Sisters Virginia Woolf & Vanessa Bell – Pens, Brushes, Presses, and Minds of Their Own. Part 1 of 3

Sisters Virginia (Woolf) and Vanessa (Bell) Stephens:


(Click on the images if you wish to view them individually or larger.)

“Spring” painting by Vanessa Bell:


Virginia Woolf:


Vanessa Bell:


“Interior with a Table” 1921, by Vanessa Bell:


Vanessa Bell:


Vanessa Bell, a pacifist, urged her son not to go to war.   Here is a letter she wrote to him on October 10th, 1936:

“I understood your wanting to go and see what war was like . . . only I do think nearly all war is madness.  It’s destruction and not creation, and it’s mad to destroy the best things and people in the world, if one can anyhow avoid it.  You object to cutting down trees.  Isn’t war that, a million times worse?”

He later died in the Spanish Civil War. 

Vanessa Bell on Wikipedia

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One of Vanessa Bell’s portraits of Virginia Woolf:


While I am troubled by some of Virginia Woolf’s philosophies, I admire both her independent and artistic spirits.  Her feminist and self-supportive ideas about an artist being enabled by having a room of one’s own, a place to create, a shelter, with the necessary financial and social support to do so – is worth consideration.  And to her credit, her famous title of “A Room of One’s Own” is gender neutral – expressing the importance of a peaceful and supportive place to create, important for all artists, male or female.

Virginia Woolf:


Virginia Woolf on Wikipedia

Virginia Woolf’s handwriting in a 1921 letter to Katherine Mansfield, where she writes:  “It seems to me very important that women should learn to write.”


Virginia Woolf’s writing table (a portable laptop of sorts):


Here is an excellent Smith College collection of Woolf’s artifacts:

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A Room of One’s Own:

Vanessa Bell’s cover design for Virginia Woolf’s essay “A Room of One’s Own:”


Any artist can publish their own work, and many of the best artists, like Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell, have initially published their own work to overcome cultural prejudices against what they had to say.

A Room of One’s Own on Wikipedia

Here are the complete essays:

Excerpts from “A Room of One’s Own:”  (Bolded emphasis added by me.)

“a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction”

“But for women, I thought, looking at the empty shelves, these difficulties were infinitely more formidable.  In the first place, to have a room of her own, let alone a quiet room or a sound–proof room, was out of the question, unless her parents were exceptionally rich or very noble, even up to the beginning of the nineteenth century.  Since her pin money, which depended on the goodwill of her father, was only enough to keep her clothed, she was debarred from such alleviations as came even to Keats or Tennyson or Carlyle, all poor men, from a walking tour, a little journey to France, from the separate lodging which, even if it were miserable enough, sheltered them from the claims and tyrannies of their families.  Such material difficulties were formidable; but much worse were the immaterial. The indifference of the world which Keats and Flaubert and other men of genius have found so hard to bear was in her case not indifference but hostility.  The world did not say to her as it said to them, Write if you choose; it makes no difference to me.  The world said with a guffaw, Write? What’s the good of your writing? . . . For surely it is time that the effect of discouragement upon the mind of the artist should be measured”

“For though we say that we know nothing about Shakespeare’s state of mind, even as we say that, we are saying something about Shakespeare’s state of mind.  The reason perhaps why we know so little of Shakespeare—compared with Donne or Ben Jonson or Milton—is that his grudges and spites and antipathies are hidden from us.  We are not held up by some ‘revelation’ which reminds us of the writer.  All desire to protest, to preach, to proclaim an injury, to pay off a score, to make the world the witness of some hardship or grievance was fired out of him and consumed.  Therefore his poetry flows from him free and unimpeded.  If ever a human being got his work expressed completely, it was Shakespeare.  If ever a mind was incandescent, unimpeded, I thought, turning again to the bookcase, it was Shakespeare’s mind.”

“That one would find any woman in that state of mind in the sixteenth century was obviously impossible.  One has only to think of the Elizabethan tombstones with all those children kneeling with clasped hands; and their early deaths;  and to see their houses with their dark, cramped rooms, to realize that no woman could have written poetry then.”

Jane Austen wrote like that to the end of her days.  ‘How she was able to effect all this’, her nephew writes in his Memoir, ‘is surprising, for she had no separate study to repair to, and most of the work must have been done in the general sitting–room, subject to all kinds of casual interruptions.  She was careful that her occupation should not be suspected by servants or visitors or any persons beyond her own family party.   Jane Austen hid her manuscripts or covered them with a piece of blotting–paper.  Then, again, all the literary training that a woman had in the early nineteenth century was training in the observation of character, in the analysis of emotion.  Her sensibility had been educated for centuries by the influences of the common sitting–room.  People’s feelings were impressed on her; personal relations were always before her eyes.”

“Give her another hundred years, I concluded, reading the last chapter—people’s noses and bare shoulders showed naked against a starry sky, for someone had twitched the curtain in the drawing–room—give her a room of her own and five hundred a year, let her speak her mind . . .”

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Virginia Woolf:


Virginia Woolf:


Virginia Woolf:


Here is a feminist bookstore named after Woolf’s famous essay:


“No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.” – Dead Poets Society.

“A Room of One’s Own” 3 Post Series: 1 2 3

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