Woolf's Rooms
16-21 July 2017, Homerton College, Cambridge

The theme for our 2017 Virginia Woolf Summer Course was Woolf's Rooms. We had an amazing week of intensive lectures, supervisions, discussions, and readings. We paid visits to Girton and Newnham Colleges, and heard about the talks Woolf gave there. These talks were then revised to become A Room of One's Own (1929), one of Woolf's most influential books. It was moving to sit in the very rooms in which Woolf spoke to young women undergraduates in 1928. We also went to King's College and to the Fitzwilliam Museum, where we were privileged to see the original manuscript of A Room of One's Own.

Further details of the week can be found on our Facebook page. Sincere thanks to our inspiring teachers, and to our wonderful, enthusiatic students of all ages, from all over the world, who made this such a memorable week.

Course description
Woolf's Rooms July 2017

Why are rooms so important in the writing of Virginia Woolf? Who needs a room of their own, and why? The use of space was, and remains, a political issue. Who has space; how is it used; how is it shared (or not)? What is the relationship between rooms and creativity; rooms and power? The course explored these and many other questions through five key books by Woolf, listed below.

Our speakers included leading scholars Gillian Beer, Sinead Garrigan Mattar, Alison Hennegan, Claire Nicholson, Jane Potter, and Trudi Tate. Some evenings we had readings and talks, including a talk by Kabe Wilson on his remarkable re-writing of A Room of One's Own. Interview with Kabe Wilson here; article here

We studied these books:

  • A Room of One's Own (1929)
  • Jacob's Room (1922)
  • The Waves (1931)
  • To the Lighthouse (1927)
  • Between the Acts (1941)


Reading Bloomsbury, 23-28 July 2017
Homerton College, Cambridge

Reading Bloomsbury explored some of the literature, art, and ideas developed by a lively group of intellectuals, many with strong Cambridge connections, who lived in Bloomsbury in London from about 1904. The course offered itself as an antidote to some current views of Bloomsbury; we focused on the work and ideas (rather than the love affairs) of these very interesting people, from whom we can still learn a great deal.

 At Gordon Square, Bloomsbury

At Gordon Square, Bloomsbury

The loose grouping of people around Virginia and Leonard Woolf, Vanessa Bell, John Maynard Keynes, Roger Fry, Lytton Strachey, E. M. Forster, and others, were serious writers, artists, and thinkers. They were people who engaged seriously with the pressing political and social issues of the day, focusing on the 1910s to 1930s. We explored their thinking on some of the most important issues of the period, such as the First World War and the peace settlements, international relations, the franchise, the problems of an unreliable press, rights for women, freedom from sexual repression, the emergence of fascism.

Lecture list

  • Frances Spalding, Cambridge and Bloomsbury
  • Alison Hennegan, Sexual Politics: Lytton Strachey, E. M. Forster and others
  • Claudia Tobin, Vanessa Bell and Bloomsbury art
  • Claire Nicholson, Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway (1925): women, clothing, and Bloomsbury aesthetics
  • Peter Jones, Bloomsbury, Pacifism, and Politics: Maynard Keynes, Leonard Woolf, Clive Bell, E. M. Forster

Selected reading


  • Ian Sansom article in the Guardian on Bloomsbury (2011).
  • Susanna Rustin article in the Guardian on Bloomsbury (2015).
  • Extract from Glendinning biography of Leonard Woolf in the Guardian (2006): here.
  • Paul Levy review of Glendinning's biography of Leonard Woolf (2006): here.
  • Paul Levy on Lytton Strachey in the Guardian (2002): here.
  • Art UK on Vanessa Bell: here.
  • Art UK on Dora Carrington: here.
  • Art UK on Roger Fry: here
  • Other Bloomsbury links: here.

For students' comments on this course, please see the Testimonials page.

Virginia Woolf in Cambridge summer course, July 2016

PB Room whole class use.jpg

Our first course was Virginia Woolf in Cambridge, held in July 2016 in Homerton College, Cambridge. We started each day with a lecture and discussion by a leading Woolf scholar. We heard Alison Hennegan on A Room of One's Own, Susan Sellers on Mrs Dalloway, Trudi Tate on To the Lighthouse and Gillian Beer on Reading The Waves Across a Lifetime. We also looked at some of Woolf's essays, and deepened our knowledge of the context in which she wrote. We thought about Woolf's own education, which was mainly (not entirely) at home. She was extraordinarily well read and well informed. Much of her knowledge came through her own reading, much from intellectual discussions with others. At the same time, she recognised the value of formal education. We visited Girton and Newnham Colleges and sat in the very rooms in which Woolf gave the talks in 1928 which were to become A Room of One's Own.

Most days we had what in Cambridge is called a supervision (in Oxford it is a tutorial). A small group of 2 or 3 students talks for an hour with an experienced Cambridge supervisor. It is an opportunity for an open yet guided discussion, in which students explore ideas quite deeply, listen carefully to other people's thoughts, and develop their skills in reading a literary work in depth, and with precision.

Trudi Tate and Ericka Jacobs, Directors

We had an excursion to the Orchard Tea Room in Grantchester and heard a talk by Claire Nicholson on Woolf's friendship with Rupert Brooke before the First World War, and we visited Bloomsbury in London, led by art historian Claudia Tobin. We enjoyed readings and talks by novelist Susan Sellers and performance artist Kabe Wilson. Throughout the week, students used their spare time to read, think, visit bookshops and colleges, discuss ideas with other students, and to reflect.

One of our students, Adam Chugg, gives further thoughts on the course on our Blog. Another student, Beth Daugherty, has written an account for Blogging Woolf.

For us, one of the most rewarding aspects of the course was the incredibly interesting group of people who came to Cambridge from many parts of the world. Woolf brought together readers who would never otherwise meet, and many strong friendships were formed.

 Visit to Bloomsbury, 2016.

Visit to Bloomsbury, 2016.

Students' comments on Woolf summer course 2016:

  • This summer course is one of my top experiences.
  • The course is still resonating – I think it was the immersion. The course was a real inspiration.
  • Terrific program. I am going to do my best to come back next year ... You did an exceptional job providing something for everyone, no matter their background. A big thank you.
  • Thank you so much for this course. It was excellently run and has reinvigorated both my enthusiasm for the Cambridge way and, most importantly, for Woolf’s works.
  • Very well organized, enthusiastic staff, diverse range of activities, wonderful location! Thanks for everything!
  • Clear speakers whose enthusiasm is engaging and stimulating.

Further comments here.