When Virginia Woolf Went Skinny Dipping with Rupert Brooke

In the summer of 1911, Virginia Woolf visited her friend, the young poet Rupert Brooke, at the Old Vicarage in Cambridge where Brooke lived with a group of friends.

During her visit, Virginia and Rupert decided to swim naked together one night in Byron’s pool, a weir pool at the River Cam where Lord Byron used to swim when he was a student at Cambridge.

The incident was documented in a biography about Rupert Brooke published in 1964:

“It was the end of August. Virginia Stephen arrived at the Old Vicarage and occupied Ka’s bed on the other side of the house. The garden room was strewn with scraps of Strindberg, pages of Bland Vassen and fragments of verse. Probably the guest had brought with her an early chapter of The Voyage Out to revise while Brooke was reading or writing stretched out on the grass. One warm night there was a clear sky and a moon and they walked out to the shadowy waters of Byron’s Pool. ‘Let’s go swimming, quite naked,’ Brooke said, and they did.”

Brooke mentioned the pool a few years later in his poem “The Old Vicarage, Grantchester”:

“Still in the dawnlit waters cool
His ghostly Lordship swims his pool,
And tries the strokes, essays the tricks,
Long learnt on Hellespont, or Styx.”

Whether or not anything happened that night between the 29-year-old Virginia and the 24-year-old Rupert, who were both single at the time, remains a mystery since they never mentioned it or said anything to any of their friends.

Noel Olivier, Maitland Radford, Virginia Woolf and Rupert Brooke in 1911

Noel Olivier, Maitland Radford, Virginia Woolf and Rupert Brooke in 1911

Sources:
“Art and Affection: A Life of Virginia Woolf”; Panthea Reid; 1996
“Rupert Brooke: A Biography”; Christopher Hassall; 1964

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About Rebecca Beatrice Brooks

Rebecca Beatrice Brooks is a freelance writer and history lover who got her start in journalism working for small-town newspapers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Rebecca graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a B.A. in Journalism in 2001.

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