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Archive for July, 2009

Virginia Woolf, as represented in Lego blocks

At left is a photo of a Virginia Woolf figure constructed from Lego blocks. I found it online a while ago.

I hope you agree that in this case, a picture truly is worth a million words. Suffice it to say that I am now busy imagining a Charleston Lego set that one can fill with Bloomsbury figures.

After all, there is already a group of Lego theorists and a Lego Shakespeare.

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“For My Best Beloved Sister Mia: An Album of Photographs” by Julia Margaret Cameron, is at the Portland Museum of Art in Portland, Maine, through Sept. 7.

A renowned Victorian photographer, Cameron was the aunt of Virginia Woolf’s mother, the former Julia Jackson.

View the image gallery. Read a review of the exhibit in the Boston Globe.

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Virginia WoolfI have feminist icons on my mind. That’s why after mentioning them in a recent post on another blog, I keep bumping into examples of who these icons actually are and what they are doing to help us connect with one another. Of course, Virginia Woolf is among them.

Consider these examples:

On the Web site of The Guardian in England, readers are contributing their thoughts about their own personal feminist icons in response to the query “Inspirational feminists – you tell us who you admire.”  Some of the names readers have added to the list are familiar, like Virginia Woolf, Lilith and Margaret Thatcher; others are not. You can add your own here.

Who is your feminist icon? Tell us about her in the comments section below.

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ROTO catalogueEarlier this week the New York Times ran a story,”Arts and Crafts From Bloomsbury Days,” on two exhibits of Bloomsbury art, one in New York at Cornell University, and another in London.

The Cornell exhibit, “A Room of Their Own: The Bloomsbury Artists in American Collections,” is traveling around the country through 2010. The London exhibit, called “Beyond Bloomsbury: Designs of the Omega Workshop 1913-1919,” is at the Courtauld Gallery.

Read more about these events and others on the Events page.

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poster_thumbVirginia Woolf is the focus of a new play staged as part of the NotaBle Acts Summer Theatre Festival in  Fredericton, New Brunswick.

Written by Bruce Allen Lynch and titled The Nicest Place In England, the play tells the story of Woolf’s visit to her friend Dora Carrington after Lytton Strachey’s death.  According to the NotaBle Acts Web site, it is a “visitation that forces both women into an uncomfortable, harrowing, and at times surprisingly comic confrontation with the past.”

The Nicest Place in England will be on stage July 28, Aug. 1 and Aug. 2 at Memorial Hall at the University of New Brunswick.  The play is one of two 2009 one-act playwriting contest winners in the NotaBle Acts competition.

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The LodgeFlo, the blogger at “Thoughts of the Common Reader,” has posted a fascinating entry, complete with beautiful photos, about her eight-mile walk from Monk’s House in Rodmell to Charleston Farmhouse in Firle.

The jaunt was a guided walk called “In The Footsteps of Virginia Woolf” and organised by the Charleston Trust.

Read about Flo’s experience on the walk here, and learn about other Charleston Trust events here.

Get more Woolf travel tips on this page of Blogging Woolf.

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Vanessa and VirginiaAuthors of novels about real people have great freedom, in the name of fiction, to carve out their territory. Virginia Woolf and her coterie seem to be frequent subjects of these bold interpretations, and Woolfians are irresistibly drawn to them, myself included.

In recent years I have added to my shelves Mitz: The Marmoset of Bloomsbury by Sigrid Nunez, But Nobody Lives in Bloomsbury by Gillian Freeman, and of course Michael Cunningham’s The Hours. The latest is Vanessa and Virginia by Susan Sellers.

An accomplished Woolf scholar, Sellers makes few departures from the lives of the sisters. At the recent Virginia Woolf Conference in New York, she confessed that she chose the form of a first-person monologue by Vanessa as she would have been terrified to try to speak in Woolf’s voice. Yet one can appreciate her creativity and the risk involved in this undertaking as she presents a provocative perspective.

Sellers conveys a forceful immediacy with Vanessa’s present tense narrative directed at Virginia, who is “you” throughout. The four shattering family deaths are related in the first three chapters, resounding, one after the other, with startling violence. Vanessa observes that, “If this were a work of fiction, instead of an attempt to discern the truth, then Stella’s death, coming so soon after Mother’s, would seem like malicious overload on the writer’s part” (35).

Susan Sellers

Susan Sellers

Her story is one of bitterness and relentless envy from the start, as she perceives Virginia usurping Thoby, Mother, and then Clive. She resents Virginia’s relationship with Leonard and Duncan’s with Bunny—someone else is always taking her place, and she has to care for everyone while no one takes care of her. Even Virginia’s illness becomes an accusation: “There was manipulation as well as helplessness in your loss of control. By relinquishing the burden to me, you ensured I remained in Mother’s place, parenting you, indulging you” (51).

Vanessa’s language is lyrical and painterly when speaking of the colors, textures and shapes in her paintings, but there’s little joy, and her art often seems like a sedative. Drawing classes in her youth enabled her to “forget your pain and Father’s misery and Stella’s cares” (27); she paints to avoid feeling. Self-disparaging comparisons to Virginia and a lack of confidence in her work lead to her cloying subservience to Duncan, in both art and life, and seem to diminish her as an artist and professional.

While Sellers skillfully and sensitively conveys the complexity and pathos of Vanessa’s life, she makes a few unnecessary forays. A few instances of foreshadowing seem gratuitous, but this is, after all, fiction.

Overall, I found it satisfying and compelling, and I read it from cover to cover on the day I departed New York following the Woolf Conference. It gave me food for thought as I descended from conference immersion and a long flight into daily life, and now, more than a month later, I find I’m still swishing it around, enjoying the flavor.

Vanessa and Virginia, by Susan Sellers, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston/New York, 2009.

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