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Posts Tagged ‘Alice Lowe’

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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Alice Lowe, a regular contributor to Blogging Woolf, blends her life stories, food and Virginia Woolf in her writing.leftovers on lettuce

Read her latest creation, “Leftovers on Lettuce: ABCs of a Life in Food,” an essay published Feb. 24 in Middlebrow Magazine.

Lowe describes the British journal as playing on “Woolf’s snooty but tongue-in-cheek essay in which she castigates ‘middlebrow’ as ‘the bloodless and pernicious pest who comes between’ the highbrow and the lowbrow, ‘the bane of all thinking and living.’”

Lowe writes that “the editors seek to reclaim it as a positive concept, calling Woolf’s own essays middlebrow, so I consider myself in good company on their pages.”

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My ongoing search for literary magazines as potential vehicles for my essays yielded a captivating title this past year: Middlebrow. How could any Woolfian resist?middlebrow literary journal

Established in the U.K. in 2010, as best I can tell, the journal’s vision starts with an attention-getting quote from Susan Sontag: “Art is seduction not rape.” The editor, Harriet Williams, elaborates: “A highbrow quotation, it’s true, but nevertheless one that aptly sums up the point of our magazine. Middlebrow is a magazine dedicated to the principles of art for enjoyment.”

But wait a minute. Whence this praise? Virginia Woolf, in her essay, “Middlebrow,” castigates it as “the bloodless and pernicious pest who comes between” the highbrow and the lowbrow, “the bane of all thinking and living.” She ends her essay by saying that “If any human being, man, woman, dog, cat, or half-crushed worm dares call me ‘middlebrow’ I will take my pen and stab him, dead.”

But the fearless Ms. Williams stands firm in defense of her journal and its place in the world of art. She seeks to reclaim the positive connotations of the term “middlebrow,” claiming it as the best of both worlds, “the intelligence of the highbrow and the guilty enjoyment of the lowbrow things we all like but pretend we don’t.”

She even dares to poke at Woolf in damning praise: “Virginia Woolf’s own essays are middlebrow, despite her hatred of the word and style, and let her come and stab me if she wants to. While they deal with so called highbrow subjects, they are insightful, clear, concise, even funny.”

The current issue includes an essay about Abraham Lincoln–surely a middlebrow himself–and another on writer’s block (do we get it because it exists, or does it exist because we get it?). It’s been said that the U.S. is or was a society of mostly middlebrows / middle class (buried within the so-called 99 percent under the wing of the Occupy movement). So as a middlebrow Woolfian, I’m delighted to see the banner flying boldly. I’ll be even happier if they publish one of my pieces.

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Status Updates,” a Jan. 11 essay in the New York Times about how many live and deadImage representing Twitter as depicted in Crun... authors appear on Facebook and Twitter, was of particular interest  to me because it closed with a reference to Virginia Woolf.

Just as Blogging Woolf contributor Alice Lowe focuses on Woolf sightings in contemporary fiction, I pay particular attention to sightings of my favorite author in social media and other online venues.

I have written about Woolf’s online presence in “Virginia Woolf in the Cyber City: Connecting in the Virtual Public Square,” published in Woolf & the City: Selected Papers from the Nineteenth Annual Conference on Virginia Woolf, edited by Elizabeth F. Evans and Sarah E. Cornish (2010). And I updated my research for the Introduction to The Best of Blogging Woolf, Five Years On, published by Cecil Woolf Publishers late last year.

Essay author Julianna Baggott notes that multiple folks have adopted Woolf’s persona, (including yours truly via Facebook). Here’s what she has to say:

In many cases, I didn’t find just one person who had taken on a dead author’s voice. With Virginia Woolf, for example, multiple avatars fill the page, some 60 tweeting Virginia Woolfs. They tweet in Spanish, in Arabic, in Italian, in languages I don’t even recognize, all these Woolfs holding one Woolf’s words alive. One Woolf recently quoted the original: “What solitary icebergs we are, Miss Vinrace! How little we can communicate! #TheVoyageOut #RichardDalloway.

It holds true, maybe now more than ever. Amid the barrage of social media, each of us is still somehow alone. Yet I find comfort in Woolf’s tweets, echoing across our solitary icebergs.

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Blogging Woolf is back from a holiday hiatus made longer by a bout with On Being Ill — the virus, not the Virginia Woolf essay published in 1930  by the Hogarth Press. But now that we are back, we recommend a couple of essays for your edification in this new year.

armoury-show-posterThe first, “1913–What year…” by Kathleen Dixon Donnelly on the SuchFriends blog, takes an in-depth look at the New York Armory Show in February 1913, connecting it to Bloomsbury Group painters Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, Roger Fry, etc. who closed London’s Second Post-Impressionist Exhibit early so many of the paintings could be sent on to New York.

Donnelly promises to post updates all year on what was happening to writers in 1913. You can also check out the Such Friends page on Facebook.

The second is Blogging Woolf contributor Alice Lowe‘s latest published work, “On the Road Again,” which appears in the current issue of The Feathered Flounder.

Lowe notes that “being the mother of a daughter and the daughter of a mother is a rich source of feathered flounderreflection.” In this latest poignant essay, she draws on those dual experiences, as well as “from those other gems, memory and aging” to wonder whether she has encountered the beginning of her dotage.

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