Tale of two sisters: Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf in Sussex

In the Sussex countryside of England are the homes of two famous sisters: Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf. They were the originators of The Bloomsbury Group, a circle of English artists, writers and intellectuals in the first half of the 20th century. The name came about as the group started in the Bloomsbury (London neighborhood) home of Virginia and Vanessa. Several years later both sisters moved to East Sussex, which is where I visited both their homes last October.

I was charmed by both houses, which are four miles apart (although much further to drive between). The sisters used to visit each other’s homes on foot. Artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant lived in Charleston, a farmhouse in a rural setting where one can smell the country air. Writers Virginia and Leonard Woolf lived in the village setting of Rodmell, in “Monk’s House.”

Charleston is a visual treat, with artwork covering every surface, from doors to tables to rugs, and all in between – even the side of the bathtub surround. Not to mention the actual framed artwork, plates, sculpture, and pottery. The walled garden is magical, with whimsical sculptures around each corner.

Monk’s House was a visceral experience, from the moment I stepped in – with the shades of green and artistic touches I felt like I was back in my grandmother’s house (Grandma Noble was also an artist, and lived in the same era). Stepping out of the house is a beautiful garden with views of Sussex Downs.

While I can’t claim to have immersed myself in the Bloomsbury canon, I was delighted to spend the day in the homes of these two luminary sisters.

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