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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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Alice Lowe:

Alice Lowe “observes perpetually,” and she does it in loving memory of Virginia Woolf. Truly. See Pg. 26.

Originally posted on Alice Lowe blogs ... about writing & reading & Virginia Woolf:

“Observe perpetually,” Virginia Woolf said, by which I’m sure she meant, “keep your ears open too.” When I overheard this one-sided conversation, I was stunned–is this person really saying these things? Then, quickly, I picked up my pencil and started jotting it all down. I guess that makes me a writer! I didn’t add to her remarks, just tidied & organized it as a whole and thought some publisher of vignettes, like Vine Leaves, would like it. They did & published “In Loving Memory” in their July issue, here (on page 26).

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Fictitious Dishes“When there are fifteen people sitting down to dinner, one cannot keep things waiting for ever.” So starts a passage from To the Lighthouse that accompanies a photograph of a bowl of boeuf en daube—the solid brown chunks of meat accented by shiny black olives and bright orange carrot slices—accompanied by a dish of Brussels sprouts and a glass of claret, served on a green cloth scattered with seashells.

This is just one of the 50 extracts from novels included in Fictitious Dishes by Dinah Fried (“fried,” really—would I make it up?). The opulence of the elegant tea spread for Rebecca and the cocktail party fare—caviar, smoked salmon and more—to represent The Great Gatsby are balanced by a simple and sumptuous basket of strawberries for Emma and, of course, Proust’s tea and madeleine.

I can’t resist the juxtaposition of food and literature, food in literature, and especially Woolf and food. It was the topic of my paper at the 20th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf: “’A Certain Hold on Haddock and Sausage': Dining Well in Virginia Woolf’s Life and Work,” which was published in the selected papers from that conference.

This collection was a delightful find. There’s a website too, but the book is a visual feast. Do what I did—buy it for a gift but read it first!

 

 

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Screen Shot 2014-06-23 at 4.20.42 PMOf all the personal essays I’ve written, the one that’s nearest and dearest to my heart has just been published. It’s about the origin of my going-on-25-years history with Virginia Woolf. More than just a fascination with an author or adoption of a muse or mentor, it was the start of what has become the most fulfilling time of my life, and it led to my own writing.

Pilgrimage is just released at Bloom, a literary site devoted to authors whose first major work was published when they were age 40 or older. Woolf isn’t one of those authors, but I am. The particular call that I responded to was for essays about a book or author that served as inspiration, so it’s fitting all the way around

Two other essays about other aspects of my Woolfian explorations were previously published:

“Elvis Standing By,” the story of our Rodmell connection–other than Virginia Woolf–was  published in Eclectica Magazine in the April/May 2011 issue.

“Cornish Pasty,” the St. Ives chapter, appeared in in Phoebe Journal, Fall 2012.

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My friend and neighbor, San Diego and Santa Fe artist Kirby Kendrick, created her blog to inform and educate her readers about art and artists–the big picture. She posts about art history, art’s role in society, and the interplay of all the creative arts, including music and literature.

Virginia Woolf by Roger Fry (1912)

Virginia Woolf by Roger Fry (1912)

Knowing about my Woolfmania and about Virginia Woolf’s connections to the arts, Kirby asked me to write a couple of guest posts about Woolf and her milieu. The first one, “Virginia Woolf: Who’s Afraid of Art?,” is linked here.

While you’re there, you may want to look over Kirby’s site–check out KA-POW!, her graffiti-inspired installation–and subscribe to her bi-weekly blog posts. You never know what you might find–she’s written about ballet and basketball, the art of the telephone, understanding cubism, and more.

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Two years ago I wrote here about Meg Wolitzer’s Woolf-citing in The Uncoupling. To my surprise and delight, Meg commented on the post, saying that Woolf would appear in her next novel too.

The InterestingsThat next novel is now out to fantastic reviews, and no wonder. The Interestings is interesting; it’s also riveting and thought-provoking. Meg had me on the first page when she said of her wonderfully-flawed protagonist, Jules: “Irony was new to her and tasted oddly good, like a previously unavailable summer fruit.”

I’ve always enjoyed Meg’s novels for a lighter touch, lots of wit and whimsy. This one’s bigger and deeper. She introduces six teenagers who meet at an artsy summer camp in New England and follows them into their 50s, through ups and downs, sickness and health, fame and fortune, failure and envy. There’s wit and whimsy and a whole lot more—irony isn’t new to Meg Wolitzer; she’s a master at it.

Through it all—the mainstay of the book—is the deep friendship between Jules and Ash, and Woolf shows up in a scene between them:

 Once, looking through a women’s magazine together, they saw an article about a legendary sex toy emporium in New York for women called Eve’s Garden. It wasn’t that their marriages weren’t sexually satisfying to them—both of them had confided that they were—but they got into a discussion about how maybe it was a good idea to have “a vibrator of one’s own, to paraphrase the late, great Virginia Woolf,” Jules said. Then, to amuse Ash, she went off on a Woolf sex riff, saying, suggestively, “Are those rocks in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?”

The success of The Interestings is well-deserved. Meg, if you’re reading this, thanks for a terrific reading experience.

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Four Woolf sightings here.

First, I found this clever three-panel book review of A Room of One’s Own. It’s on the “Classics” tab of the Three Panel Book Review blog whose mission is to “review books in comic strip format.”

Screen Shot 2013-07-15 at 11.26.08 PMSecond, Alice Lowe sent along a note about the June 30 NY Times Book Review, which included a review by Hannah Tennant-Moore of Orkney by Amy Sackville:

As in Nightwood, by Djuna Barnes, and The Waves, by Virginia Woolf, the prose in Orkney is so compelling one does not read to find out what happens, but to find out how it will be described.

Third, you can have a “Chat With Virginia Woolf’s Ghost,” a story in Boston’s Metro that publicizes a Screen Shot 2013-07-15 at 11.56.11 PMJune fundraising event at Brookline Booksmith featuring local comedians who assume the identities of departed legends of the printed word.”

In the piece, comedienne Jenny Zigrino summons Woolf’s ghost to talk about the event, as well as her feelings about television (she is frantic to watch the final episode of The Office), technology (she bemoans the fact that heaven only has DSL) and who should play her (Scarlett Johansson) and her husband (Vin Disel) in a biographical film.

Fourth, take a look at “Cheese Reads: 10 Amazing Cheeses and Their Literary Counterparts.” In it, Woolf is paired with a Bayley Hazen Blue. The Stitlon-like blue is described as “a mix of narratives – the Mrs. Dalloway of cheeses, if you will…a cheese that will permeate your memory for years.”Virginia Hazen Blue

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lawrence and machineJesse Blair is an editorial assistant for Killing the Angel, the new Woolf-inspired literary journal, so it’s no surprise that she inserts a dialogue about Woolf to introduce the characters in her novella, Lawrence and the Machine.

Lawrence responds to an ad for a room in a house near the New England university where he studies accounting and is taken into the living room to meet its eccentric inhabitants, self-professed intellectuals, in the midst of a discussion about Virginia Woolf:

“I don’t care what you say. The Voyage Out was Woolf’s most groundbreaking work.”

“Are you high?”

“Not anymore.”

“Every Virginia Woolf scholar worth her salt knows that Mrs. Dalloway is her epic success.”

To the Lighthouse.”

“Oh, please. How clichéd. Your literary opinions embarrass you and your sweet little library degree.”

“The scholars agree! To the Lighthouse revolutionized the modern novel. The Voyage Out was by far Woolf’s least brilliant novel.”

“According to you. Have you ever had an original thought, or do you just read the criticism of others to develop your theories?”

And so it goes, until they notice Lawrence and someone asks his opinion of Woolf’s greatest masterpiece. Lawrence: “Woolf, Woolf … I strained to recall syllabi from my one or two undergraduate literature classes, to no avail. ‘Well…’ I finally improvised. ‘They were all pretty good, weren’t they?’

The story veers off from there into some pretty bizarre territory, well beyond talk, and while Woolf doesn’t make any more appearances, I think she would have approved of the proceedings.

Summer’s coming–here’s one to take to the beach and read in a single outing (but don’t forget the sunscreen).

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 I finally read Pat Barker’s Toby’s Room. My library’s reservation system is fantastic but does require some patience! Paula first Toby's Roommentioned it here last summer, noting the allusions—in more than the title—to Woolf’s Jacob’s Room, as did Hermione Lee, who reviewed it for The Guardian.

I read Barker’s Life Class around that time before I knew it was the prequel to Toby’s Room, and I posted on the “near sightings,” the Bloomsbury references when the protagonist, Slade art student Elinor Brooke, has tea at Ottoline Morrell’s.

Elinor’s brother Toby, like Jacob before him, dies serving in World War I, and like Jacob is revealed mostly through family and friends. Toby’s Room is still Elinor’s story, in which she seeks to unearth the mysterious details of his death. Woolf appears in entries from Elinor’s diary. She records her impressions from a weekend at Charleston Farmhouse, presumably at the invitation of Vanessa Bell:

“VB was in the drawing room when I arrived, with her sister, Mrs. Woolf. I’ve met her more than once, though I don’t think she remembered me and gave me a lukewarm welcome. Doesn’t like young women, I suspect. I thought the talk would be well above my head, but they were quite relaxed and gossipy and we chatted on easily enough. Or they did. I was too nervous to say much. It was like listening to an old married couple. They’ve got that habit of completing each other’s sentences…”

The other guests are “the conscientiously objecting young men” working at the farm, none of whom, she realizes, are going to be interested in her. There’s talk of the war at dinner, and Woolf talks about “how women are outside the political process and therefore the war’s got nothing to do with them.”

Elinor is struck by Woolf’s observation but finds it less convincing when she later tries to echo the sentiment herself. Barker has no such problem making her case. In both novels, she challenges readers to explore the role of art and artists in time of war, heightening the drama with real, fictional and hybrid characters as she did in her Regeneration trilogy.

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It’s no surprise to have Virginia Woolf’s name come up in discussions of Jane Austen and vice versa. Austen is, of course, one of Jane Austen Ruined my Lifethe foremothers held up in A Room of One’s One and in a number of Woolf essays. My pleasure is in finding Woolf sightings in fiction, the more obscure the better, but it came as a complete surprise when she appeared in Beth Pattillo’s Jane Austen Ruined My Life.

This charming romp follows the adventures of Emma Grant, an American university professor and Austen specialist. Following her divorce and the loss of her teaching position, she goes to England in search of Austen’s missing letters, the ones her sister Cassandra supposedly burned after her death. She’s wooed by the “Formidables,” a secret society of devoted Janeites, who entice her with a few sample letters and send her on a sort of Austenish scavenger hunt to prove she’s worthy of their cache.

At Austen’s house in Chawton, Emma sees a little table and chair in front of the sitting room window—it’s where Austen wrote. She observes that, “In spite if all the distractions, she’d created her masterpieces with nothing more than paper, pen, and ink. Virginia Woolf was famous for saying that any woman who wanted to be a writer needed to have five hundred pounds a year and a room of her own. Austen had possessed neither of those things, and yet somehow she had outshone authors with far more worldly advantages.”

In all this she also has to deal with a couple of dishy and attentive suitors vying for her affections and inserting themselves into the mystery. The outlandishness of it all reminds me of the movie “An Unmarried Woman,” in which the betrayed wife, Jill Clayburgh, dashwood-sisters-2011-w200has immediate consolation from the likes of Alan Bates. Oh sure, just like real life, huh?

But I won’t quibble. The book was delightful and well written, a perfect weekend escape. Now I’m tempted to track down Pattillo’s other Austen novels–Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart and The Dashwood Sisters Tell All both continuing the successful formula of blending literary mystery with contemporary stories.

Maybe I’ll be rewarded with more Woolf sightings.

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