Pre-Raphaelites in The City: Virginia Woolf and Holman Hunt go To The Lighthouse

Dinah Roe

Virginia Woolf and Holman Hunt go To The Lighthouse St. Ives Guestbook Up for Auction at Bonhams

Get out your chequebooks: on Tuesday 22 November, a guestbook from Godrevy Lighthouse in St. Ives goes on sale at Bonhams in London’s New Bond Street. The guestbook boasts not only the childhood signature of Virginia Woolf, but also the signature of William Holman Hunt, who was one of her family’s party during their visit on 12 September 1892. Hunt was an old suitor of Woolf’s mother, Julia Jackson, a great beauty. Virginia Woolf’s father Leslie Stephen cattily noted that Holman Hunt married his second wife because of her resemblance to Julia. Hunt was well-known to Woolf’s family: he sat alongside Stephen on the original Committee for The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.

Holman Hunt was not the only Pre-Raphaelite Brother Julia rejected; she also broke smitten sculptor Thomas Woolner’s heart when she married her first husband, Herbert Duckworth in 1867. Her aunt and godmother, photographer and Pre-Raphaelite associate Julia Margaret Cameron, created many portraits of Julia, one of which was entitled ‘A Beautiful Vision’. In To The Lighthouse, Mrs. Ramsay (inspired by Woolf’s mother) is revered for her beauty: ‘The graces assembling seemed to have joined hands in meadows of asphodel to compose that face.’

Although To The Lighthouse is set in the Hebrides, Godrevy Lighthouse is widely acknowledged as the inspiration for Virginia Woolf’s book, the most autobiographical of her novels. Her family summered in St. Ives from 1882 – 1894, visiting the lighthouse again in 1894. The guestbook is estimated at £3,000 – 5,000. I’d love to bid on it, but I’m a little short of cash this week. Perhaps I’ll have a rummage for loose change under the couch cushions … 

*UPDATE: The guestbook has been sold for a whopping £10,250 (But sadly, not to me!) I wonder where its journey will take this book next?


  1. Been reading this blog for awhile but i have been lazy to drop a comment and say thanks. That ends today: Thanks mate!

    alitlykap responded at 01:58pm on 06/01/2012
  2. I’m really pleased to hear from you, and you are very welcome! I hope you’ll continue to drop by.

    Dinah responded at 10:02pm on 06/02/2012

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Pre-Raphaelites in the City

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This blog explores the thriving Victorian cities which inspired the Pre-Raphaelites, and were shaped by them in turn. While the Pre-Raphaelites produced poetry and art praising the natural world, most were born and raised in urban environments, and their work retained a cosmopolitan sensibility. Although this blog will sometimes take excursions into the countryside, its focus will remain on city life. If you want more information on images or sources, please get in touch.