Virginia Woolf and Politics

This course has now finished. You can read day-by-day accounts on our Facebook page. 

Dates: 1-6 July 2018
Venue: Wolfson College, Cambridge CB3 9BB

Virginia Woolf lived through exciting, often turbulent times. How is the history of her own times explored in her writing? In her lifetime, women were newly able to study at university. Girton and Newnham Colleges were founded in Cambridge not long before she was born.

 Students at a reading of  The  Waves.

Students at a reading of The Waves.

Woolf was in her 30s during the First World War. She was 36 when the first women got the vote in Britain, in 1918. She wrote about the laws which opened up the professions to women. She was closely engaged with people active in the Labour Party in the 1920s and 30s (including her husband, Leonard Woolf), and followed current events closely in the newspapers. She was a deeply committed anti-fascist, even as she wondered about the best way to oppose fascist thinking and behaviour. Her great work Three Guineas (1938) is both anti-fascist and a complex argument against war. Was she an activist, an ambivalent commentator, an observer ... ? And what of the playful side of Woolf's ideas, and her satiric look at gender in Orlando?

3 Guineas cover.jpg

Our 2018 summer course Virginia Woolf and Politics will explore these questions and more, as we spend a week immersed in Woolf's writings. 

 Virginai Woolf and Leonard Woolf

Virginai Woolf and Leonard Woolf

Our lecturers are Alison Hennegan, Peter Jones, Claire Nicholson, Frances Spalding and Trudi Tate. Supervisors include Aoife ByrneAlison Hennegan, Nadine Tschacksch and Clare Walker Gore.

Woolf and Politics summer course immerses students for a week in the writing, ideas, and context of Virginia Woolf. There will be lectures, readings, supervisions, and excursions, all focused upon Virginia Woolf and her work. The course takes place shortly after the annual Virginia Woolf Conference on Woolf, Europe and Peace at the University of Kent, Canterbury.

Take the opportunity to live for a week in the lovely environment of Wolfson College, Cambridge. Immerse yourself in literature, with time to read and think. There will be visits to places of literary interest in Cambridge, a welcome dinner, a formal closing dinner, and a traditional English afternoon tea. 

Visits around Cambridge

• We will visit King's College with King's Fellow Peter Jones, to see parts of the college of interest to Woolf, including the chapel where she enjoyed the music.
• We will visit the Wren Library at Trinity, mockingly cursed by Woolf in A Room of One's Own, and now much used by women scholars and students. See gallery of images, below.
• We will have a rare opportunity to see the manuscript of A Room of One's Own at the Fitzwilliam Museum.

Places are limited. Bookings are open. Enquiries:

See suggestions for other things to do while you are in Cambridge.

List of works by Virginia Woolf that we will study:

  • A Room of One's Own (1929)
  • Orlando (1928)
  • The Years (1937)
  • Three Guineas (1938)
  • Selected essays by Virginia Woolf and Leonard Woolf

Each day starts with a lecture and discussion presented by a leading scholar, followed by a seminar or a Cambridge-style supervision (tutorial), given to students in very small groups, and taught by lecturers and postdocs from the University of Cambridge. Supervisions (tutorials) are a unique opportunity to discuss a work in depth, try out ideas, and refine your close reading skills. 

After lectures, supervisions, and excursions, students will have some time to read and think in the beautiful modern setting of Wolfson College. And there will be chances to read further, explore Cambridge, talk with other students, and to reflect.


 Alison Hennegan with supervision group, Woolf's Rooms, July  2017

Alison Hennegan with supervision group, Woolf's Rooms, July  2017

Supervisions last for one hour. Students meet in very small groups (usually 3 or 4 students) with a Cambridge supervisor to discuss the topic of the day, looking closely at the text of the day. Weather permitting, some supervisions can take place in Wolfson's lovely gardens. 

Every day there will be time to spend reading, to reflect upon the work covered so far, and to prepare for the next day's work. A rare chance to immerse yourself in some superb writing and to take the time to read and think. Enjoy living like a Cambridge student for a week.

A valuable part of the course is the chance to talk with other students, of all ages, who are deeply interested in Woolf. And there are plenty of places in and around college where you can read and think by yourself. Evening activities include talks, readings, and a formal Cambridge college dinner. Some evenings will be free for you to pursue your own interests, or spend time with other participants. 

We are also pleased to offer a second summer course, 8 to 13 July 2018: Women Writers: Emily Brontë to Elizabeth Bowen. This takes place in the week immediately following Woolf and Politics.


Gallery of Wren Library, Trinity College, Cambridge (visit included in the course)

Comments from students who attended Woolf's Rooms summer course in 2017

 Students had an informal discussion with Jane Potter after her lecture on  Jacob's Room , July 2017

Students had an informal discussion with Jane Potter after her lecture on Jacob's Room, July 2017

  • Words cannot adequately express how grateful I am to you for creating this course for Woolfians – professionals and common readers – to gather together. 
  • To spend a whole week studying and discussing Woolf was one of the best experiences of my life. Homerton college is beautiful, the excursions are inspiring and the people are great.
  • The excursion to Girton College was a gem. Incredible to be in those rooms where Woolf gave the talks that led to A Room of One’s Own. Claire Nicholson’s talk was highly instructive.
  • Gillian Beer was wonderful – fresh insights into the book [Between the Acts] and a mesmerising reader.
  • I really liked the supervisions which solved my reading puzzles and inspired me.
  • Alison Hennegan is amazing.
  • The excursions gave us entry into areas that as individuals we would not have access to.
  • To attend this course was the accomplishment of a dream.
  • I think I can say we all felt privileged to see Woolf’s manuscript.

See further comments on previous courses, and descriptions of past courses.

 Woolf's Rooms summer course 2017

Woolf's Rooms summer course 2017