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This afternoon, as part of our Literature Cambridge course on Virginia Woolf’s Gardens, we visited Newnham College in search of Virginia Woolf. We found her in several places.

Garden walk

Lottie Collis leads us on a garden tour.

First, we found her in the gardens, as we were led on a walking tour of the college’s four gardens by Lottie Collis, head of the garden team. We went from the original mid-Victorian garden with winding paths to the Arts and Crafts garden focused on form and function, to the sunken rose garden. All were in place in 1928 when Woolf visited.

Each garden was peaceful and beautiful in its own way, providing sensual stimulation to the eye as well as the nose, particularly when among the roses. In that outdoor space, the air smelled like heaven.

Site of the talk

But the most exciting part of the tour for me was our visit to Newnham’s dining hall, the site where Virginia Woolf gave her October 1928 talk on women and fiction. That talk, along with one given at Girton College, became A Room of One’s Own (1929), a landmark text for feminists worldwide.

The size, grandeur, and light-filled beauty of the room took my breath away. It was a room fitting for someone of Woolf’s current stature and the women who came before her. It was completely unlike the small, dim setting I had imagined for Woolf’s famous talk about the poorly treated women students she described.

Reactions to Woolf’s Newnham College talk

Woolf came to Newnham at the invitation of the Newnham Arts Society. Her audience that day is estimated at roughly around 40, but since no records were kept of the luncheon menu or the participants, it is difficult to be certain of the number or of the food served at the lunch.

Reactions to her talk about women and fiction were mixed. The first, published in the student magazine Thersites during the Michaelman Term of 1928, was positive. The next one, published years later in A Newnham Anthology of 1970, was not.

The woman who led our tour of the dining hall shared them both with our class and with Blogging Woolf. And we share them below, along with photos from our garden tour and our visit to the dining hall.

Exhibit of Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group

The Newnham College Library has a special exhibit of Hogarth Press books by Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group on the second floor of the new wing of the library. We viewed the exhibit. But sadly, photographs were not permitted. All of the materials are housed in the library’s special collections.

1928 commentary on Woolf’s talk.

Commentary on Woolf’s talk published in the Newnham Anthologies of 1970.

Mid-Victorian style garden outside Newnham’s Old Hall.

Students in the Literature Cambridge class, Virginia Woolf’s Gardens, walk the path on a tour of Newnham College gardens.

Just one view of one of the Newnham Hall gardens.

Students in the Literature Cambridge Virginia Woolf’s Gardens course In the Sunken Rose Garden at Newnham College.

Closeup of a yellow rose in bud in the Sunken Rose Garden at Newnham College

A perennial bed at Newnham College

The Newnham College dining hall where Virginia Woolf gave her famous talk on women and fiction in 1928.

Another view of the Newnham College dining hall where Woolf spoke in 1928.

A view of the elaborate, light-filled dining hall ceiling at Newnham College.

Alcove in the Newnham College dining hall.

View of the gardens from along the corridor leading to the Newnham College dining hall where Woolf gave her famous 1928 talk.

 

I’m all settled in to my spacious and comfy room of my own at Wolfson College at the University of Cambridge.

I took the train up from London a day earlier than necessary for the Literature Cambridge course on Virginia Woolf’s Gardens.

That means we had a bit of time to explore a small parcel of Cambridge, enjoy a lovely tea at Harriets Cafe and Tea Rooms, check in and collect our welcome packets from Trudi Tate and her crew, and — in typical American fashion — load up on some Cambridge swag.

King’s Parade in Cambridge is jammed with tourists, shoppers, and Cambridge folks on Sunday. We were among them.
Trudi Tate and Rosa welcome Bee, a UK student and one of 23 in the Virginia Woolf’s Gardens course at Wolfson College at the University of Cambridge.
Students, including Yuriko, found a table full of Literature Cambridge T-shirts. I bought a red one from Rosa.
Suellen from the U.S. and Hans from the Netherlands take part in a Woolf-related conversation at Literature Cambridge check-in.
Cambridge, Wolfson, and Lit Cambridge T-shirts. I had to have all three.
The Classic Tea at Harrietts Cafe and Tearoom. The house blend is delicious.
View from my room of my own in the Conference Center at Wolfson College at the University of Cambridge.

 

Virginia Woolf’s writing Lodge at Monk’s House

Blogging Woolf is on the way to Wolfson College at the University of Cambridge for the Literature Cambridge course Virginia Woolf’s Gardens.

I will be there July 14-19 and will post about my experiences, as we learn about the importance of gardens to Woolf’s life and work, from her early story “Kew Gardens” (1917) to her last novel, Between the Acts (1941).

Other course readings include Jacob’s Room (1922), Mrs. Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927), Orlando (1928) and A Room of One’s Own (1929).

Daily schedule

Each day of the fully booked course starts with a lecture presented by a leading scholar. A seminar or a Cambridge-style one-hour supervision (tutorial) for small groups of students will discuss the topic of the day, looking closely at that day’s text. Each will be taught by lecturers and post-docs from the University of Cambridge.

Lecturers include Suzanne Raitt, Gillian Beer, Alison Hennegan, Clare Walker Gore, Karina Jakubowicz, Oliver Goldstein, Trudi Tate, Kabe Wilson and Caroline Holmes.

Manuscript, excursions, and more

We will also get to view the manuscript of A Room of One’s Own held in Cambridge.

When the course ends, many of us will head out on two excursions — to Monk’s House and Charleston. I visited both sites in 2004 but am eager to go again.

We’ll also have time to explore Cambridge on our own, go punting, discuss literature with other students, and reflect on Woolf, gardens, and more.

 

“Vita and Virginia,” the much-anticipated Chanya Button film about the love affair between Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West is playing in London, and I saw it yesterday.

It has opened to mixed reviews. But if you are a fan of Virginia Woolf — as I obviously am — it is a must-see.

Scenery, sets, and superb fashion

As Sarah Hall put it in a message to VWoolf ListServ, “In films or plays about real people you get used to the departures from reality, so I made a determined effort to ignore these and enjoyed the scenery and the costumes and, frankly, the well-recreated sets (all except Knole, which is gloriously real).”

I agree. The sets look wonderfully authentic. The scenes that take place at Charleston look like Charleston, down to the painted doorways and decorated mantelpieces. The room where the Hogarth Press was housed looks just as I imagined it — although Stuart Clarke of the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain said a press such as the Woolfs owned would not have sounded like the one in the film. But film needs sound, so the producers added the clanking of machinery as the pages of Jacob’s Room (1922) are shown coming off the press.

The costumes are fabulous — although I did wonder if Vita’s actual wardrobe was as glamorous as the film portrayed. But movies are expected to be a treat for the eyes, and this one succeeded at that, with the sets, the scenery, and the costumes.

The words don’t fail but the pacing plods

Since it was based on the eponymous play by Eileen Atkins, which was based on the letters that Vita and Virginia wrote each other, I also appreciated hearing the words of those two writers as much of the film’s dialogue.

But where the words succeed, the pacing plods. Even for a Woolf lover, the film is slow.

And there are a number of scenes — from the party scene where one first encounters Virginia to the love scenes in Vita’s bed — where I shook my head in disbelief. No, Virginia would not have danced around like a Grateful Dead groupie at any party, I thought. And no, I thought, Virginia never experienced sexual fulfillment via Vita. Did she?

Sarah Hall also had this criticism, “What didn’t make dramatic sense is to have Vita’s mother in residence at Knole instead of her father (who doesn’t appear and isn’t even mentioned). If Lionel is meant to be prematurely deceased, why hasn’t Knole been bestowed on a male heir?”

The casting is questionable

However, the casting may be my main complaint. After two casting changes for the role of Virginia, the film stars Gemma Arterton as Vita and Elizabeth Debicki as Virginia. Neither really works. In my opinion, Arterton is too cute and feminine to play the outdoorsy Vita. Debicki is absolutely too tall; she towers over the petite Arterton in too many scenes, which put me off.

Peter Ferdinando works well as Leonard and portrays him as a sympathetic character, which suits me. But Adam Gilles is wrong on every count as Duncan Grant. I had to wonder why they didn’t cast the beautiful James Norton, who made the perfect Duncan in Life in Squares.

Despite complaints, I recommend the film to anyone who cares about Virginia Woolf, Vita, and the Bloomsbury group. Apparently, many agree. On its opening weekend, July 4-7, the film made £49,223 showing in 63 cinemas.

The film opens in the U.S. in October.

 

Stefano Rozzoni

As is customary at Woolf conferences, scholars from all over the world traveled to the 29th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, Ohio, adding a global perspective to Woolf studies.

Going global

Blogging Woolf snapped photos of some of these scholars at the June 6-9 event. And we share them here as we introduce an upcoming new series of posts.

The brainchild of Stefano Rizzoni, a doctoral student at the University of Bergamo in Italy, the proposed global series will answer questions like these:

  • What are Woolf conferences like? And how do they enhance a spirit of internationalism and community?
  • How do conferences enrich one’s work, vision and knowledge of Woolf and others?
  • How does one’s native country responds to Virginia Woolf studies?

If you would like to contribute to this series, please contact Blogging Woolf at bloggingwoolf@yahoo.com

Joshua Phillips of Scotland, Briany Armstrong and James Kearns of the UK, Jiwon Choi of China, and Maria Oliveira of Brazil.

Sayaka Okumura and Miyuki Tateishi of Japan

Victoria Callanan of Sweden and Maria Viana of Brazil

Anne Marie Bantzinger of the Netherlands

Cecilia Servatius of Austria

The Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain is asking you to share your favorite Woolf quote by posting it on their Facebook page or submitting it via email. Here is the scoop:

“Send in a Woolf quotation, from any of her books. We’ll compile a shortlist and ask you to vote for one of them, and the winning quotation will be posted on this page. It will be interesting to see whether it’s the same as last year, or a different one.

If you can’t quite remember the exact words, we’ll probably be able to help you out – don’t worry if you get them slightly wrong.

So get out your Woolf books and hunt down your favourite quotation (or one of them). You can put it in a public post or email your quote to smhall123@yahoo.co.uk”

Orlando, the stage adaptation by Sarah Rule, will be produced by the Marvellous Machine Theatre Company production, which is part of The Camden Fringe, July 31 through Aug. 4. Performances of Virginia Woolf’s 1928 novel are at 7:30 p.m.
Location: Theatro Technis, 26 Crowndale Road, London NW1 1TT (Mornington Crescent tube)
Tickets: £15 (£13 concessions) + £2.50 fee: book online: Book online.
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