Virginia Woolf in Richmond by Peter Fullagar is a must-read for every Woolf fan. The book does much to debunk the myth that the author was unhappy living in the town of Richmond-upon-Thames. There is a scene in the film, The Hours, where Nicole Kidman, playing the writer, proclaims: “But if it is a choice between Richmond and death, I choose death”. On the contrary, Virginia and her husband, Leonard, greatly enjoyed their 10 years spent living in Richmond from 1914-1924. Drawing on information from her many letters and diaries, the author reveals just how much the town’s relaxed way of life helped Woolf embark on a prolific period in her life.
While living in Richmond, Virginia wrote countless reviews and essays along with fiction such as Two Stories (1917), Kew Gardens (1919), Night and Day (1919), Monday or Tuesday (1921), and Jacob’s Room (1922) and Richmond was often to referred to in her writing. But it was the purchase of Hogarth House as both a home, and what would become the Hogarth Press, which had the biggest impact on Virginia’s career. In a letter to Margaret Llewelyn Davies in 1915, Virginia writes: “Have you head about our Printing Press? We’re both so excited that we can talk and think of nothing else”. She adds: “I do hope you’ll come and see us often in our house – Hogarth House – It’s far the nicest house in England.”
Both self-taught printers, the couple’s first trial was a pamphlet advertising what would become their first publication, and after a month of practice, they printed two stories which incorporated The Mark on the Wall by Virginia, and Three Jews by Leonard. The couple found the process of printing extremely enjoyable: “After 2 hours work at the press, Leonard heaved a terrific sigh and said I wish to God we’d never bought the cursed thing! To my relief, though not surprise, he added Because I shall never do anything else. You can’t think how exciting, how soothing, ennobling and satisfying it is.”
Virginia and Leonard didn’t just print their own work but creations from other authors, too, including a selection of T.S. Eliot’s poems in 1919. The success of their printing endeavour offered both writers artistic control over their own work, and this was to be a major turning point in Virginia’s career; up until this point, several of her nervous breakdowns had occurred due to the stresses and strains caused by the necessity of having to deal with external publishers.
In a letter to Katherine Arnold-Foster in 1924, Virginia writes: “London is incredibly beautiful – not with the soft suburban beauty of Richmond.” Virginia would often compare Richmond favourably to central London. In a letter to artist, Duncan Grant in 1915, she writes : “Richmond is certainly the place to live in, partly because then London becomes so full of romance.” The following year she writes to Margaret Llewelyn Davies: “Do you ever get out onto your heath? I often think of you, as I pace beside my river, which surely surpasses anything you have.”
With the author’s obvious love of “her river”, it seems fitting that Virginia Woolf in Richmond has been published by Aurora Metro Books in association with the campaign to erect the first, full figure, life-size bronze statue of Virginia Woolf in Richmond, to celebrate the ten years that Virginia and Leonard spent living in the town. Planning permission has now been granted to install the statue on the terraces at Richmond Riverside and will be created by award-winning sculptor, Laury Dizengremel.
An impression of the new statue:
Virginia Woolf was one of the major literary figures of the twentieth century, and we are thrilled to see her being honoured in such a way. Peter Fullagar’s fascinating and well-researched book also ensures that the beautiful town of Richmond is finally getting the recognition it deserves, having provided such massive inspiration for her life and work.
To purchase a copy of Virginia Woolf in Richmond, please visit here
To find out more about the Virginia Woolf campaign to erect a statue, please visit here