I’ve never had the opportunity to study Woolf in the classroom, and I only find myself in the company of other Woolfians at the annual conference.
The curriculum includes all of the novels except Night and Day and The Years, plus selected stories, essays and diary entries. The students—mostly graduate students in literature and a couple from women’s studies—are required to write reaction papers to their reading plus do class presentations, a book report and a final paper.
As a class auditor, 20-plus years out of graduate school, I’m just challenged trying to keep up with the reading. Over the years I’ve read the novels two or three times each, all of the diaries and letters, and continue to burrow through the essays, a seemingly endless project.
But my Woolf reading has, until now, been in bite-sized pieces, digesting it at my leisure, swishing passages around to savor the flavor. Now I have to wolf it down, consuming large portions at every sitting, to keep up in order to follow the discussions.
And what a feast! I find this immersion a fascinating experience. The arc of her writing is more evident, transitions from one work to another more apparent; I feel that I have a better sense of her goals and her pursuit of them. And we’re only half-way through the semester, having just completed Mrs. Dalloway and preparing for To the Lighthouse next week.
The greatest pleasure is the class discussions, the luxury of delving into the works as a group. Most of the students are new to Woolf, but they’re intelligent, thoughtful, and game—they’re coming up with interesting interpretations, asking challenging questions and bringing a freshness to it that I find so welcome.
It isn’t about whether or not I agree, but rather opening up my thinking and confronting the material with new eyes, coming away with food for thought every week.