Archive for November, 2008

The Waves by Virginia WoolfCritics have praised the New York production of The Waves in its U.S. premiere at the Duke Theatre. And now Woolfians are sharing their impressions as well.

Mark Hussey, author of Virginia Woolf A to Z sent his impressions to the VW Listserv and is also sharing them with us on Blogging Woolf.

Here are Mark’s thoughts:

Leaving aside for a moment the sophisticated video technology, the experience was something like observing a studio from where a radio play was being broadcast: sound effects made ingeniously (a cricket ball striking the willow, a bird startled from cover, children squealing in a bath, a rainy day, footsteps approaching down a long corridor), actors racing from mic to mic holding their scripts. (“Could one not get the waves to be heard all through? Or the farmyard noises? Some odd irrelevant noises,” wrote Woolf in 1929.)

But although what first struck me was the rich aurality of the production, Waves is also an amazing visual experience. Continuously, new scenes form on the screen at the back of the stage, scenes framed by an actor holding a video camera who focuses on, say, Jinny in the Tube, Rhoda stretching her foot to touch the bedrail or failing to cross the puddle, Neville distracted in the restaurant as the door keeps on opening but Percival does not come… in short, the images that might form in a reader’s mind are projected as the narrative proceeds. (And is this what Woolf meant when she referred to marking the past as “scene-making”?)

And only when one looks from that screen to the long table at the front of the stage where the ‘action’ takes place is the ingenuity made clear: Jinny sits on a chair on the table with a piece of red stuff over her lap, a small powder compact open in her hand, and jiggles her legs as she might do involuntarily were she actually riding the Tube. I thought of Between the Acts, where Miss La Trobe knows that a tea-towel wrapped around the head will serve better than more expensive material to convey the impression of majesty, or silver foil will do fine service as a sword. (Now I’m feeling like Mr Streatfield: “… with the limited means at her disposal, the talented lady showed us…”!). So, simply by holding up a rectangle of wallpaper against which another actor stands holding a glass, a populated room appears on the screen.

The actors were able to create scene after scene from the lives of Jinny, Susan, Rhoda, Neville, Bernard, Louis and Percival, pulling props from long metal shelves that ran along each side of the stage.  A piece of perspex and a spray-bottle created the effect of a car windshield through which we could see Jinny on her way to a party.  A small box of dirt strewn with stones, with a foot edging across its boundary then withdrawing, shot in tight focus, became the puddle that Rhoda could not cross.  And so on.

This production is steeped in Woolf’s own thoughts on her “abstract, mystical eyeless book.”  The sound of the sea is heard throughout, and whether we are hearing the thoughts of six separate people or six facets of one mind is (properly) not made clear.

Yet the production swerves away from the novel’s pitiless impersonality, interpolating elements of “Sketch of the Past” in its text as if to anchor it in the biographical that Woolf was at such pains to avoid (“it must not be my childhood,” she wrote, for example). Parts of the interludes are read in a voice that mimics the only extant recording of Woolf’s own voice, plummy and decidedly upper-crust. This suggestion that Woolf is a presence in the text struck a false note for me (“Who thinks it? And am I outside the thinker?”). And it ends on a sentimental note—Neville’s anguished face, agonized at Percival’s death—and denies Bernard his summing up altogether.

Yet Waves is an extraordinary interpretation of The Waves, capturing its aurality and recalling Woolf’s description in “The Narrow Bridge of Art” that the novel of the future “will resemble poetry in this that it will give not only or mainly people’s relations to each other and their activities together, as the novel has hitherto done, but it will give the relation of the mind to general ideas and its soliloquy in solitude.

For under the dominion of the novel we have scrutinized one part of the mind closely and left another unexplored. We have come to forget that a large and important part of life consists in our emotions toward such things as roses and nightingales, the dawn, the sunset, life, death, and fate; we forget that we spend much time sleeping, dreaming, thinking, reading, alone; we are not entirely occupied in personal relations; all our energies are not absorbed in making our livings.”

Waves somehow, for me, displayed on stage the act, the mental process, of reading.

Feel free to share your own impressions of The Waves on stage by adding a comment below.

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soundscape-of-modernitySubmissions are requested for the 11th annual conference of The Space Between Society: Literature and Culture, 1914-1945, which will be held at the University of Notre Dame June 11 to 13.
Emily Thompson, an historian of technology at Princeton and author of The Soundscape of Modernity, will be the keynote speaker.

About the Call for Papers:

From the growl of automobile and airplane engines and the whir of electric appliances to fascism’s oppressive silences, the years between 1914 and 1945 witnessed a variety of new sounds and silences. This interdisciplinary conference invites historians and critics of literature, art, music, film, dance, and popular culture to explore the myriad sounds and silences of the interwar period.
Possible topics include:
  • The impact of the telegraph, telephone, radio, and sound film on modern subjectivity and expression
  • The new sounds of technology and war
  • The enforced silencing of political and cultural critique
  • The sounds of political and social protest
  • Silence as spirituality, as resistance, as consent
  • The sounds of previously marginalized or disenfranchised voices
  • The incorporation of sound and noise into literature and art
  • The rising awareness of sound in shaping everyday experience
  • The breakdown of classical tonality and the rise of new tonal structures

Organizers request that you send 300-word abstract and a one-page C.V. to Erika Doss at doss.2@nd.edu.

New Deadline for submissions: Jan. 30, 2009

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Princeton. It’s not just your grandfather’s school any more. Now it’s the name of a California band with a debut album called Bloomsbury.

The album is a four-song disc  “based on the lives of four members of the influential Bloomsbury intellectual collective of the early 20th century.”

Songs feature four well-known Bloomsbury figures — Virginia Woolf, Leonard Woolf, John Maynard Keynes and Lytton Strachey.

Song titles are: “The Waves,” “Leonard Woolf,” “Eminent Victorians,” and “Ms. Bentwich.”

Of the four, “The Waves” is the most popular one downloaded from iTunes. There, each song costs 99 cents. The whole disc can also be streamed from their Myspace page.

Read a December 2008 update about the group’s album here. Then read more about Princeton’s Bloomsbury here and in Spin.

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Read the New York Times review of “The Waves,” on stage now from the National Theater of Great Britain as part of Lincoln Center’s Great Performers season.

Reviewer Ben Brantley calls the multi-media show “a remarkable, genre-defying work…that raises the bar for literary adaptations.”

He goes on to say it “comes closer to capturing Woolf’s throbbing love for — and fear of — the paradoxes of human existence than any play, movie or novelistic homage I’ve ever come upon.”

Here is how a member of the VW Listserv described her personal response to the play: “I should say that the performance brought out in me a much sadder feeling than the book does. For me, the lines spoken by actual people, then, felt so much sadder and lonely than they do on the page…Woolf continues to move us!”

Get more details about the production on Blogging Woolf.

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freshwater_webCelebrate Virginia Woolf’s birthday on Jan. 25 by attending the 7 p.m. opening show of the first U.S production of Woolf’s only play, Freshwater.

The Women’s Project and SITI Company will present just 34 performances of the play, which is directed by Anne Bogart.

The play will run for just 34 performances and previews Jan.15 at 8 p.m.

Get more details here. Read Blogging Woolf’s first post about the upcoming production.

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spoken-wordsLet’s all thank our lucky stars for the enlightened souls at the BBC who saved eight minutes of Virginia Woolf’s recorded voice. It is the only recording of her voice that has survived from the three broadcasts she did for the BBC in the 1930s.

Now Woolf’s voice, along with those of other great writers of the 20th century, can be heard in its entirety for the first time on a three-disc set of CDs produced by the British Library called “The Spoken Word: British Writers.”

The set features the voices of 30 British writers and includes many previously unpublished recordings. Another set, “The Spoken Word: American Writers,” features 27 authors from the U.S.

When Woolf’s recordings were made, people simply didn’t keep radio broadcasts, according to Richard Fairman of the British Library. “They went out on the air and that was it; they were lost forever,” Fairman told NPR‘s Melissa Block.

“The recording of Woolf is nothing like the interviews common on the radio today,” he said.

Hearing the voices of famous authors on CD is “not quite as good as having them walk up to you, but it’s not bad,” he told the Telegraph.

You can listen to Woolf talk about “Craftsmanship” in the series “Words Fail Me,” which was broadcast on the BBC April 29, 1937, here.

On You Tube, you can watch a video featuring a record spinning on a turntable that gives us eight minutes of Vita Sackville-West reading from her prize-winning poem “The Land.” The recording was made by Columbia in 1931 for the International Education Society.

You can also search the British Library’s online archive of more than 1,500 sound recordings that it has made here.

Read more in brief about the British Library CD sets of famous authors in the London Review of Books, Time and the Telegraph.

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Woolf scholars are invited to submit a panel topic for next year’s MLA conference, which will be held in Philadelphia Dec. 27-30.

According to the International Virginia Woolf Society Newsletter, this is a call for whole panels, not individual paper proposals. Voting on proposals will be completed by Dec. 30 to meet MLA guidelines.

Please submit only one panel topic, along with the following information:

  • A 35-word description (The word count must include the title.)
  • The name(s) and contact information of the proposed organizer(s) — e-mail, snail mail, preferred telephone number, institutional affiliation, if any.
  • Deadline by which the organizer(s) wish to receive submissions (usually March 15).
  • The format for submissions (500-word abstract? full-length paper?).

Submit to Bonnie Kime Scott, president of the IVWS, electronically or by snail mail by Nov. 20. Electronic submissions are strongly preferred.

Submit by e-mail to:

Electronic submissions are strongly preferred and should carry the subject line Woolf MLA 09.

Submit by snail mail to:

Bonnie Kime Scott
President, IVWS
Dept. of Women’s Studies
San Diego State University
San Diego, CA 92182-6030

For more information about the International Virginia Woolf Society’s involvement in MLA conferences and this year’s Woolf panel topics, click here or here.

To propose your own special session for next year’s MLA Conference, go to the MLA Web site for instructions. 

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