Virginia Woolf's Gardens
Summer Course 2019

This course has now finished.

'Everything tended to set itself in a garden where there was none of this gloom.'
– To the Lighthouse.


The topic for our Virginia Woolf Summer Course in 2019 is Virginia Woolf's Gardens.

TTL seminar Alice, Julia Celiese*.jpg

Gardens, parks, and plants are enormously important in Woolf's writings. When readers start looking for the gardens in her work they might feel, like James Ramsay in To the Lighthouse, as though ‘everything tended to set itself in a garden.’ It is a space that occurs in every single one of her novels and in several of her essays and short stories. This course explores why gardens were so important to Woolf, and asks how they affected her life and work.

We will study works across the length of Woolf's career, from 'Kew Gardens' (1919) to Between the Acts (1941). What do gardens mean in her work; and how does this meaning deepen our understanding of her novels? We will explore the role played by individual plants and flowers in her fiction, and touch on early twentieth century gardening and design. Is there a politics or language of gardening; how does Woolf use gardens to explore some of her more challenging ideas?

Writing Lodge at Monk’s House

Writing Lodge at Monk’s House

We will study one or two Woolf texts per day for five days, with a lecture followed by a group seminar or supervision (tutorial). We will pay visits to places of interest in Cambridge, including some of the most beautiful, ancient colleges. Our lecturers lead the visits and can get access to areas not usually open to the public. We will see the remarkable manuscript of A Room of One's Own held in Cambridge; a rare treat. And we will pay a visit to the Cambridge Botanical Garden with a lecture by the brilliant garden historian Caroline Holmes. Further details of teachers and speakers below.


14-19 July 2019

Optional visit to Monk's House and Charleston

Monk's House, Sussex

Monk's House, Sussex

Saturday 20 July 2019. This takes place the day after the Woolf summer course. Add this to your booking if you wish.

Reading List

'Kew Gardens' (1917)
Jacob's Room (1922)
Mrs Dalloway (1925)
To the Lighthouse (1927)
Orlando (1928) 
A Room of One's Own (1929)
Between the Acts (1941)

If you wish to do some extra reading, the titles below are useful but not essential.

Optional Further Reading

TTL first edn.jpg

Quentin Bell and Virginia Nicholson, Charleston: A Bloomsbury House and Gardens (new edition, 2004)
Hermione Lee, Virginia Woolf (biography, 1995)
Caroline Zoob, Virginia Woolf's Garden: The Story of the Garden at Monk's House (2013)

Lecture List

Ragavi and Palvasha **.jpg

Monday: Introduction. 'Kew Gardens' and Mrs Dalloway
Tuesday: Jacob's Room and A Room of One's Own
Wednesday: To the Lighthouse
Thursday: Between the Acts
Friday: Orlando


Take the opportunity to live for a week like a Cambridge student in the relaxed environment of Wolfson College. Immerse yourself in literature, with lectures, seminars, and discussions, and time to read and think.  


Our distinguished teachers include Gillian Beer, Oliver Goldstein, Alison Hennegan, Karina Jakubowicz, Suzanne Raitt, Trudi Tate, and Clare Walker Gore.

Our other speakers include Kabe Wilson who will talk about his remarkable creative work on Woolf, and Caroline Holmes will talk about the history of Cambridge's Botanical Garden and the Darwin connections, which form an important background to gardens in Woolf's time. Jeremy Thurlow, Music Fellow of Robinson College, will talk about Woolf’s interest in music, and will give a short piano recital of pieces that she loved. Peter Jones, Fellow of King’s, will give us a guided tour of King’s College.

Each day starts with a lecture presented by a leading scholar. This is followed by a seminar or a Cambridge-style supervision (tutorial), given to students in very small groups, and taught by lecturers and post-docs from the University of Cambridge. We will also have a group seminar in which everyone can participate.

After lectures, supervisions, and excursions, there is some time to explore Cambridge on your own, go punting, discuss literature with other students, and to reflect.

We also offer a week of study on Fictions of Home: Jane Austen to the Present, 21-26 July 2019. 

Supervisions last for one hour. Students meet in 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. Supervisions are a unique opportunity to discuss a work in depth, try out ideas, and refine your close reading skills. Weather permitting, some supervisions can take place in Wolfson's pleasant gardens. 

Comments from our 2018 students:
• 'The week I spent in your Women Writers course at Cambridge was the ultimate reward to myself for years of self-study on Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group. The immersion with like-minded literature-lovers was bliss. The mix of lectures and trips was the perfect blend.'

• ‘I loved sitting outside under the trees and reading aloud from the works.’

• ‘I loved the wonderful mix of academics, graduate students and common readers, like myself, who made up our group.’

* On stairs at Wren USE* .jpg

• ‘I enjoyed the amazing sensation of being with a group of people who needed absolutely no explanation of why I love Woolf and would want to spend my holidays with her (and them!). I think this really hit me when we were all huddled in a white room in the basement of the Fitzwilliam Museum, poring over the original manuscript of A Room of One’s Own with magnifying glasses and feeling SO happy!’

From 2017: ‘Attending this course in 2017 was the nicest thing I’ve done for myself other than marrying my partner. Invest in yourself.’

See further comments from students here.


Hear Caroline Zoob, author of Virginia Woolf’s Garden, interviewed by Literature Cambridge lecturer Karina Jukubowicz.


Information from Gov.UK, checked on 2 February 2019.
According to Gov.UK, people from many countries still don’t need a visa to visit the UK as a tourist or for a short course. Please check on the Gov.UK visa page. The visa rules are not expected to change in the near future, whether or not Britain ends up leaving the EU. Gov.UK advises that visitors from the EU, Australia, Canada, the US, Argentina, Japan, and many other countries don’t need a visa for a short visit. Please check the Gov.UK page for the latest updates, and for the documentation they advise you to bring. According to Gov.UK, visitors from China and Turkey probably will need a visa.

From Leonard Woolf's autobiography of the years 1919-1939, Downhill All the Way (1967)

'I will end … with a little scene that took place in the last months of peace. They were the most terrible months of my life, for, helplessly and hopelessly, one watched the inevitable approach of war. One of the most horrible things at that time was to listen on the wireless to the speeches of Hitler — the savage and insane ravings of a vindictive underdog who suddenly saw himself to be all-powerful. We were in Rodmell during the late summer of 1939, and I used to listen to those ranting, raving speeches. One afternoon I was planting in the orchard under an apple-tree iris reticulata, those lovely violet flowers. … Suddenly I heard Virginia’s voice calling to me from the sitting room window: 'Hitler is making a speech.' 

I shouted back, 'I shan’t come. I’m planting iris and they will be flowering long after he is dead.' Last March [1966], twenty-one years after Hitler committed suicide in the bunker, a few of those violet flowers still flowered under the apple-tree in the orchard.'

Email us:


Purple flowers for websiteTT.JPG

Useful links

LitCam WW course Jul18 day3 Homerton 20180710 jp-23.jpg

Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain website.
Monk's House, National Trust website.
Charleston, National Trust website.
Paula Maggio, Blogging Woolf.
British Library information on Woolf's short story, 'Kew Gardens' (1919).
Paula Maggio, review of Caroline Zoob, Virginia Woolf's Garden, Blogging Woolf.
Review of Zoob, Virginia Woolf's Garden, Virginia Woolf Blog.
Review of Zoob, Virginia Woolf's Garden,  Gardens Illustrated.
Review of Damon Young, Voltaire's Garden.
Notes on Leonard Woolf.
Jeanette Winterson on Orlando, Guardian, September 2018.
Margaret Atwood on re-reading To the Lighthouse, Guardian, September 2002.