Virginia Woolf

A Botanical Perspective

Presented by the Botanic Garden of Smith College

Early Memories
Photographs courtesy of Frances Hooper Collection of Virginia Woolf
Mortimer Rare Book Room, Smith College
As a child then, my days, just as they do now, contained a large proportion of this cotton wool, this non-being. ...Then, for no reason that I know about, there was a sudden violent shock; something happened so violently that I have remembered it all my life. I will give a few instances. ... The second instance was also in the garden at St. Ives. I was looking at the flower bed by the front door; "That is the whole", I said. I was looking at a plant with a spread of leaves; and it seemed suddenly plain that the flower itself was a part of the earth; that a ring enclosed what was the flower; and that was the real flower; part earth; part flower. It was a thought I put away as being likely to be very useful to me later.

From "A Sketch of the Past" written byVirginia Woolf in 1939, first published in Moments of Being: Unpublished Autobiographical Writings. Edited with an introduction and notes by Jeanne Schulkind. Sussex: The University Press, 1976.

In recollection of a first memory in A Sketch of the Past, Virginia Woolf wrote:
"My mother would come out onto her balcony in a white dressing gown. There were passion flowers growing on the wall; they were great starry blossoms, with purple streaks, and large green buds, part empty, part full."
Julia Duckworth Stephen outside Talland House among flowers, c. 1894.
Another memory:
". . . I stopped at the top to look down at the gardens. They were sunk beneath the road. The apples were on a level with one's head. The gardens gave off a murmur of bees; the apples were red and gold; there were also pink flowers; and grey and silver leaves. The buzz, the croon, the smell, all seemed to press voluptuously against some membrane; not to burst it; but to hum round one such a complete rapture of pleasure that I stopped, smelt; looked. But again I cannot describe that rapture. It was rapture rather than ecstasy."
Talland House, St Ives, Cornwall, England, c. 1882-1894
Julia Duckworth Stephen with Vanessa Bell, Virginia Woolf (bending down to a dog), and Thoby Stephen outside the dining room window at Talland House, c. 1894.

© 2003 Botanic Garden of Smith College