Virginia Woolf was one of the most important and creative women writers of the 20th century. She was born in 1882 into a literary household but was almost entirely self-educated. Her father, Sir Leslie Stephens, was the founding editor of the Dictionary of National Biography and her mother was a Pre-Raphaelite model. Her large family included her sister, the artist Vanessa Bell, and her gifted elder brother Thoby. Yet her early years were marked by tragedy. Her mother died when she was eleven and her father died nine years later. She then had the first of her nervous breakdowns and she was plagued with mental illness for much of her life. Two years later her beloved brother Thoby – who had introduced her and Vanessa to his Cambridge friends, who were to become known as the Bloomsbury Group – died. They included biographer Lytton Strachey, the novelist E M Forster, the art critic Clive Bell, the artists Roger Fry and Duncan Grant and the economist John Maynard Keynes. Virginia met Leonard Woolf through the group, married him six years later and, in 1915, they moved to Hogarth House on Paradise Road in Richmond, where they set up The Hogarth Press. This was, in part, as a therapeutic hobby for Virginia, to help with her periods of mental illness. They installed a small printing press and taught themselves how to set the type, lock it up in chases, and then print each page.
The Hogarth Press soon became very successful, publishing the works of many leading avant-garde writers including T S Eliot, Katherine Mansfield, Robert Graves and Edith Sitwell. While living in Richmond, Virginia continued to write regularly, including one of her most important novels, Mrs Dalloway. The Hogarth Press book jackets helped to establish a recognisable house style and the cover designers included Dora Carrington and Vanessa Bell. They had only run the press at Hogarth House for nine years, when they moved to 52 Tavistock Square in Bloomsbury and installed a modern printing press in the basement. Hogarth Press continued to be successful, but sadly, after another bout of mental illness, Virginia Woolf committed suicide in 1941.
A tribute to Virginia Woolf
Apart from a Blue Plaque, there is little to commemorate the significance of Virginia Woolf in Richmond. The creation of the Hogarth Press here was the start of a prolific time in her writing and printing. Now, a statue is being created to immortalise the writer, by the award-winning sculptor, Laury Dizengremel. It is hoped that it will grace the river bank and be unveiled in time for the centenary of the Hogarth Press next year.
A new book, Virginia Woolf in Richmond, by Richard Fullagar, is also due out soon.