Virginia Woolf: defying expectation

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) by Vanessa Bell

The author Virginia Woolf was shaped by her unconventional approach to gender and sexuality. Her home was the idyllic Monk's House in Sussex.

The author Virginia Woolf was a leading light of the Bloomsbury movement in the early 20th Century, a group of artists and intellectuals with a bohemian approach to love and sexuality. In her writing, Virginia forged a playful, imaginative style that threw off the conventions of the time. In her personal life, she was just as controversial.

Breaking boundaries

Virginia was happily married to Leonard Woolf for almost thirty years, but also had an intense affair with another writer, Vita Sackville-West. Virginia's love of Vita inspired the novel Orlando, (1928), which imagines Vita (as Orlando) living through centuries, shifting gender and commenting on the changing assumptions about love, marriage and women’s role over time. Orlando’s ancestral home is based on Knole, Vita’s family home, and expresses her attachment to the place.

A copy of the novel Orlando by Virginia Woolf (1882–1941), with a dedication by the author to Edward Sackville-West, fifth Baron Sackville (1901–65) / NT 3220860
A copy of the novel Orlando by Virginia Woolf / Knole
A copy of the novel Orlando by Virginia Woolf (1882–1941), with a dedication by the author to Edward Sackville-West, fifth Baron Sackville (1901–65) / NT 3220860

Monk's House

Monk's House was the beloved home of Virginia and Leonard Woolf, and it's filled with collections from their shared life. Many writers and artists also visited the house, and Virginia frequently recorded them in photographs. You can see some on display in the Writing Lodge, the evocative room tucked away in the garden where Virginia wrote many of her most famous books.

Monk's House was the writer Virginia Woolf's country home and retreat.
Monk's House was the writer Virginia Woolf's country home and retreat.
Monk's House was the writer Virginia Woolf's country home and retreat.

Virginia's legacy

Virginia Woolf's novels are now part of the most important works of modern English literature. Her books reveal her profound skill as a writer as well as her broad-ranging, fluid approach to life. To Virginia, and the Bloomsbury group she was part of, gender and sexuality were not made up of a simple, confining set of rules. They were a malleable, shifting spectrum of experiences. It was a bold view which helped to challenge some of the stifling expectations of society.

Virginia Woolf's writing desk at Monk's House
Virginia Woolf's writing desk at Monk's House
Virginia Woolf's writing desk at Monk's House
Vita Sackville-West's desk at Sissinghurst

Exploring LGBTQ+ history at National Trust places 

Learn more about the LGBTQ+ links at places we care for, and how the National Heritage Lottery Fund has donated to the Queer Heritage Collections Network, of which we're a founder member.