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21 April 2020
Why did so many women writers live in Hampstead? Several reasons: they could walk on the Heath; there’s the beauty of the village; and there’s the distance from the smoke and grime of ‘town’; and yet of course after 1907 there was the accessibility by underground. But also there is what Hampstead means metaphorically. It only has to be mentioned for people to think they know what it implies. On 3 December 1917 Leonard Woolf gave a lecture at Hampstead. Virginia Woolf went with him. She wrote in her diary: ‘Strange what a stamp Hampstead sets even on a casual gathering of 30 people, such clean, decorous, uncompromising & high minded old ladies & old gentlemen; & the young wearing brown clothes, & thinking seriously, the women dowdy, the men narrow shouldered; bright fire & lights & books surrounding us, & everyone of course agreeing beforehand to what was said’; on 15 November 1919, three weeks before, she had been to tea with Margaret Llewelyn Davies at 26 Well Walk in the ‘immaculate & moral heights of Hampstead’ (that would have been a good title for the Hampstead women writers talk); and on another occasion visiting the same friend, in September 1927, she wrote about: ‘All Hampstead, red, sanitary, earnest, view gazing, breeze requiring.’
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