HEART
Prominent English novelist Vita Sackville – West’s marriage to Sir Harold Nicholson was the very definition of open, with both partners happily enjoying extra marital relationships for much of the 49 years they spent together. In the early 1920s, Vita began what was to be her most famous affair, with Virginia Woolf, the hugely influential author responsible for such classics as Mrs Dalloway and Orlando.
The latter was based, in part, on Vita’s life. In January of 1926, Vita reluctantly departed England for four long months to join her husband, then a diplomat working in Persia. As she travelled by train, she wrote a longing letter to her lover, Virginia, who she had left behind in London.
‘ I am reduced to a thing that wants Virginia. I composed a beautiful letter to you in the sleepless nightmare hours of the night, and it has all gone: I just miss you, in a quite simple desperate human way. You, with all your un – dumb letters, would never write so elementary phrase as that; perhaps you wouldn’t even feel it. And yet I believe you’ll be sensible of a little gap. But you’d clothe it in so exquisite a phrase that it would lose a little of its reality. Whereas with me it is quite stark: I miss you more that I could have believed; and I was prepared to miss you a great deal. So this letter is really just a squeal of pain. It is incredible how essential to me you have become. I suppose you are accustomed to people saying these things. Damn you, spoilt creative; I shan’t make you love me any the more by giving myself away like this – But oh my dear, I can’t be clever and stand-offish with you: I love you too much for that. Too truly. You have know idea how stand-offish I can be with people I don’t love. I have brought it to a fine art. But you have broken down my defences. And I don’t really resent it.
However I won’t bore you with any more. We have re-started, and the train is shaky again. I shall have to write at the stations – which are fortunately many across the Lombard plain.
Venice. The stations were many, but I didn’t bargain for the Orient Express not stopping at them. And here we are at Venice for 10 minutes only – a wretched time in which to try and write. No time to buy an Italian stamp even, so this will have to go from Trieste.
The waterfalls in Switzerland were frozen into solid iridescent curtains of ice, hanging over the rock; so lovely. And Italy all blanketed in snow. We’re going to start again. I shall have to wait till Trieste tomorrow morning. Please forgive me for writing such a miserable letter. ‘