After the success of her novel To The Lighthouse in 1927, Virginia and Leonard Woolf decided to buy their first car, a Singer. Virgina never identified the model but based on her description it was most likely either a 1927 Singer Senior or a 1927 Singer Junior.
Although raised in London, Virginia and her friends were spending more time in the country in the 1920s and found travel there difficult. When Virginia wanted to visit her friends, her only options were walking, bicycling or train. Owning a car gave Virginia a new type of freedom, as she states in her diary that July:
“This is a great opening in our lives. One may go to Bodiam, to Arundel, explore the Chichester downs, expand that curious thing, the map of the world in ones mind. It will I think demolish loneliness, & may of course imperil complete privacy. The Keynes’ have one too – a cheap one. Nessa thinks it will break down at once….”
The following month, after discovering a group of people singing hymns on a country back road during a drive, Virginia explained in her diary:
“What I like, or one of the things I like, about motoring is the sense that it gives one of lighting accidentally, like a voyager who touches another planet with the tip of his toe, upon scenes which would have gone on, have always gone on, will go on, unrecorded, save for this chance glimpse. Then it seems to me I am allowed to see the heart of the world uncovered for a moment. It strikes me that the hymn singing in the flats went on precisely so in Cromwell’s time.”
Since driving was a new skill for them, Virginia and Leonard took lessons, which Virginia greatly enjoyed. After just a few lessons Virginia wrote in her diary:
“Since making the last entry I have learnt enough to drive a car in the country alone. On the backs of paper I write down instructions for starting cars. We have a nice light little shut up car in which we can travel thousands of miles. It is very dark blue, with a paler line around it. The world gave me this for writing The Lighthouse, I reflect, a book which has now sold 3,160 (perhaps) copies…”
Virginia confessed that driving began to invade her thoughts: “All images are now tinged with driving a motor. Here I think of letting my engine work, with my clutch out…” She later declared driving a great evolutionary leap: “Soon we shall look back at our pre-motor days as we do now at our days in the caves” and stated “the motor is turning out the joy of our lives, an additional life, free & mobile & airy alongside our usual stationary industry.”
Although Virginia found driving exhilarating at first, she decided to give it up and let herself be driven after she accidentally drove the car into a hedge.
Over the years they owned the car, Virginia and Leonard did indeed travel thousands of miles in it, using it to take road trips to Italy, France and Ireland, and even took it through Germany at the height of the Nazi regime.
“Virginia Woolf: A Biography”; Quentin Bell; 1972
“The Diary of Virginia Woolf; Volume III”; Virginia Woolf