Back in December 2008, I asked Blogging Woolf readers if they would send me references to Woolf that they come across in fiction. I didn’t realize at the time just how many of these literary allusions I would find or how fascinating and absorbing my research would be.
This exploration was initially for my paper at the 2009 Virginia Woolf Conference, and from that evolved a recently-published monograph, Beyond the Icon: Virginia Woolf in Contemporary Fiction, part of the Bloomsbury Heritage Series from Cecil Woolf Publishers.
In this work, I discuss more than thirty such references, exploring context and intertextuality, and coming to the conclusion that Woolf is alive and well in the minds of contemporary authors. Their use of her life and work as points of reference is more than just name-dropping and more, as my title indicates, than part of the Woolf as icon phenomenon.
While it’s time to move on to other projects, my interest in Woolf “sightings” in fiction doesn’t show any signs of abating, and the references continue to accumulate. I’m not sure what I will do with them, but that’s not going to stop me from following up on leads and hunting them down.
Since my monograph was finalized, I’ve already found another dozen or so references, a couple of which I’ve posted here, including one on Jane Gardam and another on Olivia Manning. The newest finds represent an amazing array of work, ranging from the elegant prose of Penelope Lively, to a quirky story in The New Yorker (June 7, 2010) by Jeffrey Eugenides, to a romp of a “beach read,” Literacy and Longing in L.A. by Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack.
I just came across a new novel with three epigraphs, one from Woolf’s diary, another from Mrs. Dalloway, and the third from the character portrayed by James Coburn in the movie Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid: “Comes an age in a man’s life when he don’t want to spend time figuring what comes next.”
My curiosity is piqued—I’ll have to read Next by James Hynes to see what he’s trying to evoke with these quotations. And perhaps I’ll start collecting Woolf epigraphs too (there’s already one in Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood).