Virginia Woolf's Gardens
Summer Course 2019
'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.
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?
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 excursions to come soon.
14-19 July 2019
Optional visit to Monk's House and Charleston
Saturday 20 July 2019. This takes place the day after the Woolf summer course. Add this to your booking if you wish.
'Kew Gardens' (1917)
Jacob's Room (1922)
Mrs Dalloway (1925)
To the Lighthouse (1927)
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
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)
Provisional Lecture List
(For guidance only; the order may change)
Monday: Introduction. 'Kew Gardens' and Mrs Dalloway
Tuesday: Jacob's Room and A Room of One's Own
Thursday: To the Lighthouse
Friday: Between the Acts
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.
Kabe Wilson 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.
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.’
• ‘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!’
See further comments from students here.
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 , 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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain website.
Monk's House, National Trust website.
Charleston, National Trust website.
Paul 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 Caroline Zoob, Virginia Woolf's Garden, Virginia Woolf Blog.
Review of Caroline 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.