A personal copy of Virginia Woolf’s debut novel, The Voyage Out, has been fully digitised for the first time. The book was rediscovered in 2021 after being mistakenly housed in the science section of the University of Sydney library for 25 years.

The copy is the only publicly available of its kind and contains rare inscriptions and edits made by the author herself. Another UK first edition of the book, used personally by Woolf, is owned by a private collector based in London.

The find could offer insights into Virginia Woolf’s mental health and writing process. Woolf experienced severe mental health breakdowns over the seven-year period it took to complete her debut novel. Shortly before the novel’s publication in 1915, Woolf fell back into depression and was admitted to a nursing home. She stayed there for six months. During this time, her husband Leonard Woolf observed that she wrote with a “tortured intensity” to complete the novel.

The University of Sydney stated that the rediscovered copy of The Voyage Out had been lost due to the busy and bustling nature of the everyday campus and library life.

Fisher Library’s Metadata Services Officer Simon Cooper, who found the incorrectly shelved copy, noticed the author’s name handwritten on it. To confirm its authenticity, Cooper compared the handwriting with known Woolf samples and found that it matched.

The University of Sydney acquired Virginia Woolf’s personal copy of The Voyage Out in the late 1970s. The acquisition was made through Bow Windows Bookshop located in Lewes, East Sussex. Virginia Woolf and her husband Leonard Woolf lived in Lewes. The couple’s 16th-century country retreat, Monk’s House, is still open to the public and owned by the National Trust. Monk’s House provides an opportunity for visitors to explore the influential author’s living space and gain insights into her life and writing process.

Virginia Woolf’s personal copy of The Voyage Out is now unique. Original copies of her manuscripts, novels, essays, and short stories are now highly valuable and sell for significant sums.

The University of Sydney plans to make the digitised copy of Virginia Woolf’s debut novel available to the public on its website. The digitised copy will provide scholars, students, and fans of Virginia Woolf with an unparalleled opportunity to explore her thoughts and creative process as she worked on her debut novel.