Posted 20 February 2013 by Andrew Gardner
Sussex University kicked off this year by paying £60,000 for some of Virginia Woolf's diaries in an auction at Sotheby's. The series of small engagement diaries were kept by Woolf for the last 11 years of her life, until she committed suicide in 1941 by walking into the River Ouse near her country home at Rodmell in Sussex with her pockets full of stones.
The university believes these diaries are important as they record her everyday life and personal thoughts, rather than the public persona of Virginia Woolf the novelist and essayist. They record conversations with such literary giants as TS Eliot, EM Forster and Christopher Isherwood and the economist John Maynard Keynes, as well as visits to the home of her sister Vanessa Bell at Charleston. But it was also a time when Woolf was dogged by mental health issues and some daily entries just consist of the word 'bed', indicating her fragile state. The final entry is a poignant note in pencil by her husband Leonard on 28 March, 1941 that says simply, 'died'.
Sussex University already owns some of Woolf's correspondence as well as some diaries that were kept by to Leonard Woolf, and hopes the complete collection will enable scholars to discover and cross-reference information as never before. But they're not just for the cognoscenti - any member of the public can view them by appointment.
Some people love the Bloomsbury Group and some don't (one comment I found on the web described them as 'a sort of high-brow version of Friends on the slopes of the South Downs but it's hard to deny that they were an important creative force of their time and Sussex can be proud of the legacy they left here. Monks House at Rodmell (nearest station Lewes) is open to the public, as is Charleston, which also hosts a lively annual arts festival. Do check opening times before you go.