Virginia Woolf and St Ives

Conor Fletcher

Cornwall is unquestionably intertwined with literature, throughout the years many famous authors have spent their time in Cornwall, from D.H. Lawrence in Zennor to the likes of Sir John Betjeman and even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, bringing Sherlock Holmes to the South West. Shifting focus locally however St Ives' reputation is without doubt grounded in art; you have Barbara Hepworth, Bernard Leach and so many other artists and creative-types taking residence in the town, which without question built the St Ives' reputation over the years. However, if we shift focus for a moment away from the town's relationship with the arts and move back toward the written word a name happens to crop up - Virginia Woolf.

Yes that Virginia Woolf, not the name known that happens to be included in the title of the popular play 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf', but one of the foremost modernist authors of the early twentieth century. Woolf's works experimented with the way fiction could be told, and through Woolf's utilisation of stream of consciousness (somewhat a hallmark of modernist literature, further exampled in the works of James Joyce), she allowed readers to experience the inner most thoughts, feelings and motives of characters. Narrators were absent; structure was lucid as the narrative developed throughout her character's experiences. Woolf's work was emotive and in many ways ahead of it's time. Works such as Orlando (1928) can be seen to reflect the fluidity of gender, with the protagonist transforming throughout the text. This is just one of the many ways Woolf's works garnered such a reputation in the modernist era and still to this day.

So what does Virginia Woolf have to do with St Ives? To find the answer to that question the only thing you need to do is look out from the edge of Porthgwidden beach where on the horizon you will sea Godrevy Lighthouse amongst the ceaseless waves. In her youth Woolf spent time in St Ives and Cornwall, staying in Talland House with her parents and family including sister Vanessa Bell. Talland House is still here to this day and during Woolf's life the family stayed many a time, only helping romanticise St Ives for Virginia. An often repeated quote by Woolf is that of her reflection upon her time in Cornwall and the reasons she often looked back on her time here in such a positive light.

Why am I so incredibly and incurably romantic about Cornwall? One’s past, I suppose; I see children running in the garden … The sound of the sea at night … almost forty years of life, all built on that, permeated by that: so much I could never explain.

- Virginia Woolf, 1921

The culmination of this fascination with St Ives and Cornwall is reflected throughout her bibliography, To The Lighthouse (1927) is a clear indication of Woolf relaying the importance of not only Godrevy to her and her family, but St Ives as a whole. Cornwall is once again reflected in her others works, albeit less so. Jacob's Room (1922) and of course The Waves (1933) impart Cornwall's essence through literal indications of the county or through the lexicological rhythm of the ocean in The Waves a concept no doubt a call-back to the Cornish coast. Woolf's work is without question paying homage to her relationship to Cornwall and Cornish landscape and most importantly St Ives, even in the novels touched upon here Woolf's appreciation of her time in the county goes without question.

St Ives' relationship with the arts of course takes the lion's share of notability however for those with a taste for Cornwall's literary prowess and importance you may find that St Ives has far more than you would expect. Coming to stay in Cornwall may have changed somewhat in the past few decades, however this county's sense of wonder has never gone away, and it too permeates all of those who come to visit time and time thereafter. You too may one day find yourself longing for a time long since past, time spent in the unique wonder of Cornwall and that is where the Sail Lofts comes in, luxury apartments built upon St Ives' relationship with it's past you can spend your time in St Ives in luxury accommodation in Cornwall, enjoying the most of the spectacle of this fascinating county.

Should you be yearning to come to Cornwall, be it as a return to familiar grounds or to experience what is without question one of the most exciting places to visit in England then it's quite simple, either take a look online or get in touch with us in the office on 01736 799175 and ensure you're here to enjoy the most of St Ives.