Going to a Virginia Woolf conference is like long-distance swimming in deep water. It is both exhilarating and exhausting.
That’s how I felt after this year’s 20th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf, held at Georgetown College in Georgetown, Ky., and organized by Kristin Czarnecki, a member of the English faculty there.
The sensation of swimming in deep water also goes along with the theme for the conference, which was “Virginia Woolf and the Natural World.” That means we heard much about Woolf and flowers, Woolf and fauna, Woolf and birds, Woolf and water and even Woolf and weather, one of my favorite topics. In fact, Gill Lowe, of University Campus Suffolk presented a paper on “Wild Swimming” as part of the first panel of the conference.
Woolf’s depth and stamina were illustrated by the variety of papers, panels, presentations and keynote speeches given at the conference. Here are some sparse notes on just a few.
Elisa Kay Sparks actually counted Woolf’s references to individual varieties of flowers for her presentation, “Virginia Woolf’s Literary and Quotidian Flowers: A Bar-Graphical Approach,” which included a spectacular slide show.
Ecofeminism — and Woolf’s connection to it — were the topics of Bonnie Kime Scott, whose keynote opened the conference, and Diana Swanson, who closed it. Scott made the point that Woolf fuses her natural images with the manmade world, and Swanson said Woolf inspires us to protect our fragile environment, an especially poignant message as oil from BP’s exploded well continues to pollute the Gulf of Mexico.
An opening night reception at the Anne Wright Wilson Fine Arts Gallery on campus featured glorious artwork from numerous artists around the world. Valentina Mazzei of Rome exhibited her delicately beautiful bronze bust of Woolf, which attracted much attention.
A fantastic panel on nature in both urban and rural environments — and the conflict between the two — featured papers by Teresa Boyer, Tonya Krouse and Mark Hussey. Discussion ranged from the street singer in Mrs. Dalloway to the way weather interrupts the narrative in The Years to the reflection of the public discussion of concerns surrounding the demise of the countryside in the 1920s and 1930s in Between the Acts.
Beth Rigel Daugherty’s rapid-fire delivery of Woolf quotes about horses and “taking her fences” energized and entertained the audience, while Emily Bingham‘s surprising talk about Henrietta Bingham’s connection to the Bloomsbury Group set everyone buzzing.
Keiko Okaya Tanaka, Vanessa Underwood and Drew Patrick Shannon were part of an illuminating panel about St. Ives, the Isle of Skye and To the Lighthouse. And after Shannon explained the obvious but heretofore unrecognized connections between Woolf’s novel and Jill Paton Walsh’s children’s books, Goldengrove and Unleaving, many listeners probably added them to their Woolf-related reading lists.
And I was thrilled to discover another Woolf reader and scholar who is exploring Woolf’s use of weather in her novels. Verita Sriratana presented a well-researched paper on weather in The Years, and she plans to include her work as a chapter in her Ph.D. thesis, “`Making Room’: Virginia Woolf and Technology of Place.” As part of our “Weather and Woolf” panel, I discussed Woolf’s use of weather in Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse and Orlando.
These are just a few highlights of a wonderful conference that left me refreshed, exhilarated, exhausted, and dizzy with ideas. For more, read Vara Neverow’s post-conference blog post and listen to Kristen Czarnecki’s pre-conference interview with NPR affiliate WUKY-FM.
Special thanks to Valentina Mazzei; Patrizia Muscogiuri; Verita Sriratana; and Catherine Hollis, author of Leslie Stephen as Mountaineer: ‘Where does Mont Blanc end, and where do I begin?’, for the photos that appear on Blogging Woolf and Flickr.