Charleston and Monk's House: The Intimate House Museums of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell

Charleston and Monk's House: The Intimate House Museums of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell

Charleston and Monk's House: The Intimate House Museums of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell

Charleston and Monk's House: The Intimate House Museums of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell

Synopsis

The interwoven biographies of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell and the houses they lived in. What can we learn from a commemorative house? What biographical narratives emerge as we travel through the spaces of another's home? This new study unveils the revelatory potential of the house museum to inform and enrich our understanding of the lived past of its former inhabitants. It focuses on the emotionally textured interiors of Charleston and Monk's House, the literary/artistic house museums of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell, seeking out traces of their shared biography. Fresh perspectives unfold on Woolf's and Bell's' sisterhood and their continuous artistic exchange, as we shadow their daily lives through the richly painted rooms and atmospheric gardens of their former Sussex homes. Discover these celebrated artists in a different light - animated, moving, handling the tools of their related arts and brought vividly to life through the tangible fabric of their past living.

Excerpt

White blanketed sky. Cold, abrasive air. the wind throwing the
Magnolia grandiflora loose from its fastenings on the house wall.
Downstairs, Clive Bell’s study is strait-jacketed and bound –
ready for work on the replastering of the ceiling. Maggy takes
me into the studio – an extraordinary wintry world – an instal
lation of mute objects, wrapped in envelopes of white tissue,
drained of their colour and their warmth, their identity barely
discernible. the house museum out of season – a strange physi
ological suspension in time. Maggy says that when she unwraps
the rooms in spring, ‘they glow’. I imagine the life blood returning
to the house, coursing through its spaces and objects, restoring
their colour and their pulse.

I make my way up the stairs to the top studio, high up in the
house, with its views on to the garden and the landscape beyond.
Down below, the gardener is clearing a section of the herbaceous
borders, breaking the ground, and turning the earth over into a
soft brown tilth.

I sit where Vanessa Bell sat at her easel, and I read her letters.

Research diary, January 2006

I first discovered Charleston in 1986, when it opened to the public under the custodianship of the Charleston Trust. This redolent house, the former home of the Bloomsbury artists, Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell, situated beneath the Sussex Downs, immediately became a touchstone in my memory and imagination. I knew Monk’s House a little later, the former country retreat of Virginia and Leonard Woolf, situated a few miles away from Charleston, and also a commemorative site, under the custodianship of the National Trust. This house too left an enduring impression on me – a singular and potent taste in the mind.

Through a serendipitous turn of events, I found myself in 2005 . . .

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