By Christina Latham
One of Fitzrovia’s most notable former residents is the writer Virginia Woolf who is regarded as one of the principal female literary figures of the twentieth century. During her time in Fitzrovia, Woolf occupied a fine house at 29 Fitzroy Square: the same house previously occupied by another influential writer, George Bernard Shaw.
Woolf was a significant figure in London literary society. Her most famous works include the novels Mrs Dalloway (1925) which challenged traditional expectations of a female by portraying a strong character who usurps all expectations. Her works also include: A Room of One’s Own (1929), which the famous dictum, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” belongs to. As this quote shows, Woolf was a forward thinking character and she is celebrated by many female authors today.
Woolf’s words remain inspirational to many so I asked Fitzrovia residents which Virginia Woolf quote stands out most to them and that they can relate to their everyday life.
Kate Berman of The Riding House Cafe, Fitzrovia chose this quote: ‘When the shrivelled skin of the ordinary is stuffed out with meaning, it satisfies the senses amazingly.’ Orlando, ch. 6 (1928).
Kate said: “I suppose I’ve pulled this one out as it makes me think of how the building, where we’re located, is a rather non-descript 1950s block which had been home to a succession of equally non-descript establishments, but only really took on significance when we filled it with a restaurant that is relevant to the neighbourhood.” It is excellent that the satisfaction of a successful business and the sense of community can be “stuffed with meaning”.
Jon Edgley Bond from The Fitzrovia Radio Hour suggested that Woolf’s inspirational words can be most definitely applied to today’s society and every working life. Jon chose this extract: ‘If you do not tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people’. The Moment and Other Essays (1948).
Jon explained that The Fitzrovia Radio Hour creates Vintage Radio Theatre. Set in the late forties, telling tales of giant crabs and evil, haunted bicycles. He noted that because of this you could be forgiven for thinking that there isn’t a lot of truth there. However, the characters in the productions emulate truth and true emotions. Furthermore, Jon noted, Woolf’s qualities and morals are still prominent; as within the stories on Fitzrovia Radio there are truisms about sexism, classism and imperialism, however, put across, albeit in a light and funny way.
However, it is not just Woolf’s actual words that were influential but also the sentiment that surrounds them. Angela Lovely from Fitzrovia News has read several of Woolf’s publications including Orlando and A Room of One’s Own and she maintained that what stood out to her was Woolf as a woman ahead of her time. To Angela, Woolf’s writing is still poignant today because it calls for emancipation of women and for women to be able to enjoy their independence. Although, this is generally the case for most women in modern Britain, in a multicultural society there are areas where Woolf’s words can still be applied to women who strive for the same independence as Woolf aspired to in her time.
Carys Williams is a local resident who studied English Literature at university and particularly enjoyed Woolf’s work. However, as an English student Carys said she couldn’t help but complain that women such as Clarissa in the novel Mrs Dalloway are often portrayed as slightly naive and ‘girlie’. Therefore, although Woolf intended to convey that women should be taken seriously, Carys believes that sometimes the novel may be enjoyable with the description of parties, manners and relationships. She feels that Woolf should have had an even more futuristic approach. Therefore, instead of capturing women striving independence, she should have actually portrayed independent women.
Many of our residents may disagree with one another, but this alone shows that Woolf is still inspiring and as topical today as she ever was.
Although, this is all in good fun, Fitzrovia is proud to have had such a literary giant and influential figure as a former resident. So we will leave you with this: “Each has his past shut in him like the leaves of a book known to him by his heart and his friends can only read the title.” Maybe, we can only read Woolf’s title, but this has left a resounding affect on Fitzrovia and on the world.