Leonard Woolf & Planting Iris

Planting Iris

I liked this post from Austin Kleon so much I’m stealing it. Hopefully like an artist, and not like a scoundrel. Nowadays, my equivalent of planting iris might even be to… plant iris. I love their wonderfully deep colour.

Whilst definitely not a gardener, as I have got older I have found myself paying much more attention to what is around me. Finding myself better able to appreciate what I have, what is there in front of me, rather than always longing to be somewhere else, for something else. And since I am now living on a farm, that means taking an interest in the countryside around me, from the muddy ditch and frost in winter to the hedgerow of wild flowers and beyond. Whether city walking or country walking, both give you the time to pay attention, to notice.

The quote is from Downhill All The Way, Leonard Woolf’s autobiography of the years 1919-1939. The passage in full  –

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.


Happy Birthday Virginia Woolf


Born on this day, 25th January, in 1882 in Kensington. Some wonderful quotes on writing to celebrate:

“My writing now delights me solely because I love writing and don’t, honestly, care a hang what anyone says. What seas of horror one dives through in order to pick up these pearls – however they are worth it.”

— Diary January 1915

“I meant to write about death, only life came breaking in as usual.”

— Diary, February 17, 1922

And from A Room of One’s Own:

“So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say. But to sacrifice a hair of the head of your vision, a shade of its colour, in deference to some Headmaster with a silver pot in his hand or to some professor with a measuring-rod up his sleeve, is the most abject treachery.”


“Lock up your libraries if you like, but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.”

I had also hoped to include the recording of her voice, some of which is used in the Wolf Works ballet and the video below.

But I hit a problem – in the UK rights restrictions mean I cannot get access. However the admirable Maria Popova, Brainpicker supreme, being US based, can and has included it on her site. You can find it here on Brainpickings.

‘Woolf Works’ revival at The Royal Opera House


Choreographer Wayne McGregor’s acclaimed ballet triptych Woolf Works begins its first revival tonight, January 21st, at Covent Garden. Oh to be there!

As you likely know, each of the three acts draws on one of Woolf’s landmark novels, Mrs Dalloway, Orlando and The Waves, intertwined with elements from her letters, essays and diaries, her marriage and relationships.

One of the principal ballerinas dancing in the work is Sarah Lamb, and I’ve just come across a fabulous video portrait of her performing an excerpt from the ballet. The soundtrack is from the only surviving recording of Virginia Woolf speaking.

It is both poignant and powerful, not unlike Woolf’s own work:

The video is directed by Malcolm Venville for cultural video website Nowness where, from a quick browse, there’s a lot more good stuff.

Judy Rodrigues at Dimbola

Judy Rodrigues: Two Stories, an exhibition of paintings and research material, opens this coming week at Dimbola, near Freshwater Bay on the Isle of Wight.


The exhibition focuses primarily “on the Freshwater landscape and Dimbola as a catalyst and meeting place for an exploration into the work of D. H. Lawrence’s novel The Trespasser, Helen Corke’s In our Infancy and Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse and The Waves.”

‘Perhaps it was the middle of January in the present year that I first looked up and saw the mark on the wall. In order to fix a date it is necessary to remember what one saw.’
Virginia Woolf, 1917

According to the Press Release:
‘Judy’s work is engaged with the poetic dialogues between writers and painters and the elemental environments that form the nature and development of their work.’

The exhibition will be shown alongside material from the Dimbola archive including photographs of the young sisters Vanessa and Virginia Stephens [later Bell and Woolf] and original photographs taken by Patti Smith at Charleston and Monks House.

Dimbola Lodge, now a museum and exhibition space, was the home of pioneering photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, especially celebrated for her groundbreaking close-up photographic portraits.


Portrait by Julia Margaret Cameron of Julia Prinsep Jackson, later Julia Stephen, Cameron’s niece and the mother of Virginia Woolf.

Cameron was also great-aunt to the Stephens sisters; Virginia Woolf’s parents first met at Dimbola, and the lodge provides the setting for VW’s only play, the three act comedy Freshwater.

The play is a gentle satire of the bohemian world of her great-aunt; this became known as the Freshwater circle and included Poet Laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson, who lived nearby at Farringford, and the sculptor and painter G.F. Watts.

In January 1935 Virginia rewrote the play and it was performed in Vanessa’s studio at 8 Fitzroy Street by and for members of the Bloomsbury Group.

Judy Rodrigues: Two Stories
20th January – 16th April
Dimbola Museum and Galleries, Freshwater Bay, Isle of Wight
Preview on Thursday the 19th Jan 6-8pm.

website: http://www.dimbola.co.uk/



Woolf from Kat Von D

First the A/W collection from Burberry; now, just launching for 2017, Virginia Woolf is the inspiration for one of the 27 new ‘Everlasting Liquid Lipstick shades’ from Kat Von D, the cosmetics line of tattoo artist Katherine Von Drachenberg.

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New @katvondbeauty Everlasting Liquid Lip shades. Fun facts + info below: 👽ZERO: pale cement grey, named after @ashkittty kitty cat. 🗡DAGGER: cool, dusty grey/periwinkle. 🐺WOOLF: deep stone grey, inspired by one of my favourite poets, Virginia Woolf. 🌲PLAN 9: this is the Everlasting version of our famous Studded Kiss deep seafoam green lipstick. 🐳DREAMER: neon aqua. 💙BLUE BLOODED: the most luscious royal blue. 💜ROXY: this existing shade will be released in full-size in Feb/March. 🦄K-DUB: named this beautiful soft/neon berry after a woman I look up to in many ways: Kristin Walcott. Pre-launching 4/20. 🌺RUBENS: neon magenta inspired by my fave master painter: Peter Paul Rubens. This shade will be limited edition, available in the Spring on katvondbeauty.com only. #everlastingliquidlipstick #katvondbeauty #crueltyfree #vegan

A post shared by 𝐊𝐀𝐓 𝐕𝐎𝐍 𝐃 (@thekatvond) on

Who will look good with lips of deep stone grey I don’t know, but it’s certainly a different take on Woolf than the rich brocades of the more usual Orlando direction. And for the London that Virginia Woolf (and Mrs Dalloway) loved, what could be more appropriate?

This is not, incidentally, the only literary referenced colour from the pastel Goth palette of the LA based Kat Von D. There’s also Plath, deep russet red; Lolita, a chestnut rose; Lolita II, a terra cotta nude; and Nosferatu, a blood crimson. All can be enjoyed in the knowledge that they are completely free of animal-derived ingredients and never tested on animals.

“I simply adore Virginia Woolf”

Vita Sackville-West portrait

Have just read an excellent post (as ever) at Brain Pickings on How Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West Fell in Love.

Four days after their first meeting in December 1922, Virginia asked Vita to a small dinner party. Vita was enraptured, writing the next day to her husband Harold Nicolson (who also had same-sex relationships during their marriage):

I simply adore Virginia Woolf, and so would you. You would fall quite flat before her charm and personality… Mrs. Woolf is so simple: she does give the impression of something big. She is utterly unaffected: there are no outward adornments — she dresses quite atrociously. At first you think she is plain, then a sort of spiritual beauty imposes itself on you, and you find a fascination in watching her. She was smarter last night, that is to say, the woollen orange stockings were replaced by yellow silk ones, but she still wore the pumps. She is both detached and human, silent till she wants to say something, and then says it supremely well.

Vita most clearly and famously inspired the writing of Orlando, elegantly characterised by Nigel Nicolson in Portrait of a Marriage (his biography of his parents) as ‘the longest and most charming love letter in literature.’

However, their growing friendship and intimacy over this period, during which Virginia Woolf was writing Mrs Dalloway, surely also informs the deeply sensual way in which Clarissa Dalloway seeks to understand and express how she has sometimes felt about women:

It was a sudden revelation, a tinge like a blush which one tried to check and then, as it spread, one yielded to its expansion, and rushed to the farthest verge and there quivered and felt the world come closer, swollen with some astonishing significance, some pressure of rapture, which split its thin skin and gushed and poured with an extraordinary alleviation over the cracks and sores. Then, for that moment, she had seen an illumination; a match burning in a crocus; an inner meaning almost expressed. [ … ] But this question of love (she thought, putting her coat away), this falling in love with women. Take Sally Seton; her relation in the old days with Sally Seton. Had not that, after all, been love?

Image: Portrait (Detail) of Vita Sackville-West painted by William Strang, 1918.

Virginia Woolf’s London

Another good article on the British Library website in their Discovering 20th century literature series, this one by David Bradshaw who is editor of the Oxford University Press edition of Mrs Dalloway.


The article also includes links to many more digitised images of Virginia Woolf manuscript pages, including the travel notebook (a page from which above, © The Society of Authors) that she kept in her twenties in which she writes of her ‘longing’ for the city and the beauty of ‘a wet London street, with lamplight twisted on the pavement’.

Bradshaw quotes entries from VW’s diaries in 1916 (as above) and 1940 both expressing her abiding love for London and its noisy, busy streets thronged with people:

‘What shall I think of that[s] liberating & refreshing?’ Woolf wrote in her diary on 29 March 1940. ‘… The river. Say the Thames at London bridge; & buying a notebook; & then walking along the Strand & letting each face give me a buffet’

Just as Elizabeth Dalloway is uplifted by her excursion from Dalloway territory (of Westminster and Mayfair) into the City –

people busy about their activities, hands putting stone to stone, minds eternally occupied not with trivial chatterings … but with thoughts of ships, of business, of law, of administration and with it all so stately (she was in the Temple), gay (there was the river), pious (there was the Church) (p. 116).

Bradshaw writes well on the ambiguity of Clarissa Dalloway’s London, at once a source of elation (the ‘divine vitality’ of London life) but also a ‘gilded confinement’ – not even Clarissa any more … but Mrs Richard Dalloway.

Read the full article at the British Library website here.