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Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth essays

Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth essays

These three first edition volumes of the Hogarth Essays were printed between 1924 and 1926 by Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s Hogarth Press.  The essays were written by significant twentieth-century writers, poets, artists, economists, and academics and give an insight into important debates and arguments of the time.  Contributors include Roger Fry, Robert Graves, Edith Sitwell, T. S. Eliot, E. M. Forster, Bonamy Dobrée, and Willa Muir.

Originally the Hogarth Essays would have been published as individual volumes with cover illustrations by Virginia Woolf’s sister Vanessa Bell who was also a member of the Bloomsbury Group.  The essays have been rebound, sadly losing the original covers and dustjackets, but retaining the original front matter and title pages for each individual essay.  

The Essays include titles by significant twentieth-century writers, poets, artists, economists, and academics such as Roger Fry, Robert Graves, Edith Sitwell, T. S. Eliot, E. M. Forster, Bonamy Dobrée, and Willa Muir.  Many were involved with the Bloomsbury Group, and were part of the Modernist movement in the early 20th Century. Their essays provide an insight into important debates and arguments of the time, including about the nature of poetry and the form of the novel, as well as critical pieces on works by Emily Brontë, Henry James and John Dryden.  

The very first essay in the series is Virginia Woolf’s ‘Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown’, published in 1924, and adapted from a speech Woolf delivered to the Cambridge Heretics Society – a group of students and intellectuals who challenged traditional authorities and prevailing religious dogmas. Her work responds to a critical essay by Arnold Bennett which argued that the new generation of novelists, including D. H. Lawrence, T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, and Lytton Strachey, failed to create ‘real’ characters in their work. Bennett was also a novelist and journalist, he was criticised by the Bloomsbury Group as being part of an older tradition that needed to be broken with.

Reference: 824.91 HOGThe Hogarth essays: b first series (1925), 20th Century Collection, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 86.

Potential research ideas

You could use the publication as a starting point to explore modernism in literature and twentieth century culture more generally. Literary criticism often discusses the form of the novel, literary trends, styles and convention. What were the main criticisms discussed in the essays and how important were the Hogarth essays in setting the tone for the Modernist movement of the early 20th century?

You could also concentrate on the print run of the Hogarth Essays specifically look at the purpose and the scope of the Hogarth Essays.  How widely read were the Essays? Who were their readership? What key themes or debates did it popularise?  The Hogarth Essays were one of many popular collections of essays.  Perhaps this could lead to more detailed research into independent publishers of the 20th Century.  Were Hogarth Press doing anything differently?

Another way to begin research with the Hogarth Essays is to focus specifically on an author.  For example, in Virginia Woolf’s Mr Bennett & Mrs Brown what ideas and links can you find in her other works? Can you find traces of the Hogarth Essays in other works published by Virginia and Leonard Woolf?

Perhaps you are more interested in the physicality of the essays and of ownership, book history could be an interesting avenue of research. The original covers have been removed from these essays and they have been rebound.

Selected background reading

The second Hogarth Essays to be published was:

Woolf, L., 1927. Hunting the highbrow. London: L. & Virginia Woolf (Hogarth Press).

For further reading into Hogarth Press and Modernism:

McTaggart, U., 2010. Opening the Door’: The Hogarth Press as Virginia Woolf's Outsiders' Society.Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature, vol. 29, no. 1. Available at: (Accessed on 21 Apr. 2020)

Howard, A., 2012. Dismantling the Modernist Myth: Samuel Beckett and Virginia Woolf in the Literary Marketplace. Journal of Modern Literature, vol. 36, no. 1, Available at: (Accessed on 21 Apr. 2020)

Potter, R. (2012) Modernist literature. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Battershill, C., 2018. Modernist lives biography and autobiography at Leonard and Virgina Woolf's Hogarth Press. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

What can I find here in Special Collections?

Our 20th Century Collection and 21st Century Collection  include published works associated with the press:

  • Another from the series of Hogarth Essays:
    Graves, R., 1926. Impenetrability: or, The proper habit of EnglishLondon: L. & Virginia Woolf. 20th C Collection.  821.91 GRA. Twentieth Century Collection. Newcastle University, GB 186.
  • Sitwell, E., 1965. Collected poems., London: Macmillan. 20th C. Coll. 821.91 SIT. Twentieth Century Collection. Newcastle University, GB 186.

The 20th Century Pamphlets includes pamphlets and short publications on world affairs in the Twentieth Century. Many themes are covered largely politics, economics, civil liberty, democracy and religion.  Titles include:

  • West, Ranyard. – Psychology and world order
  • Hadham, John – God and human progress
  • Mao Tse-tung – Problems of art and literature
  • Plekhanov, G.V. – The materialist conception of history

The Thomas Sharp Archive includes letters to and from Leonard Woolf. Sharp was a significant figure in town planning and a major influence on the development of ideas of townscape.  He was approached by Leonard Woolf to write articles about the subject. 

  • Woolf, L., 1940. Letter from Woolf to Sharp requesting that he write an article about Reconstruction [manuscript]. THS 5.2.39. Thomas Sharp Archive. Newcastle University, GB 186.
  • Sharp, Thomas., 1934. Letter from Sharp to Leonard Wolfe about the agreement for the publication of A Derelict Area [manuscript]. THS 41.3.13. Thomas Sharp Archive. Newcastle University, GB 186.

Other correspondence from literary figures and contemporaries can be found in the Jack Common Archive. Common corresponded with E.M. Forster and George Orwell.

What can I find elsewhere?

As publishers and authors Leonard and Virginia Woolf had a large network of important and interesting literary and cultural figures of the 20th Century.  To get a better understanding of these relationships and how they might relate to Modernism and works published by Hogarth Press you could look at their personal papers.

For essays and pamphlets published by the Hogarth Press it could be useful to search the Library Hub Discover for relevant titles. For example: