Academic journal article Woolf Studies Annual

Virginia Woolf and "The Villa Jones" (1931)

Academic journal article Woolf Studies Annual

Virginia Woolf and "The Villa Jones" (1931)

Article excerpt

As she struggled with revisions to The Waves during the summer of 1931, Virginia Woolf sought solace in the Sussex countryside. In a July diary entry, she records celebrating Leonard's enthusiastic reception of the novel with a solitary walk around the downs:

what a relief! I stumped off in the rain to make a little round to Rat Farm in jubilation, & am almost resigned to the fact that a Goat farm, with a house to be built, is now in process on the slope near Northease. (D4 36)

Woolf's account of this summer of soothing walks on the downs is marked by her concern about changes to the landscape. Such anxiety is clear in her closing reference to the "Goat farm, with a house" being built locally. Woolf's claims to being "almost resigned" to the goat farm are reiterated in her account of a walk later in August: "today over to Northease & back by the marsh; almost forgiving the pink slate abortion on the Telscombe horizon. Goat Farm isn't so much of an eyesore as might have been" (D4 37). These local building developments are "almost" forgivable, that is ignorable, but Woolf's attempt at casualness in her reference to the farm here is undermined by her visceral description of it as a "pink slate abortion." The antipathy towards these buildings that Woolf struggles to manage in these diary entries explodes in "The Villa Jones," (1) a curious unpublished letter that I found in Woolf's 1931 notebook in the Morgan Library in New York.

The red-brick villa becomes an increasingly visible and freighted figure in Woolf's writing from the late 1920s onwards. In her 1927 celebration of the city, "Street Haunting: A London Adventure," Woolf imagines a commuter returning to "a prim little villa in Barnes or Surbiton" (26) where the demands of the everyday "puncture" (27) the daydreams London inspires. In a 1932 (unsent) letter to the New Statesman, "Middlebrow," Woolf's artfully constructed highbrow speaks her contempt for middlebrow culture most pointedly through an account of their homes: "red brick villas that have been built by middlebrows so that middlebrows may look at the view" (119). In the "Present Day" chapter of Woolf's 1937 novel, The Years, elderly Eleanor Pargiter regrets the "little red villas all along the road" that she observed on a recent trip to Dorsetshire and her agitated nephew North complains to his family, "how you've spoilt England while I've been away" (TY 275). References to villas and bungalows are numerous in Woolf's final novel Between the Acts--the Haines's "red villa in the cornfields" (6), the "hideous new house at Pyes Corner" (47) and "Mr. M.'s bungalow" (111).

The manuscript of Woolf's unpublished letter draws on the class symbolism we find in these texts' treatment of the villa and rehearses similar accusations of aesthetic compromise. "The Villa Jones" rails against building in the countryside and creates in Jones, the villa-owner, a figure who appears to stand for a threateningly mobile middle class, bent on invading the countryside. The letter's anxiety about preserving views anticipates the political significance they assume in Between the Acts years later. In that novel we are told that the Olivers' "fine view of the surrounding country" (34) from Pointz Hall has remained unchanged since it was described in "Figgis's Guide Book" in 1833. The pleasure the family take in their unspoilt view and their confidence that "It'll be there [...] when we're not" (BTA 34) become bound up with the questions the novel asks about complacency, conservatism and progress.

Here I suggest that such questions also concern "The Villa Jones" and argue that it has much to tell us about the social and cultural politics of the interwar English countryside. I build on recent scholarship, which has drawn attention to Woolf's relationship to the rural and its place in her writing. (2) Mark Hussey, in particular, has made a strong case for the influence of the preservation movement on the politics of Woolf's final novel, Between the Acts, while Elisa Kay Sparks and Leena Kore-Schroder have foregrounded Woolf's passion for rural Sussex, but also her ambivalence about her status as a "cockney" (L6 459) in the countryside. …

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