Sentience and suicide: reflections from Virginia Woolf’s place of death

As it currently stands, I have far too many books. Around my tiny student bedroom there lies a heaped mass of precariously towering books, ranging form Steig Larson to Sarah Kane to Jean-Paul Sartre. At my home in the New Forest it is a similar affair; a labyrinth of books everywhere, with an entire wall taken over by a bookshelf that is several layers deep with tenderly well-loved texts that made me want to study literature in the first place.

However, lacking amongst my overwhelming collection remains a sufficient lack of Virginia Woolf – described by Hermione Lee as a woman of “exceptional, courage, intelligence and stoicism”. I possess one Woolf book, Jacob’s Room, which I read rather half-heartedly I must admit as opposed to fully immersing myself into the novel which I normally do. I’ve challenged myself to read more ambitiously this summer; Woolf herself being at the top of this list.

My discovery of local attractions somewhat prompted this, as amongst the myriad of wonderful places that surround Brighton lies Monk’s House and the River Ouse, where she drowned herself in March 1941. With a sufficient absence of free time during term, I had fully intended to visit Monk’s House and the Ouse upon finishing my first year – and so I did. Although I consider myself barely acquainted with Woolf and her work, I felt that this would be an important place to visit in order to start upon reading the body of her work.

The journey to the house itself was overwhelmingly pleasant and made me feel worlds away from the claustrophobic business of Brighton. The house itself was secluded, tranquil – accompanied by the lush green that surrounded the site, it truly felt like a breath of fresh air. Monk’s House was surrounded by charming little features like an allotment, a bowling green, and an orchard that you could so vividly picture Virginia and Leonard Woolf pottering around.

The photos surrounding Monk’s House evoked a feeling of collective admiration, pictures of Woolf and T.S. Eliot amongst many other members of the Bloomsbury Group. Not far away lies Charleston House, the site of so much creative expression and the fruition of artistic endeavours. London may be renowned for it’s cultural hive; but I find myself extremely proud that I chose to study English mere minutes away from places that housed such literary greats.

Upon seeing the river where Virginia, I found it to be a transcendental experience; although there was no visible indication of the tragedy that occurred there over 50 years ago, the foreboding atmosphere still remained. The Ouse is wide and unforgiving with a visibly treacherous current – not the kind of place where one could mistakenly go for a pleasant swim without fear of being swept away. It was haunting – the bleak day on which I went stripped away any element of romanticised presence that could have lingered on a more charming day.

Since my visit to her former home, I have become transfixed by the solemn history of Woolf’s life and the impact of her work. After so invasively acquainting myself with Woolf’s world in Rodmell, I feel I can only pay my respects by revisiting and expanding my knowledge of her work. With many the prospect of many evenings to be spent curled up under the covers over the coming months, I might as well read some Virginia Woolf.

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