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Virginia Woolf on the BBC

Diary Vol. 3We all know that Virginia Woolf was on the BBC. Her essay, “Craftsmanship,” was  broadcast as part of BBC Radio’s “Words Fail Me” series on 29 April 1937.

The piece took up about 21 minutes of air time, but less than eight minutes were actually recorded. To those of us who love her work, it seems tragic that her voice reading every word  of her essay is not preserved on tape. But tape was expensive, and more of her words were preserved than was typical for such broadcasts. Three to four minutes was the standard, according to the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain.

But until now, I didn’t know that Woolf also recorded her thoughts about the BBC in her diary — and that those thoughts would be used in a current-day analysis of BBC objectivity. Here’s what Woolf recorded in her diary for 6 May 1926:

There is a brown fog; nobody is building; it is drizzling. The first thing in the morning we stand at the window & watch the traffic in Southampton Row. This is incessant. Everyone is bicycling; motor cars are huddled up with extra people … It is all tedious & depressing, rather like waiting in a train outside a station. Rumours are passed round – that the gas would be cut off at 1 – false of course. One does not know what to do … A voice, rather commonplace & official, yet the only common voice left, wishes us good morning at 10. This is the voice of Britain, to which we can make no reply. The voice is very trivial, & only tells us that the Prince of Wales is coming back, that the London streets present an unprecedented spectacle.

These words of Woolf’s are used to introduce an 18 August 2014 piece in The Guardian that questions whether this trust in the BBC is still well-placed. The article quotes Woolf extensively in its review of BBC coverage of the General Strike of 1926.

One quote shares Woolf’s response to Winston Churchill’s efforts to make the BBC an offshoot to the British Gazette, the government’s short-lived publication that served as an effective propaganda tool for the government. Churchill, a correspondent in the Boer War, shaped the paper’s editorial stance, all while he was serving as Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Winston … said it was monstrous not to use such an instrument [as broadcasting] to the best possible advantage.

The three-part BBC2 series, “Life in Squares” now in production, will explore the lives of the Bloomsbury Group. It takes its Life in Squaresname from the Dorothy Parker quote, ““lived in squares, painted in circles and loved in triangles.”

It is billed as an “intimate and emotional” drama spanning the first half of the 20th century. Chief among the drama will be the lives and loves of Virginia Woolf and her sister Vanessa Bell. Lydia Leonard and Phoebe Fox play Woolf and Bell in their younger years as they escape Victorian conformity in Kensington with their move to Bloomsbury.

The series is being filmed in London and at Charleston Farmhouse, Vanessa’s home known as “Bloomsbury in the country.”

Life In Squares tells the story of the Bloomsbury group over 40 years, from the death of Queen Victoria to the Second World War, as they attempted to forge a life free from the constraints of the past. Their pursuit of freedom and beauty was always passionate, often impossible and ultimately devastating, yet their legacy is still felt today. – BBC

Dr. Ann Martin of the University of Saskatchewan and editor of the fall 2015 issue of the Virginia Woolfvwm Miscellany has issued a call for papers on the theme “Virginia Woolf in the Modern Machine Age.”

The topic is a natural for her, as she has presented papers and published essays on the topic of Woolf’s complicated relationship with the motor car. I was charmed by her paper, “The Lanchester’s Fluid Fly Wheel: Virginia Woolf and British Car Culture,” which she presented at the 23rd Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf.

Call for paper details

The Virginia Woolf Miscellany invites submissions of papers that address the role of everyday machines in the life and/or works of Virginia Woolf. From typewriters and telephones to gramophones and the wireless; from motor-cars and combat aeroplanes to trains and department store elevators; from cameras and film projectors to ranges and hot water tanks, the commonplace technologies of the modern machineage leave their trace on Bloomsbury.

To what extent are these and other machines represented, hidden, implied, avoided, embraced, or questioned by Woolf and her circle and characters? What is the place of labour and mass production, or the role of the handmade or bespoke object, in the context of such technologies and the desires with which they are implicated? What are the ramifications for the individual’s everyday navigation of modernity, domesticity, and/or community? Alternatively, what is the influence of everyday technologies in our own interactions with Woolf and her writings?

Please submit papers of no more than 2500 words to Ann Martin at ann.martin@usask.ca by 31 March 2015.

Mrs. Dalloway on stage and TV

Screen Shot 2014-08-20 at 1.41.43 PM

Rebecca Vaughan as Clarissa, wearing an emerald green chiffon tea-dress

Mrs. Dalloway is on stage in Edinburgh now and will be on the BBC soon.

  • A stage version of Woolf’s novel is part of the 2014 Festival Fringe through Aug. 25 at Assembly Roxy, 2 Roxburgh Place, Edinburgh, Scotland.
  • BBC Four’s new series The Secret Life of Books will feature Woolf expert Dr Alexandra Harris speaking on the novel. A date for the broadcast has not been set. The series includes six 30-minute programs that examine original texts, manuscripts, letters and diaries behind the creation of six classic books, including Mrs. Dalloway.

Dr Alexandra Harris believes Mrs Dalloway is a book about madness that Virginia Woolf wrote so that she could remain sane. Using Virginia Woolf’s diaries and the original manuscript of Mrs Dalloway, Alexandra tells the poignant story of how Woolf battled to transform her private demons into one of the most daring novels of the interwar years, and the book that would make her name.

Frome Station

Frome Station in southern England.

According to the Frome Standard, money is being raised to establish one of England’s famous blue plaques at the Frome Railway Station in southern England to commemorate “the journey Leonard Woolf made traveling from Frome to London on Thursday, Jan. 11, 1912, to propose marriage to Virginia Stephen.” Blue plaques are permanent signs that appear throughout the United Kingdom and serve as markers of historical interest to indicate the homes and workplaces of famous people.

leonardandvirginiawoolfwedding

Leonard and Virginia on their wedding day, August 10, 1912.

From the Frome Standard:

“The outcome of this journey was so significant, not just to the two people involved, but to the worlds of publishing, 20th century literature and international politics that a group of people calling themselves the Woolf Plaque Supporters feel it deserves commemorating.”

Supporters of the plaque are asking for 100 people to donate £5 to ensure the establishment of this homage to Leonard’s proposal.

Hogarth House plaque

Fitzroy Plaque

29 Fitzroy Square plaque

Other blue plaques that remember the Woolfs include one at Hogarth House and one at 29 Fitzroy Square.

NPG Tumblr screenshotSee Virginia Woolf biographer Alexandra Harris in Woolf’s Monk’s House writing lodge, bathrobe-wearing Nicole fresh from the shower at her Washington, D.C., kitchen table, and Giselle on a bench in a quiet, tree-lined spot in Kensington Palace Gardens.

Then share photo portraits of you or friends in the rooms and spaces that are meaningful to you in the National Portrait Gallery’s “A Room of One’s Own” competition on Tumblr. Winner of  Woolf-related prizes will be selected at random. Submit them here.

On a related note, The Telegraph includes a reference to Woolf in a story about rooms of her own, which it dubs she-caves, as spaces where women can read, relax, and do crafts or yoga.

Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision,” the exhibit of Woolf portraits at the National Portrait Gallery in London, opened July 10 and runs through Oct. 26. Read more about the exhibit.

 

 

Men Explain Things to Me front coverWoolfians who attended the 2009 conference in New York, Woolf in the City, were treated to a keynote address by Rebecca Solnit. In person as in her prose, Rebecca paints beautiful word pictures and reflect thoughtfully on their significance.

Her talk wasn’t included in the selected papers from that conference, but now she has published it as “Woolf’s Darkness: Embracing the Inexplicable” in her newest book, Men Explain Things to Me. The essay’s title in this volume is taken from Woolf’s 1915 diary entry: “The future is dark, which is the best thing the future can be, I think.” In noting the relevance of Woolf’s work today, Solnit says: “Here we are, after all, revisiting the words of a woman who died three quarters of a century ago and yet is still alive in some sense in so many imaginations, part of the conversation, an influence with agency.”

The title essay, “Men Explain Things to Me,” may go down in history as a feminist classic along with Judy Brady’s “I Want a Wife” in the 1972 inaugural issue of Ms. Magazine. And, no surprise, Solnit evokes Woolf in her jibe at male (some, not all, she allows) know-it-allness: “A Freudian would claim to know what they have and I lack, but intelligence is not situated in the crotch—even if you can write one of Virginia Woolf’s long mellifluous musical sentences about the subtle subjugation of women in the snow with your willie.”

Virginia Woolf is clearly a strong influence and appears in almost all of Solnit’s work. In her last book of personal essays, The Faraway Nearby, she is motivated to dig deeper into reflections about her mother by Woolf’s example and words in Moments of Being: “It is only by putting it into words that I make it whole.” Rebecca Solnit puts her stories and arguments into words in a way that does credit to Woolf.

 

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