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The two Lilys have been on my mind for a while, and after rereading To the Lighthouse and House of Mirth, I’ve begun a trail of comparisons and contrasts to which I plan to add some personal reflections and who knows what else for a future essay.

Virginia Woolf reviewed House of Mirth and regarded Lily Bart with sympathy, as having “many of the faults of her surroundings” but also “a capacity for better things which is never to be exercised.” I also found a paper by a Wharton scholar that compares Lily Bart and Clarissa Dalloway, but I don’t think the Lilys have been broached together.

Just to be sure, I googled and found just one reference, to a passage that unites them in a 1990 novel by Roberta Silman, Beginning the World Again: A Novel of Los Alamos. I got the book right away, of course, and soon found myself embroiled in a well-researched account, based on actual events and real as well as fictional characters, of the secret mission to build the atomic bomb in the New Mexico hills during World War II.                

The protagonist is Lily Failka, the wife of a nuclear physicist on the team. This is her story about her time there, her marriage, the families, the project, the secrecy. Before accompanying her new husband to Los Alamos, Lily had been a graduate student in literature and was writing a thesis on Melville. Classic novels come up frequently in her thinking and in analogies she makes. When she has an affair with one of the other scientists, she introduces him to literature. Years later, looking back:

There were often months, then years when I scarcely thought about Jacob, and when I did, I was so detached that I was another person, another Lily—“Lily Bart, Lily Briscoe, Joyce’s Lily in ‘The Dead,’ Lily of the Field?” I could hear Jacob’s low voice asking me. All those Lilys I had told him about. No, none of those, but someone still within me whom I scarcely knew anymore.

I sought out and had an email exchange with Roberta Silman, who proudly claims Grace Paley as her mentor and friend. Her context for the reference was Lily Failka’s introducing her physicist lover to her favorite literature, but Roberta noted characteristics that perhaps all the Lilys share, providing food for thought for my own project. Roberta also took pleasure in casting her Lily in the company of the memorable Lily Bart and Lily Briscoe.

 

A beautiful frieze was re-discovered today! Under a magnifying lens we identified that the frieze was hand painted with a chalk based paint, applied onto plaster.

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Literature Cambridge is offering a Reading Bloomsbury summer course, 23-28 July 2017, in Cambridge, England

This one-week immersion in the art of Vanessa Bell alongside Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, the sexual politics of Lytton Strachey and E.M. Forster, and the political ideas of J.M. Keynes, Leonard Woolf, Clive Bell, and others. The course takes an exciting new look at these interesting thinkers and their work.

Lecturers include Frances Spalding, Alison Hennegan, Claire Nicholson, Claudia Tobin and Peter Jones.

Here is a Virginia Woolf event set for May 21 in Goshen, Mass.

This event is wheelchair accessible. For more information, contact

Paris Press 413-628-0051, info@parispress.org.

Books will be available to purchase.

Sponsored by the Massachusetts Cultural Council
and the Schocken Family Foundation.

In the video posted here, Fiona Shaw does a masterful reading of “Shakespeare’s Sister” from Virginia Woolf’s feminist polemic,  A Room of One’s Own (1929), which was based on a series of lectures Woolf gave at Cambridge University in October 1928.

Woolf’s speech is one of several featured in the digital project Figures of Speech,” presented by the Almeida Theatre in London.

The project places history’s greatest speeches centre stage through a series of films read by well-known actors speaking the words of important historical figures and moments, to explore how they resonate in 2017.

Besides Woolf’s speech, the project also includes talks by:

  • Labour Party Politician Neil Kinnock spoken by Ashley Walters
  • American politician Harvey Milk spoken by Ian McKellen
  • Nelson Mandela spoken by Lucian Msamati
  • AIDS activist Elizabeth Glaser spoken by Nicola Walker

This just in: After three years in England, the 29th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf will be held in the U.S.A.

It will be hosted by Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, Ohio, from June 6-9, 2019. Drew Shannon, associate professor of English at the university, will coordinate the conference.

More details to come.

Depiction of Woolf as literary great is not so great

In this set of Literary Greats Paper Dolls from Dover, Virginia Woolf stands among the greats: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle dressed up as Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie playing Miss Marple, William Shakespeare as Hamlet.

Woolf, however, doesn’t fare as well. For instead of dressing Woolf as a character from one of her well-known works — say Clarissa from Mrs. Dalloway — this collection of  35 paper dolls of famous authors, depicts Woolf in a straightjacket.

The jury is out on this one

However, she may be treated more respectfully in this set of Literary Paper Dolls, as she is included among 16 literary greats. But since she is not depicted in the illustration or described in the text, it’s hard to know.

If anyone owns a set of these dolls, please let us know how Woolf appears by posting a comment below.

I can’t help but wonder if an artistic Woolfian should design a paper doll of our own doll, along with appropriate costumes that give dear Virginia the respect she deserves.

Woolf Commodified: Virginia Woolf dolls and other items displayed at the 26th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf.

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