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Archive for the ‘Virginia Woolf’ Category

Vita BiographyA new biography on Vita Sackville-West, Behind the Mask: The Life of Vita Sackville West, by Matthew Dennison is now available in hardback, paperback and as an audiobook.

Vita was a celebrated poet, author and gardener whose love affair with Virginia Woolf is highlighted in Dennison’s biography.

This is the first biography of Vita that has been published in 30 years, and this new piece explores the “triumph and contradictions of Vita’s extraordinary life.”

From HarperCollins Publishers:

Dennison’s “narrative charts a fascinating course from Vita’s lonely childhood at Knole, through her affectionate but ‘open’ marriage to Harold Nicolson (during which both husband and wife energetically pursued homosexual affairs, Vita most famously with Virginia Woolf), and through Vita’s literary successes and disappointments, to the famous gardens the couple created at Sissinghurst.”

Early reviews of this biography are mixed:

Vita and Virginia, 1932

While a review by Gerard Henderson for Express praises Dennison’s treatment of Vita, “Dennison, whose previous work was a biography of another remarkable woman, Queen Victoria, shows true affection and admiration for his latest subject,” Rachel Cooke’s review, featured on The Guardian, challenges this new biography and calls it “deficient.”

Cooke writes: “the information contained in his book is so obviously inadequate, so frequently incomplete. I need give only one example to make the point. What kind of biography of Vita Sackville-West, I wonder, refers to the suicide of Virginia Woolf in a single sentence? The only possible answer is a wholly deficient one. This friendship was one of the most significant of her life.”

The author of this new biography, Matthew Dennison, is the author of several biographies, including one on Queen Victoria.

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Killing the Angel

Inaugural issue of Killing the Angel

My hat goes off to Jessica Rosevear, editor and publisher of the literary journal Killing the Angel, on the release of the third annual issue. Jessica started KTA two years ago during what continues to be a tough time for print lit journals—many are folding while others are going online, so Jessica not only bucked the tide but is continuing to swim upstream.

The content of the journal is a mix of fiction, personal essays and poems, not about Virginia Woolf but in her spirit. KTA states its goal as: “to celebrate writing that evokes response, be it joy, contemplation, sadness, inspiration, or otherwise.” Each issue explains the term “killing the angel” and offers its homage to Woolf.

The journal is available in just two physical locations, Womrath’s, a Tenafly New Jersey bookstore, and Shakespeare and Company in Paris—should you happen to be near either—or it can be ordered online.

And I guess this is where I add a disclaimer: my own essay about family and food, “Catch of the Day,” is included in this issue.

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The cover article of this week’s (Oct. 5) New York Times Book Review is a glowing assessment, a “run, don’t walk”jThe Assassination of Margaret Thatcher rave of Hilary Mantel’s new story collection, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher. Speaking of Mantel’s deserved reputation in English literature, the reviewer, Terry Castle, declaims that:

“Mantel has assumed an esteemed place in what might be called a great tradition of modern British female storytelling, an ardor-filled, bluestocking lineage extending from Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield in the early part of the 20th century through Elizabeth Bowen, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Elizabeth Taylor, Iris Murdoch, Edna O’Brien, Barbara Pym, Penelope Fitzgerald, Muriel Spark, Elizabeth Jane Howard, Doris Lessing, Beryl Bainbridge and many others in subsequent decades, all the way to such gifted living practitioners (again, to name only a few) as A.S. Byatt, Ruth Rendell, Maureen Duffy, Ali Smith, Jane Gardam, Emma Donoghue, Jeanette Winterson and Zadie Smith.”

I cite the entire list because it strikes me that what Castle is presenting here, in her homage to Hilary Mantel, is a sampling of Virginia Woolf’s vast legacy. These women and many more have fulfilled Woolf’s wishes for women and literature when, in A Room of One’s Own, she admonished them (us, that is) “to write all kinds of books, hesitating at no subject however trivial or however vast.”

Mantel’s fantastic title story is reproduced in its entirety in the Sept. 28 Review. I love its keenly observed descriptions and quirky but believable characters; I suspect that Virginia Woolf would have enjoyed it too.

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Writing after retirementBlogging Woolf contributor Alice Lowe has written a chapter for Writing After Retirement: Tips from Successful Writers, an anthology of short essays on topics that cover the writing basics about getting started, along with tips for specific areas of interest, publishing and marketing, and more.

Alice’s chapter, “A Muse of One’s Own: Finding Inspiration for your Writing Life,” is, of course, focused on Virginia Woolf. It’s Chapter Three in the volume.

View the table of contents on the publisher’s website. Buy it there or on Amazon.

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A new two-part documentary series, Secrets from the Asylum, investigates how mental health was treated in Victorian Britain.

This show highlights the practices of “Lunatic Asylums” as they were called and connects British celebrities to their ancestors who were treated in these asylums.

In episode one, English comedian Al Murray encounters the history of his great-great-great grandfather, novelist William Thackeray, who tried to help his wife, Isabella, with her post-partum depression by having her admitted to an asylum at the age of 23.

LauraStephenEarlswoodAsylum

Woolf’s half-sister Laura Stephen

In episode two we learn about the history of Thackeray’s granddaughter, Virginia Woolf’s half-sister, Laura Stephen, who suffered from a learning disability and didn’t “fit in.”

An article by the producers of the show, Scottish Television, states:

Laura “was branded an imbecile and a potential embarrassment to her intellectual father, writer Leslie Stephen, and at the age of 22 was admitted to the Royal Earlswood Asylum.”

In the article Murray said: “What’s shocking about this is that Laura Stephen’s father Leslie was a member of the chattering classes. He couldn’t have been a more intelligent, plugged in, literary, engaged man with modern ideas.

The modern idea in the late 1800s was society was not to be undermined by people who were ‘feeble-minded’, so these people, for their own good and the good of society, were removed. It was the Victorian worry about the purity of the gene pool.”

You can watch the full episodes: Episode 1 & Episode 2

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We all know that Woolf’s works are notably challenging to read and teach because of her unconventional themes and plots, innovative structures, non-traditional narrative forms, historical and literary allusions, and avant-garde techniques.

approaches to woolfjpgAs a community college teacher of literature, one technique I have found to combat the challenges of teaching Woolf is to review, at the start of each semester, some of the pedagogical guides that help teachers of Woolf bring our students closer to the author, such as Approaches to Teaching Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway (2009, edited by Eileen Barrett and Ruth O. Saxton).

But at the start of this fall semester I found myself in a new position in my department and my new office brought new duties, new expectations and new stresses. In my past visions, sitting in my office on my first day as a full-time instructor would feel warm, shiny and successful. I would be hopeful. I would be energetic. I would bring Woolf into every class.

Instead, on the first day of school I sat in the academic room of my own and stared at the photo of Woolf that I taped to my wall and then at the calendar filled with meetings, conferences and due dates. I didn’t feel shiny and hopeful; I felt overwhelmed and exhausted. I didn’t need a new teaching technique this semester. I needed a new inspirational technique.

kew gardensI chose to not review pedagogical guides on Woolf. Instead, I turned to my past students’ responses to “Kew Gardens”. My students’ positive reactions to Woolf reminded me of why we work so hard to bring her words to readers, to challenge our students with unconventional literature and to stimulate students’ imaginations; of why we sometimes dedicate a whole class to discussing beauty; of why we go home felling like failures when some don’t seem to “get it.”

Reading the reactions my community college students in Las Vegas had upon their first encounter with Woolf revived my passion for teaching this challenging author:

I think Woolf is a beautiful writer. Her work is filled with passion, love, beauty and the depth seems to draw in hungry intelligent minds. I appreciate any writer who challenges her readers to think outside of the mundane society around them and see the beauty in their surroundings. -Erica

Virginia Woolf’s writing is so unconventional and brave. It is admirable that she had the courage to break out of formal conventions. All the while, she managed to capture the assortment of everyday interactions in one short story. -Ian

I quite like Kew Gardens! The unconventional plot and intimate look into each character’s conversations not only makes for an interesting read, but made me ponder as to what one might hear if they were to listen in on any one of my personal conversations at any given time. Additionally, while reading Kew Garden’s I couldn’t help but imagine that the brief glimpses of narration must be something like what God hears as he checks in on our lives. –Sara

Where does your passion for Woolf come from?

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A new novel about the Stephen sisters, Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell, will be out late this year.

Vanessa and Her Sister novelVanessa and Her Sister, written by Priya Parmar and published by Ballantine Books, opens in 1905 as the Stephen siblings move from Kensington to the famous Bloomsbury. Conflict ensues when Vanessa falls in love, Virginia spirals into madness, and Vanessa must decide whether she should pursue her own life or put her sister first, according to a Bookreporter review. Read more review comments on this new piece of historical fiction.

However, it’s not the first novel written about the two famous Stephen sisters. Susan Sellers published her acclaimed version, Vanessa and Virginia, in 2009.

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