Tucked down a sleepy lane in the pretty village of Rodmell in East Sussex is Monk’s House, set within a beautiful big garden and orchard filled with apple blossoms, once home to Virginia Woolf and her husband Leonard. An earthy interior with green painted walls, oak beamed ceilings, indoor potted plants, and personal artwork. Monk’s House is filled with the eclectic character of those who lived there and left their mark. Down the back of the garden is a little writing shed that remains set up with the writing desk and typewriter of Virginia Woolf, offering a genuine insight into the creative sanctuary in which many of her novels were first imagined and took shape while she looked out to the beautiful views of the garden and natural surroundings.
Leonard and Virginia Woolf bought Monk’s House in 1919 as somewhere to write in the tranquility and beauty of the Sussex Downs, far from the constant interruptions of London – The National Trust
Like many wealthy Londoners, Leonard and Virginia Woolf sought the tranquility of village life, secluding themselves there during summer and on weekends. Monk’s House was purchased in 1919 as a country house, but did not become Virginia and Leonard’s permanent home until the 1940’s when their Bloomsbury home was destroyed during an air raid. Monk’s House provided Virginia with a quiet writing environment with views of the garden and apple orchard.
Despite the beauty of the surroundings, there is an unmistakable air of melancholy and a lingering sadness knowing that it was there in that environment that Virginia Woolf made the decision to fill her coat pockets with rocks and drown herself in the nearby Ouse River after a long battle with mental illness. Leonard Woolf buried her ashes under an Elm tree in the beautiful surroundings of the Monk’s House garden so that she rest peacefully there forevermore.
While I would usually find a suicide note morbid and private, the final words Virginia Woolf wrote offer such a genuine glimpse into the woman that she was. Intimidated by her illness and determined not to burden her husband any longer, her decision seems mostly driven by her consideration of Leonard, releasing him from any further responsibility, but she goes further to assure him that he has done everything humanly possible to save her to ensure he does not apportion blame to himself following her death. It’s such a beautifully tragic, yet selfless expression of a woman who wished to leave this world on her own terms.
I feel certain I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness…
Visiting the property was a moving experience and in her writing room there remains an essence of her, reminding me of how wonderful it is that the National Trust preserves these special properties. Monk’s House was bequeathed to the National Trust in 1980 who have maintained the house and gardens to such an impeccable standard for the last forty years. The property is so lovingly managed that there was virtually no sign of the thousands of people who visit each year. Leonard lovingly tended to the gardens during his lifetime and I can only imagine that he would be pleased to see the way the National Trust has taken care of it.
Visitors are able to view the ground floor rooms of the cosy weatherboard cottage – the living room, kitchen, dining room, and Virginia’s bedroom. I borrowed some of the photographs for this post from the National Trust, as I didn’t take many pictures of my own. The thought of taking photographs felt quite strange and disrespectful, so I elected to just enjoy the energy of the house without diverting my attention. So often my experience of the places I visit is through the lens of my camera, and while I take away beautiful photographs, my own memories are not so poetic. Although, that said, I would love to return someday to take photographs of this little literary gem to share with those who may not be able to make the trip to England to visit Monk’s House personally.
March to October, Monk’s House opens to the public with beautiful events taking place; readings in the garden, special tours with Marie Bartholomew – the daughter of the gardener who worked for Virginia and Leonard, village walks in Rodmell, spring egg hunts, summer twilight tours, writing in the garden, and floral workshops during spring and summer. The best way to view the events calendar and find general information is via The National Trust website for Monk’s House.
A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction – Virginia Woolf