January 31, 2018

Virginia Woolf’s personal photos are online (but not on Instagram)


Have you ever wanted to follow Virginia Woolf on Instagram? Now you can.

Well, okay — not exactly. But just as we do on Instagram, Woolf, the feminist titan of modernism (and Art of the Novella series contributor) documented her life through photographs, too. Open Culture brings us the news that some of these photos have been digitized and are now available to view over at Harvard’s Houghton Library website.

It turns out Woolf was an avid photographer who filled up six albums with images. The Monk’s House albums—named after the grounds that housed the tiny lodge she used as her office (A Room of One’s Own, if you will)—are comprised of images of Woolf, her famous friends, her family, their vacations, various landscapes and gardens, newspaper clippings, and photos of her pets. Special appearances by Bloomsbury Group friendls including E.M. Forster, John Maynard Keynes, and Lytton Strachey. Monk House 4 is the one of six albums Harvard has digitized so far, dated 1939.

In her essay “Memory and Photography,” Maggie Humm writes how Woolf “skillfully transformed friends and moments into artful tableaux, and she was surrounded by female friends and family who were also energetic photographers… The letters and diaries describe a constant exchange of photographs, in which the photographs become a meeting-place, a conversation, aide-mémoires, and sometimes mechanisms of survival and enticement.” Nearly a century later, we still see this behavior in our habits of posting photos to social media, where the images are a way to keep in touch, share news, stay up to date with friends and family, and, generally, to bond.

There doesn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary in Woolf’s photos — they offer a mere glimpse at the things in her life that were important to her. One could argue that Woolf’s photographs of her day-to-day personal life are not too far of a cry from the reflections on the day-to-day in her writing. And since we primarily know Woolf through her writings, her novels and letters and essays, these personal photos offer a new way to study the life of a literary icon.

All of this to say, it’s very possible Virginia Woolf would have been Instagram famous. Double tap to like.



Stephanie DeLuca is the director of publicity at Melville House.