…Thoby Stephen, 20, is hosting his sisters, up from London, and his cousin, acting as their chaperone, for tea in his rooms.
Virginia, 19, and Vanessa, 22, have to be accompanied by their cousin Katherine Stephen, 45, vice-principal of Newnham College, one of only two Cambridge colleges to admit women.
On previous trips, Thoby had introduced them to some of his university friends, Clive Bell, 19, who came from a good family, and the eccentric Lytton Strachey, 21, a fellow member of the ‘secret’ Cambridge society, the Apostles. This time, one of his other Apostle friends, Leonard Woolf, 20, at Trinity on a classical scholarship, also stops by Thoby’s rooms:
I also met Thoby’s two sisters, Virginia and Vanessa Stephen, when they came up to see him. The young ladies—Vanessa was 21 or 22, Virginia 18 or 19—were just as formidable and alarming as their father, perhaps even more so. I first saw them one summer afternoon in Thoby’s rooms; in white dresses and large hats, with parasols in their hands. Their beauty literally took one’s breath away, for suddenly seeing them one stopped astonished and everything including one’s breathing for one second also stopped, as it does when in a picture gallery you suddenly come face to face with a great Rembrandt or Velazquez…They were… the most Victorian of Victorian young ladies…It was almost impossible for a man not to fall in love with them and I think that I did at once.
This year, we’ll be telling stories about these groups of ‘such friends,’ before, during and after their times together.