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Those of us on this side of the pond, without access to BBC programming, are wishing to the lighthouseand waiting—patiently or impatiently—for the as-yet unannounced release of “Life in Squares” to PBS.

While we wait, why not put the time to good use (and help it pass more quickly) by dipping into an enticing list from the outstanding Powell’s bookstore in Portland, Oregon: “25 women to read before you die.”

“Reading Virginia Woolf is like stepping out onto a veranda, where the entire world unfurls before you in dazzling detail.” So begins an inviting introduction to Woolf and specifically to a recommendation of To the Lighthouse.

Woolf joins an eclectic array of companions, authors of both fiction and nonfiction, ranging from Mary Shelley and George Eliot to contemporary greats Toni Morrison and Margaret Atwood, thought-provoking essayists Joan Didion and Rebecca Solnit, cartoonist Alison Bechdel and others.

We would all make some swaps—I’d make room for Mary McCarthy, Alice Munro, Penelope Lively—but there’s something for everyone here, both tried and true favorites and some new discoveries. I’ve been wanting to read Clarice Lispector for years—perhaps this is the sign I’ve been waiting for.

I’d rather be watching Life in Squares, but what can you do?

Anne Fernald

Anne Fernald

Anne Fernald, Fordham University professor and editor of the Cambridge University Press edition of Mrs. Dalloway (2014) and author of Virginia Woolf: Feminism and the Reader (2006), will lead a reading group on two Virginia Woolf novels this fall.

Mrs. Dalloway (1925) and To the Lighthouse (1927) will be under discussion every second Thursday for four sessions, beginning Sept. 17, from 6-7:30 p.m. at the Center for Fiction, 17 E. 47th St., New York City. Remaining dates are Oct. 1, Oct. 15 and Oct. 29.

The cost is $150 for members and $175 for non-members.

Most of the reactions below come via Twitter, where “Life in Squares” was a trending topic after the first episode aired last night with an audience of between 1.85 and 1.9 million UK viewers.

In the aftermath, one must-read review is by Frances Spalding, acclaimed biographer of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. Her piece on The Conversation website is titled “Life in Squares: how the radical Bloomsbury Group fares on screen.”

Here’s a quote from it:

Her despairing cry may be echoed by some viewers of the BBC’s three-part series Life in Squares, for the Bloomsbury Group attracts many detractors as well as legions of devotees. — Frances Spalding

Be sure to click on the comments below to read Maggie Humm’s assessment of Spalding’s review, along with her own insights.

Family reaction

Before the official premiere, Emma Woolf, great-niece of Leonard and Virginia Woolf, penned her reaction for The Daily Mail: “How TV’s got my aunt Virginia Woolf so wrong.”

And Vanessa Bell’s granddaughter, Cressida Bell, posted this on Facebook the morning after:

Cressida Bell

Here’s a piece from The Charleston Attic blog on the 140-piece dinner service featuring famous women created by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. It is one of the largest commissioned works produced by the artists and was commissioned in 1932.

‘The firm of Bell and Grant’ and the Famous Women Dinner Service.

The Virginia Woolf plate is pictured in Diane Gillespie’s The Sisters’ Arts: The Writing and Painting of Virginia Woolf and The Sisters’ Arts: The Writing and Painting of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell Vanessa Bell (1988, 1991), as illustration 4.13 on p. 199. Gillespie discusses the plates briefly on p. 198. The plate pictures a young Virginia Woolf in profile with her long hair secured at her neck or pinned up; it’s difficult to make out which.

According to Gillespie, the plates were divided into four groups and Woolf’s plate is included in the writers’ group. Woolf’s plate features a border of alternating squiggles and large dots. In a July 27, 2015, message to the VWoolf Listserv, Gillespie noted that she was able to see a number of the plates during the 1980s in the home of Lady Clark.

Ann Donlon wrote a Oct. 9, 2013, post about the plates on her blog after a visit to Charleston. Titled Dinner Plates, it includes images.

Also see Woolf on a plate, a 2009 post on Blogging Woolf about Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party that includes a Woolf plate.

Three songs from a new song cycle using Virginia Woolf’s letters to her sister, painter Vanessa Bell, are available online via SoundCloud.

Composed by Richard Barnard, they are titled ‘As A Writer‘, Nessa and Duncan, and A Dancing Light. They were recorded by Rhys Maslen at St Augustine’s Chapel, Bristol, and this part of the project was supported by Arts Council Wales.

Here are the descriptions of the songs, as copied from Barnard’s blog:

  1. ‘As A Writer': Woolf frequently used Vanessa’s art as a metaphor for her own work. Here she describes the writing process as feeling beauty “which is almost entirely colour”, condensing ideas like pouring “a large jug of champagne over a hairpin”.
  2. ‘Nessa and Duncan': A brilliantly teasing letter in which Woolf imagines a scene at Vanessa and Duncan Grant’s home as they discuss her recently published novel To The Lighthouse (clearly nervous of their judgement!)
  3. ‘A Dancing Light': Part of a letter of 1937 written soon after the death of Vanessa’s son Julian in the Spanish Civil War.


Woolfians around the globe have succeeded in saving the view of the lighthouse — for now.

Screenshot from 7/222/15 BBC Entertainment & Arts page

Screenshot from 7/222/15 BBC Entertainment & Arts page

They used email and social media to temporarily halt action on the ill-conceived construction plan that would destroy the view of Godrevy Lighthouse from Talland House, Virginia Woolf’s childhood summer home in St. Ives, Cornwall. The lighthouse is also a key element in Woolf’s novel To the Lighthouse (1927).

Cornwall Council was scheduled to vote on the plan, which calls for building a block of six flats and a car park in front of Talland House, on July 14. But according to stories in the Western Morning News and BBC Cornwall, that vote will take place at a later date.

Virginia Woolf fans spread word of the ill-conceived plan via the VWoolf Listserv, the email lists of the International Virginia Woolf Society (IVWS) and the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain and through social media. The British society has also posted the news on its website under the heading “Save Woolf’s Talland House View.”

The IVWS put Western Morning News reporter David Wells in touch with Woolf scholars and connected BBC reporter Miles O. Davis with Cecil Woolf, Virginia and Leonard’s nephew. Cecil spoke out on the plan in today’s BBC story and on Blogging Woolf. The main BBC story is posted on the Cornwall section of  the website. A link is also posted on the Entertainment and Arts page. A version of the BBC story also ran in the Observer Chronicle.

Woolfians protested the plan by sending emails to Cornwall Council and St. Ives Town Council, posting comments on the plan, posting messages on the Cornwall Council Facebook page and tweeting to Cornwall Council @CornwallCouncil. They also contacted West Cornwall’s Minister of Parliament Derek Thomas via Twitter and email and tweeted to @EnglishHeritage for assistance.

By this morning, 66 comments against the plan, which would destroy a vital piece of literary history, were posted on the application from developer Porthminster Beach View Ltd. that is now before Cornwall Council. Talland House is considered of historical importance, as it is listed Grade II.

The decision on whether to approve or reject the plans will be made by Cornwall Council on a date to be decided. — BBC Cornwall story, “Virginia Woolf relatives defend view ‘To The Lighthouse'”

Add your voice to protect the historic view

To submit your objections to the plan, send an email to planning@cornwall.gov.uk. Include the planning application number: PA15/04337 in your message.

You can also post a comment on the planning application at this link, but you must register first. To do so, you are required to have a UK postal code. One Woolfian ant the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain suggested using the Talland House postal code, which is TR26 2EH.

Here is a comment posted by Vanessa Curtis, author of Virginia Woolf’s Women and The Hidden Houses of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell.

I’m saddened to read of this latest threat to such an important part of our literary heritage. Already Talland House, the beautiful listed building so loved by Virginia Woolf and her family, is boxed in by other modern developments which should not have had planning permission granted, but this latest application appears to perhaps be the worst of all. The patch of land that the proposed apartments will be built upon was once owned by Leslie Stephen, Woolf’s father. He took out a 100 year lease on the land to prevent anybody building on it and spoiling his view out towards Godrevy Lighthouse. Please, please do not let the greed of developers wipe out our literary heritage and further ruin the spectacularly attractive coastline of this part of the world. As one drives into St Ives now, the dominant view is no longer that of the Victorian buildings around Talland House, but of various high-rise blocks which would look more at home in inner-city London than overlooking the stunning sweep of Porthminster Beach.

For more details on the plan currently under consideration by Cornwall Council, visit this post: View from Talland House threatened by planned development

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