Portrait of "Virginia Woolf" by Roger Fry, 1912

CAMBRIDGE, U.K.:  To the Lighthouse has just come out of copyright. Fans of this enduringly popular novel by Virginia Woolf are being invited to come to Cambridge for two weeks this autumn to attend a series of Woolf-themed events that draw on this wonderful novel and its author.

University of Cambridge’s Corpus College and Fitzwilliam Museum are sponsoring To the Lighthouse Festival at Cambridgeshire that encompasses talks, readings and workshops, film screenings and a stage play, a walking tour and exhibitions.

The festival, taking place September 24 through October 8, is supported by the poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy and draws on Woolf’s writing and life to stimulate and challenge readers and writers alike. Duffy has written a poem for the occasion; it appears below this portrait of Woolf painted by the art critic Roger Fry.

Portrait of "Virginia Woolf" by Roger Fry, 1912
Portrait of "Virginia Woolf" by Roger Fry, 1912

Elvis! Shakespeare! Picasso! Virginia Woolf!

I had knowledge in my youth;
did the experiment, wrote the proof;
waved my hand whenever asked,
hollered an answer, top of the class, truth –

Elvis! Shakespeare! Picasso! Virginia Woolf!
I knew the score in my youth;
Beethoven’s Ninth, Mozart’s Flute;
classical, opera, all that jazz,
sang out the answer, class, aloof –

Elvis! Shakespeare! Picasso! Virginia Woolf!
Time of day, knew it, in my youth;
twenty-four seven from my mooth
came Physics, History, Spanish, Maths,
answers flew around the class, whoosh –

Elvis! Shakespeare! Picasso! Virginia Woolf!
No problemo in my youth;
ça va? Merci. Fermez la bouche.
Sic transit gloria; amo, amas,
I barked the answer, best in class, woof –

Elvis! Shakespeare! Picasso! Virginia Woolf!
So when questioned in my youth
re: blue shoes, shrews, cubes, own gaff,
I was never going to pass,
had the answers, showed my class –
the king, best, genius and herself…
Elvis! Shakespeare! Picasso! Virginia Woolf!

by Carol Ann Duffy

from New and Collected Poems for Children (Faber 2010)

© Carol Ann Duffy


Festival Highlights

1.     Book groups and individuals invited to read To the Lighthouse

2.    Writing Competition

3.    Talks and readings by critics and biographers

4.    Contemporary writers talk about being influenced by Virginia Woolf

5.     Performances of the play Vanessa and Virginia

6.    Cinema events

7.     Workshops

8.    Walking Tours

9.    Fitzwilliam Museum display of the manuscript of A Room of One’s Own

10.  Newnham College display of first editions of Woolf’s works.

Virginia Woolf had many connections with Cambridge:

1. Her father, Sir Leslie Stephen, was at Trinity Hall (as was her grandfather). He read mathematics. He was awarded a fellowship that obliged him to be ordained as a clergyman, but several years later he lost his faith and resigned his post. He then turned to a literary career as an editor and journalist

2. Virginia’s two brother, Thoby and Adrian Stephen, were  undergraduates at Cambridge; so were her husband, Leonard Woolf and his friends Lytton Strachey, Clive Bell and Saxon Sidney-Turner. Another friend, Desmond McCarthy, was also at Trinity. Soon after leaving Cambridge they became members of ‘The Bloomsbury Group’, a friendship group of artists, writers and intellectuals who gathered in the Bloomsbury district of London in the early years of the twentieth century. Virginia and her sister Vanessa were also included in the group.

3. Virginia’s first encounter with Cambridge was on a visit to her brother Thoby during May Week, and she attended a May Ball, though she “didn’t dance much”.

4. In 1904, after the death of her father, Virginia spent some months with her aunt Caroline Emilia (Leslie’s sister) who lived in a house called The Porch in Newnham. The house is still there, opposite the butcher’s shop.

5. In 1911 Virginia was invited to visit the young poet Rupert Brooke at Grantchester, and she embraced his bohemian way of life enough to join him on camping trips to Devon and Norfolk, as well as midnight nude-bathing at Byron’s Pool in Grantchester.

6. In October 1928 Virginia was invited to give a lecture at Newnham College, Cambridge on the subject of ‘Women and Fiction’. She was accompanied on this occasion by her husband Leonard, and during this weekend visit they lunched with their friend Dadie Rylands in his rooms at King’s College. She was also entertained to dinner at Newnham. Later these two meals were to appear (and exaggerated) in A Room of One’s Own. The following week she was invited to give the same lecture to the students at Girton College, and this time she took Vita Sackville-West with her as a guest

7. Virginia Woolf’s nephew Julian Bell went to King’s College and she visited him together with his mother, Vanessa Bell.

8. Virginia and Leonard Woolf visited the Arts Theatre, Cambridge to see various performances, including the acting debut of Lydia Lopokova, the former Russian ballerina who was the wife of another member of the Bloomsbury Group, John Maynard Keynes.

9. Cambridge features as a location in some of her novels, notably Jacob’s Room.

10. Woolf’s feminist polemic A Room of One’s Own, published in 1929, shows the inequality in educational opportunities for women in ‘Oxbridge’ – which is clearly a fictional representation of Cambridge. She also refers to Newnham as ‘Fernham’.

11. In her younger life Virginia and her family spent summer holidays in locations not far from Cambridge. In 1899 the Stephen family spent the summer at Warboys Rectory, Cambridgeshire, and in  1906 Virginia and her siblings holidayed at Blo’Norton Hall, near Elvedon in Norfolk.

Logo of "To The Lighthouse Cambridgeshire Festival: for reader and writers" in the U.K.
Logo of "To The Lighthouse Cambridgeshire Festival: for reader and writers" in the U.K.


1) Saturday 24 September Gallery 3, Fitzwilliam Museum 6.30pm – 9.00 pm
Launch wine reception and talk
Dame Gillian Beer and Frances Spalding

Through paintings and reading, Dame Gillian Beer and Frances Spalding discuss ways in which to enter Virginia Woolf’s novel To the Lighthouse.  These may include listening to voices; remembering your parents; walking through the house and garden; catching echoes and repetitions; thinking about Grimm’s tale ‘The Fisherman’s Wife’; asking where is the war?; watching Lily Briscoe’s picture change; reading freely, back and forth; and re-examining your belief in ghosts.

Gillian Beer and Frances Spalding recommend that if possible you visit Gallery 1 and look at the following paintings:

Augustus John’s portrait of Thomas Hardy, Matisse’s The Studio under the Eaves, Sickert’s Chagford Churchyard, Devon, Ethel Sands’s Still Life with a View of a Cemetery, Vanessa Bell’s Marie Moralt and a row of small paintings using passages of clear, strong colour by Derwent Lees, J.D Innes and Augustus John.

Or you can see some of them here:

Doors open: 6.15pm (Founders Main entrance)
Wine reception: 6.30 pm
Talk : 7.15 pm
Tickets: £9 (wine reception, talk and a free copy of To the Lighthouse while stocks last)
Tickets: https://www.adcticketing.com/shows/show/1081

2) Tuesday 27 September Gallery 3, Fitzwilliam Museum 1.00–2.00 pm, free
David Bradshaw, From Jacob’s Room to A Room of One’s Own

Why was having a room of her own so important for Woolf? In what ways were her earlier works (especially Jacob’s Room) antechambers to A Room of One’s Own? And how much, in turn, is A Room but a mere lean-to compared with Three Guineas? These are three of the many questions David Bradshaw will ask and seek to answer in his talk.

Friday 30 September The Pitt Building, 6.30–8.00 pm, £6/4
‘Inspired by Woolf’:   Ian Blyth, Lavinia Greenlaw, Angela Leighton, Clare Morgan, and Jeff Wallace

Books groups and other interested individuals are invited to listen to selected speakers read and discuss their favourite passages from To the Lighthouse, and reveal why Woolf continues to inspire them. Chaired by Susan Sellers. This event is sponsored by Cambridge University Press and will include nibbles and a complimentary glass of wine.              Tickets: https://www.adcticketing.com/shows/show/1086

3) Saturday 1 October

Fitzwilliam Museum, 7.00–9.00 pm, £9/7  (incl. a glass of wine). Doors open 6.30 pm (Courtyard entrance)

Ali Smith: Spirals of influence

Ali Smith will be talking about her writing and about Virginia Woolf and the spirals of influence and inspiration linking writers past and present.

Tickets: https://www.adcticketing.com/shows/show/1088

4) Monday 3 October Orchard Tea Gardens, 3.00-4.30 pm, £8 (incl. tea and cake)

Claire Nicholson, An Introduction to the Bloomsbury Group

Virginia Woolf is always immediately associated with ‘the Bloomsbury Group’. But who exactly were the Bloomsbury Group? Why did they come together? And why does the group still attract attention today, over eighty years after its heyday? Claire Nicholson (Anglia Ruskin University) will introduce you to this fascinating group of artists, writers and thinkers of the early twentieth century, who came together as an informal circle of friends and went on to play an influential role in English cultural life. Tea and cake will be served.

Tickets: https://www.adcticketing.com/shows/show/1090

5) Tuesday 4 October Central Library, 1.00-2.00 pm, £5 (incl. tea and cake)
To the Lighthouse: A Question and Answer Session with Jane Goldman and Susan Sellers

What did Virginia Woolf intend the lighthouse to represent in her novel? What effect do the various shifts in time have on our reading? In this session, Susan Sellers and fellow Virginia Woolf scholar and editor of To the Lighthouse Jane Goldman talk about Woolf’s novel and invite your questions.

Tickets: https://www.adcticketing.com/shows/show/1091

6) Friday 7 October Fitzwilliam Museum, Gallery 3, 7.00–9.00 pm, £9/7 (incl. a glass of wine). Doors open 6.30pm (Founders main entrance)

Carol Ann Duffy

Carol Ann Duffy, the Poet Laureate closes the To the LighthouseFestival with a reading on the day her new collection The Bees is published.

Tickets: https://www.adcticketing.com/shows/show/1093

Performances of the play Vanessa and Virginia

Based on the acclaimed novel by Susan Sellers, Elizabeth Wright’s stage play is a moving, poetic and powerful story about Virginia Woolf and her artist sister Vanessa Bell.

1Wednesday 5 October Robinson College, 7.45 pm, £12/10  (performance lasts 90 minutes, no interval)

Tickets: https://www.adcticketing.com/shows/show/1094

2) Thursday 6 October Robinson College,  £12/10 (Schools performance – 1 free teacher ticket per 10 pupils),  1.30 pm pre-performance talk,  3 pm performance.

This performance is for schools but open to all.

‘Vanessa and Virginia: From Research to Novel, Play Script to Stage’, plus a performance of Vanessa and Virginia

In this illustrated talk, scholar and writer Susan Sellers discusses the inspiration behind her novel about Virginia Woolf and her painter sister Vanessa Bell. She reveals some of the discoveries made in the course of her research, and sheds light on the creative process of novel writing. Through a slideshow of images, she illustrates the novel’s transformation into a stage play with Moving Stories Theatre. This talk will last for 45 minutes, with time for questions. After a short break, there will be a performance of the play Vanessa and Virginia.

See the Vanessa and Virginia page for details of the play



Thursday 29 September Arts Picturehouse, 6.00 pm

Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway and Modernism

Introduction: Film Historian Prof. Ian Christie (Birkbeck)

Examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day. The mind receives a myriad impressions—trivial, fantastic, evanescent, or engraved with the sharpness of steel. From all sides they come, an incessant shower of innumerable atoms; and as they fall, as they shape themselves into the life of Monday or Tuesday, the accent falls differently from of old. (Virginia Woolf ‘Modern Fiction’, 1919/25)

MRS DALLOWAY (12). Director: Marleen Gorris.  Screenplay: Eileen Atkins.  Novel: Virginia Woolf. Starring: Vanessa Redgrave, Natascha McElhone and Michael Kitchen. UK. 1997. 97mins.

London,1923 and  socialite Clarissa Dalloway is planning a party. At the same time in London, a young man is suffering from a nightmarish delayed-onset form of shell-shock. Clarissa’s nearly-grown daughter is distant and preoccupied. In the course of the day, Peter, a passionate old suitor, returns from India, there is a suicide and Clarissa relives a day in her youth and her choice of her reliable husband in this beautifully adapted film of Woolf’s novel Mrs Dalloway.

THE OPEN ROAD  (Extract: London) (PG). Director: Claude Freise-Greene. Colour Silent With Music. UK. 1924.

Enjoy colour views of London as would have been seen by Virginia Woolf in 1924 in Claude Friese-Greene’s travelogue The Open Road.  A pioneer of colour cinematography, his aim was to record life on the road between Land’s End and John O’ Groats, ending in London.

A Cambridgeshire Film Consortium event at the Arts Picturehouse

Sunday 2 October Arts Picturehouse, 3.00 pm

Virginia Woolf: To the Lighthouse; adaptation from literature to film with screenwriter Hugh Stoddart

If life has a base that it stands upon, if it is a bowl that one fills and fills and fills — then my bowl without a doubt stands upon this memory. It is of lying half asleep, half awake, in bed in the nursery at St Ives. It is of hearing the waves breaking, one, two, one, two, and sending a splash of water over the beach; and then breaking, one, two, one, two, behind a yellow blind…and feeling, it is almost impossible I should be here; of feeling the purest ecstasy I can conceive. (‘A Sketch of the Past’, c. 1939–40)

TO THE LIGHTHOUSE  (PG). Director: Colin Gregg. Screenplay: Hugh Stoddart. Novel: Virginia Woolf. Starring: Rosemary Harris, Michael Gough, Kenneth Branagh, Suzanne Bertish. BBC, UK 1983. 115 mins.

Shot on location In Cornwall this exquisite adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s impressionistic novel, explores the interpersonal dynamics of a family’s holiday in Cornwall, just prior to World War I, as academic  Mr Ramsey, his family, spinster Aunt Lily, an old friend, and a student, Charles Tansley, spend a summer in their holiday house. The stern Mr. Ramsay scolds everybody, while Mrs. Ramsay is the linchpin in keeping the family together. Aunt Lily paints, and the family talk about sailing to the lighthouse, but the trip is always postponed. — “Ravishing to look at”, Richard Mayne, Sight and Sound

THE OPEN ROAD  (Extract: Cornwall) (PG) Director: Claude Freise-Greene. Colour Silent With Music. UK 1924.

Enjoy views of Cornwall in colour as would have been seen by Virginia Woolf. In the summer of 1924 Claude Friese-Greene, a pioneer of colour cinematography, set out in his motor car to film life on the road between Land’s End and John O’Groats. Entitled THE OPEN ROAD this fascinating  travelogue documents life in inter-war Britain.

Join us for a post-screen discussion on adapting Virginia Woolf’s novels to film.

A Cambridgeshire Film Consortium event at the Arts Picturehouse.

Tickets for Mrs Dalloway:


Tickets for To the Lighthouse:



Tel: 0871 902 5720

Enquiries: trish.s@picturehouses.co.uk


Adult – £8.50

Member – £6.50

Concession – £7.50

Child – £5.50

Family (4) – £24.00


Saturday 24 September Central Library, 11.00 am–1.00 pm, £12/10 (12 participants)

Claire Nicholson and Rachel Watson: Unlocking the Writer

Do you dream of being a writer? Are you brimming with ideas, but can’t quite tap out the words on the keyboard? Or have you started writing but need a creative push? ‘Unlocking the Writer’ is suitable for anyone who is interested in becoming a writer, whether you have experience or not. Complete beginners are especially welcome. Taking Virginia Woolf’s short stories as inspiration, Rachel Watson and Claire Nicholson will conduct practical sessions on stimulating the imagination, creating fictional characters and inhabiting a character’s world. All you need to bring along is a willingness to write! Pens/pencils and paper will be provided but participants are welcome to bring along a laptop if they prefer.

Tickets: https://www.adcticketing.com/shows/show/1082

Sun 25 Sept Kettles Yard, 11.00 am–1.00 pm, £12/10

Jo Browning Wroe: Writing workshop, An Ordinary Life

“Examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day. The mind receives a myriad impressions – trivial, fantastic, evanescent or engraved with the sharpness of steel” (Virginia Woolf, ‘Modern Fiction’). Life comes to us through our senses. Writing about them with precision and imagination, can help us create vivid moments for our readers to inhabit.  With the stunning interior of Kettle’s Yard as our sensory smorgasbord, we will put our senses under close scrutiny. A series of exercises will encourage us to describe the physical world as we experience it, to enrich and sharpen our writing.

Please note, this workshop is for adults and 16 years+

Tickets: https://www.adcticketing.com/shows/show/1083

Monday 26 September Arts Picture House, 6.00-8.00 pm, £12/10

Jane Monson, Writing from the Screen

Whether you’re afraid or un-afraid of Virginia Woolf, join Jane Monson at the Arts Picturehouse for a Creative Writing Workshop based around themes, characters and even objects in the film adaptation of To the Lighthouse. Using selections from the main feature, the workshop aims to generate lively discussion and ideas and through writing exercises, hopes to give everyone new and creative ways back into the film itself. Open to everyone, whether you’re passionate about film, writing or Woolf. Or all three.

Tickets: https://www.adcticketing.com/shows/show/1084

Saturday 1 October Central Library 12.00-2.00 pm, £12/10

Susan Sellers, Writing Fiction

Taking Virginia Woolf as its inspiration, this practical workshop, which is intended for beginning writers, will offer tips and advice on the process of writing fiction. Some of the areas we will consider are: how to get started, how to build a realistic fictional world, creating characters, structure, editing, and how to find outlets for writing.

Tickets: https://www.adcticketing.com/shows/show/1087

Sunday 2 October Fitzwilliam Museum, 12.00–2.00 pm, £12/10 (Meet at courtyard entrance reception)

Helen Taylor, Writing from Paintings

‘If I were a painter I should paint these first impressions in pale yellow, silver and green…I should make a picture that was globular, semi-transparent. I should make a picture of curved petals; of shells; of things that were semi transparent. I should make curved shapes showing the light through, but not giving a clear outline. Everything would be large and dim.’ (Virginia Woolf, ‘A Sketch of the Past’) This workshop will draw on the art that inspired Woolf and centre around 19th and early 20th century British and French paintings in the Fitzwilliam Museum. Looking at paintings by Walter Sickert, Vuillard, Ethel Sands, Matisse and Monet, paintings which Virginia Woolf may have seen  and certainly knew, we will be focusing on place, time, colour and memory looking at how the artist’s vision and representation of light and place can inform writing. Part of the workshop will be in Gallery 1 and there will be time for writing in the Education studio.

Tickets: https://www.adcticketing.com/shows/show/1089

Wednesday 5 October Central Library, 12.00-2.00 pm, £12/10

Readers’ workshop, ‘Writing the Woman’: Virginia Woolf and Arnold Bennett

Tutor: Professor Jeff Wallace, Department of English, Film and Media Studies, Anglia Ruskin University

‘Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end’  (‘Modern Fiction’, 1919)

We know Virginia Woolf as a pioneering modernist and feminist. We also know that, in her critical essays, Woolf courageously set her stall out against the pre-eminently popular British male novelists of the early twentieth century – H.G. Wells, John Galsworthy, Arnold Bennett. But how does this critique actually translate into her own fictional prose? How did Woolf set out to write differently, and how did this writing combine the principles of modernism and feminism? This interactive readers’ workshop session will take a close critical look at the fictional techniques of Virginia Woolf and Arnold Bennett, highlighting in particular the way two characters are written: Woolf’s Clarissa Dalloway, and Bennett’s Anna Tellwright. The session will conclude with some reflections on what it might mean to capture ‘life’ in fiction.

Tickets: https://www.adcticketing.com/shows/show/1092

Walking Tours

Tuesday 27 September Start point: Fitzwilliam Museum Courtyard (shop entrance). Two tours: morning tour: 10.00 am– 12.30 pm; afternoon tour: 2.10–4.40 pm. Each tour has 20 places. Cost: £15

A Room of One’s Own walking tours led by Claire Nicholson

In October 1928 Virginia Woolf visited Cambridge to deliver a lecture on ‘Women and Fiction’ to the undergraduates of Newnham College. A week later she returned and spoke on the same subject at Girton College. This lecture was first published as a magazine article, then revised and expanded to become Woolf’s highly-acclaimed feminist textA Room of One’s Own which was published in 1929.

Claire Nicholson (Anglia Ruskin University) will lead a walking tour to take in key locations connected with this landmark book. We begin at the Fitzwilliam Museum where we will view Woolf’s manuscript of ‘Women and Fiction’. A walk along King’s Parade will take us to King’s College where we will visit Dadie Rylands’ Room, the location for the lavish lunch party described by Woolf in Chapter 1 of A Room of One’s Own. After this we proceed to Newnham College where we will view the very table at which the lunch took place. We will also see the venue for Woolf’s 1928 lecture, Clough Hall, plus the superb collection of Woolf first editions and related material on display in the Library.

Please note: your enjoyment of this tour will be much enhanced if you have read A Room of One’s Own, or at least Chapter 1! However, newcomers to Woolf will also be welcome. Participants are advised the walk from Fitzwilliam Museum to King’s College is approximately 10 minutes and from King’s College to Newnham College is approximately 15 minutes. Comfortable footwear is advised and be prepared for wet weather, if necessary. Please meet Claire Nicholson at the shop entrance of the Fitzwilliam Museum for the start of your tour. Please note that this is not available to under 17 year olds.

You may also like to combine this tour with David Bradshaw’s talk on A Room of One’s Own at 1.00pm at the Fitzwilliam Museum. In this case people taking the 10.00am tour will need to allow approximately 20 minutes walk back to the museum at the end of their tour. Likewise, people taking the 2.10pm tour will find David Bradshaw’s talk an excellent preparation for their afternoon activity.

Tickets: https://www.adcticketing.com/shows/show/1085

The Newnham College Library exhibition of Virginia Woolf first editions, as well as other documents and photographs relating to Bloomsbury, will be available to visitors who are not taking part in the walking tours between 9.30am and 1.00pm and from 2.30 to 5.00pm on the same day (Tuesday, 27th September). Please ask at the Porters Lodge for directions to the Library. We are sorry that the exhibition is not open to under 16s.

Fitzwilliam Museum

At the Fitzwilliam, the collections offer insights into Woolf’s life and friendships around the time she completed To the Lighthouse, as well as opportunities to consider her wider views about the relationship between painting and literature. Exceptionally, the manuscript of A Room of One’s Own will be on display for the duration of the Festival

Virginia Woolf is one of the most important and innovative novelists of the twentieth century, and one of her most enduringly popular works is To the Lighthouse.

For two weeks this autumn Cambridge will host a series of exciting events that draw on this wonderful novel and its author. We would like to invite everyone in Cambridgeshire to join us in reading To the Lighthouse and  give your response to the book by joining our online book group.

Set on either side of the First World War, it’s a novel about a mother and father, their children, their summer house guests, a boat trip, and a painting. Often compared to an ‘elegy’ for its exploration of memory and loss, To the Lighthouse is also a novel ‘fringed with joy’ (to quote from its opening page).

We will also look at Woolf’s writing and life more broadly, to stimulate and challenge readers and writers alike. There will be talks and readings, cinema and theatre events, workshops, tours, a competition, and several exhibitions.

You can borrow the book from thelibrary.

Or you can buy it from your local bookshop, Heffers.

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