Now You Can Snoop in Virginia Woolf’s Personal Photo Albums
If you were wondering what Virginia Woolf’s summer vacation looked like, here it is
Virginia Woolf was a scrapbooker. At the age of fifteen, Woolf developed a penchant for photography and started arranging her work in photo albums. The albums are housed at the Harvard Library and now, as reported by Artnet, the library has graciously scanned one photo album from 1939 and made it available for our free consumption on their website.
The photo album is the fourth in the “Monk’s House” series. The six albums in the series give us glimpses into Virginia Woolf’s life with Leonard Woolf at their home in East Sussex, England, where Woolf lived intermittently from 1919 until her death in 1941. The album series ends in 1947, suggesting that Leonard Woolf continued to collect and arrange the photos after Virginia Woolf’s death.
In To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf wrote that the meaning of life might not come in one “great revelation” but instead, “there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one.” Here, we could say, is another one. The album is a collection of little things like pets and treetops and newspaper clippings that spark and illuminate a little more of Virginia Woolf’s life for us.
Looking at my favorite page in the 1939 album feels a little like reading a Woolf novel. At the top of the page, there’s a dog curled up in a well-worn chair, then a picture of two men grinning — one on solid ground and the other looking up from the bowels of a hole that looks a lot like a grave, and then finally a picture of a bleak, snow-covered landscape. No captions. There’s a novel waiting to be born in those three images, alone. The rest of the album appears to be loosely chronological, filled with shots of famous friends like W.B. Yeats, E.M. Forster, and more Bloomsbury group celebs, pictures from visits to friends’ homes and snaps from the Woolfs’ vacation to France.
You can do your own literary celebrity gawking through some of the photos we’ve collected here, and head to the Harvard Library website for more gems.