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Archive for August, 2011

Three things pop out at me from this week’s list of Woolf sightings. The first is the mention of Virginia in a story about young female artists who represent “unmentionable” female body parts in their work. See #22.

The second is the mention of Woolf’s use of the word “scrolloping,” an item that drew the recent attention of the VWoolf Listserv. See #7.

The third is a new song about Virginia Woolf. It is one of 13 cuts on a new album due out Nov. 7 by Florence + The Machine. The song’s title, “What the Water Gave Me,” comes from a 1938 oil painting by Frida Kahlo. See #17-21 and listen to the song below.

  1. Thought-Provoking Highbrow Magazine Launches, MarketWatch (press release)
    Virginia Woolf once described a highbrow as “…the man or woman of thoroughbred intelligence who rides his mind at a gallop across country in pursuit of an idea.” “It is that pursuit of an idea that inspires us at the magazine to critique and analyze
  2. Highbrow, Middlebrow, Lowbrow, Movie City News
    Virginia Woolf defined the middlebrow reader as “betwixt and between,” devoted not to art for its own sake but to “money, fame, power, or prestige.” In other words, the middlebrow is not quite as smart as the true highbrow and not as spirited as the
  3. Much ado about nothing, Boston Globe
    That would not necessarily be a difficulty: Think of Samuel Johnson’s “Life of Mr. Richard Savage,” or the many marginal yet unforgettable subjects in Virginia Woolf’s “Common Reader.” Yet unlike the treatment of his parents in “Basil Street,”
  4. A fascination with real lives, Boston Globe
    I admire Virginia Woolf, but I’m not sold on her novels. I’d rather read her diaries, journals, and letters. Henry James – finally a man – I love him. Last year I read “What Maisie Knew.” I was relieved that I understood it. James is hard.
  5. MEMOIR: A fun and gossipy look at British bluebloods, Minneapolis Star Tribune
    He shows the ties between Beckett’s illegitimate daughter by Keppel, novelist Violet Trefusis, and Violet’s lesbian lover, poet Vita Sackville-West, then links them both to Virginia Woolf. He manages, too, to find a long association between Vita’s
  6. Book review: House of Exile: The Lives and Times of Heinrich Mann and Nelly , Taipei Times
    The author clearly wants to offer a life of Heinrich, but also to bring in other authors, such as Virginia Woolf and James Joyce, who he never met. Diverse topics are also given capsule treatment — how writing-quills were once made, and the theory
  7. OMG, the charabanc has been plutoed, Telegraph.co.uk
    But I am likely to need help with Samuel Beckett’s use of “athambia”, or Virginia Woolf’s of “scrolloping”. In any case, predictions about what will last are risky. In 2007 Australia’s Macquarie Dictionary chose “pod-slurping” as its word of the year.
  8. The New Atheism, The Guardian
    Melville, Dostoevsky, George Eliot, Jens Peter Jacobsen, Tolstoy, Virginia Woolf, Beckett, Camus – and in our own time José Saramago, Marilynne Robinson and JM Coetzee – have all shown sustained interest in questions of belief and unbelief;
  9. The dentist & Dr. Seuss, Boston Globe
    “But it’s like minor works by Virginia Woolf or Shakespeare or Jane Austen. They may be minor, but they’re the minor works of a genius,” Nel said. In order to bring these stories to a fresh audience, Cohen first needed to prove his own credibility.
  10. Bridge Views: Grounded in 1980, Patch.com
    “If you want to learn point-of-view, read Henry James; if you want to learn irony, read Jane Austen; if you want to learn what Hell smells like, read John Milton; if you want to understand the importance of using punctuation, read Virginia Woolf—she
  11. iriam Grant, Vice Provost of Research and Dean of the College of Graduate Studies, Castanet.net
    He has distinguished himself as a scholar of the work of Ezra Pound, Virginia Woolf and Wyndam Lewis. Of particular note is his forthcoming book, Ezra Pound’s Guide to Kulchur: The Annotated Edition is the first annotated edition of Pound’s highly
  12. Interview: Lynne McTaggart, Author of The Bond, Blogcritics.org (blog)
    Twentieth century writers like Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Virginia Woolf, but also so-called ‘new journalists’ – Norman Mailer, Joan Didion, Hunter Thompson, Truman Capote – who wrote non-fiction using fictional techniques. My heroes in journalism were
  13. Why women are enjoying being home alone, The Age
    VIRGINIA WOOLF thought every woman writer needed a room of her own. But many women are now opting for an entire home of one’s own. Women are twice as likely as men to live alone for more than a decade, and report greater levels of
  14. A Book of Secrets: Illegitimate Daughters, Absent Fathers” by Michael Holroyd, Washington Post
    The child, Violet, achieved notoriety first, during and after World War I, as the same-sex lover of the writer Vita Sackville-West — their scandalous affaire was mirrored in Virginia Woolf’s novel “Orlando” (1928) — and then, starting in the 1930s,
  15. Michael Holroyd finally reveals himself in ‘Book of Secrets’, Plain Dealer (blog)
    Virtuoso insights connect the dots among his characters, as he intertwines the lives of Virginia Woolf, Vita Sackville-West and Violet Trefusis, the illegitimate daughter of Grimthorpe. Holroyd himself finally arrives center stage.
  16. ‘Miracle’ in Battersea: Francesca Kay has turned from the enigmas of art to , The Independent
    In the switches of mood and tone of an urban panorama, with a politician’s wife close to its heart, the book brought to my mind Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway. Kay says that she did not take Woolf’s metropolitan collage as a model, although “I do
  17. Florence + The Machine, new album due Nov 7, Street North East (blog)
    It’s about water in all forms and all bodies. It’s about a lot of things; Virginia Woolf creeps into it, and of course Frieda Kahlo, whose painfully beautiful painting gave me the title.” ‘What The Water Gave Me’ it’s available now on iTunes.
  18. This week in new music, FasterLouder
    For a tune named after a Frida Kahlo painting and featuring reference to Virginia Woolf it still has festival anthem written all over it. Let’s hope we get to see her again this summer. James Blake and Justin ‘Bon Iver’ Vernon met at this year’s South
  19. Florence And The Machine Reveal New Track, RTT News
    While speaking about the track with NME.com, Florence Welch revealed that the track was inspired by the story of writer Virginia Woolf, who committed suicide by drowning. It also shares a title with a painting by legendary Mexican artist and feminist
  20. Florence and the Machine debut new track ‘What The Water Gave Me’ – video, Digital Spy
    When I was writing this song I was thinking a lot about all those people who’ve lost their lives in vain attempts to save their loved ones from drowning. “It’s about water in all forms and all bodies. It’s about a lot of things; Virginia Woolf creeps
  21. Hear Florence and the Machine’s new song ‘What The Water Gave Me’ – audio, NME.com
    The track is named after a painting by Mexican artist Frida Kahlo and has also been part inspired by the death of author Virginia Woolf, who drowned herself in a river by filling her coat pockets with stones. You can see Florence working on the album
  22. The naming of parts: a new frankness about vaginas, Evening Standard
    Chicago created 39 place settings for famous female “guests” – including Sappho, Emily Dickinson and Virginia Woolf – with labias rising up out of the plates themselves. The new craft-led work is as much about playfulness as a po-faced “comment” on
  23. Orlando, St George’s West, Edinburgh, The Independent
    Adapting Virginia Woolf’s fantastical novel, which follows the title character through four centuries and a sex change, is no mean feat. It has the potential to be epic, but Darryl Pinckney’s script for theatre company Cryptic goes in
  24. A ‘World of Taste’ hits Rishon Letzion, Ha’aretz
    By Elka Looks Tags: Israel culture Virginia Woolf once said, “one cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” After attending Rishon Letzion’s ‘World of Taste’ fair, I could not agree more. Over twenty of Israel’s leading
  25. Tale of loss and friendship cuts to the quick, Independent Online
    Today, she is Senior Fellow at St Hilda’s College, Oxford, and the distinguished biographer of TS Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Charlotte Brontë, Henry James, feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and, most recently, the acclaimed poet Emily Dickinson.
  26. How One Book Changed My Life, Huffington Post
    I have most all of Virginia Woolf’s books on one shelf. There are books by Toni Morrison, Willa Cather, Julia Alvarez, James Baldwin, John Irving and dozens of other favorite authors. There is my friend Peg’s wonderful novel, “Spinning Will.
  27. Fill up your shelves at the Locust Grove book sale! [Books], Louisville.com
    My own personal finds from past sales have included titles from Rudyard Kipling, Virginia Woolf, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Vladimir Nabokov. And, of course, no shortage of Shakespeare. Tax deductible book donations will also be accepted at any time
  28. Stigma should be removed from mental illness, Cincinnati.com
    Provided Abraham Lincoln, Virginia Woolf, Eugene O’Neill, Leo Tolstoy, Tennessee Williams, Winston Churchill, Charles Dickens, Carrie Fisher, Mike Wallace, Patty Duke, Demi Lovato, Catherine Zeta-Jones – all talented and gifted individuals,
  29. Book festival: Andrew O’Hagan, Edinburgh Festivals
    Last night’s topic was landscape, which Bakewell addressed with Olivia Laing, author of To The River, a meditation in travel, nature and history along the course of the Ouse, the Sussex river in which Virginia Woolf drowned herself in 1941. ..
  30. Offerings from Edinburgh’s International Book Festival, STV Local
    At 7 pm she’ll be reading from her book To the River, the story of the Ouse, the Sussex river in which Virginia Woolf drowned in 1941. One midsummer week over 60 years after Woolf’s death, Olivia Laing walked the river from source to sea.
  31. ED2011 Theatre Review: Sailing On (ShadyJane), ThreeWeeks News
    It revolves around a girl’s poignantly suppressed memory coming to light with the help of a pretend Ophelia and Virginia Woolf. Though beautifully enacted and adeptly enhanced by the use of multimedia, it was not the performance itself that most stood
  32. Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights: Bronte vs Bronte, Telegraph.co.uk
    Virginia Woolf once said that, in Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë had gigantic ambition that was summed up by the sentence “You the eternal powers…” but she didn’t know how to finish it. I think there’s something in that. For me, Wuthering Heights is
  33. Julia Margaret Cameron exhibition opens at Hans P. Kraus Jr. Fine Photographs, ArtfixDaily (press release)
    She later became the mother of Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf. Mary Hillier, a local shoemaker’s daughter who served as a parlor maid in Cameron’s household, became, as the artist wrote, “one of the most beautiful and constant of my models.
  34. Robert Fulford: Postmodern love?, National Post (blog)
    Books appeared under otherwise identical titles about Nietzsche, WB Yeats, Virginia Woolf, St. Augustine, Jesus and many more. Postmodernism, while it no longer so freely speaks its name, remains the operative principle beneath much of contemporary
  35. ED2011 Theatre Review: Orlando (Cryptic), ThreeWeeks News
    Adapted from Virginia Woolf’s novel, this production is especially adept in its synthesis of Woolf’s linguistic virtuosity with contemporary sound and projection techniques. Although the show’s pace lags occasionally, Judith Williams impresses with a
  36. A New Life of EM Forster, Xtra.ca
    While his contemporaries were DH Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, the Bloomsbury circle and Christopher Isherwood, a new generation of Americans also longed to meet him. People such as artist Paul Cadmus, actor William Roerick and painter Jared French
  37. Play’s a slap in face for parents, Macedon Ranges Weekly
    She says the play is like “Virginia Woolf on steroids” and audiences will experience a “rollercoaster of emotions. It’s a fun play and it disintegrates into madness!” Ms Boyd said it had already received much praise from the Melbourne theatre network.

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One of the highly touted books this summer is Meg Wolitzer’s, The Uncoupling. It’s about the teachers and students at a New Jersey high school. The drama teacher chooses Lysistrata, as the school play, and repercussions abound for everyone as a spell overtakes the girls and women of the town and they lose all interest in sex.

Wolitzer has a knack for writing that is intelligent and thought-provoking and hilarious, a great combination. While this isn’t my favorite of her novels, it was a page-turner, and I zipped through it in a couple of eager readings. Wolitzer doesn’t beat readers over the head with feminist politics, but her women are strong and their situations often compelling. It’s no wonder that Woolf makes appearances, as she does in this one:

The main characters are Dory and Robby, both English teachers at the school. They met at an education conference, where Robby was holding forth to a group of women at the bar. He tells them, “Here is a sentence that one of my students actually wrote: ‘At the time that Virginia Woolf and James Joyce were writing, the world was very much as it is today, though to a lesser extent [emphasis his].’”

Another teacher, Bev, is ruing what seems to be the end of her sex life. She doesn’t know about the Lysistrata curse, no one does, but she figures she’s not alone: “Surely there were other women in Stellar Plains who had given up what they’d had with their husbands. Not her friends, though; her friends were really happy. Dory and Robby were just so fantastic together; you could picture them delightedly stripping for each other and having sex, and then reciting to each other from, oh God, Mrs. Dalloway.”

I’m not intentionally looking for Woolf references in the contemporary fiction I read, but they keep appearing, jumping out at me. I dutifully log them—how can I not?—and so far I have 20 new ones since publication of my monograph on the subject, Beyond the Icon: Virginia Woolf in Contemporary Fiction. Mrs. Dalloway as pillow talk? This one’s a priceless addition.

Read more posts by Alice Lowe about Woolf references in contemporary fiction:

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Virginia Woolf: A Commemoration, a literary conversation headlined by two Woolf scholars, will take place in Brighton, East Sussex, from 6 to 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 29 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of her death.

It is organised by Ace Stories and sponsored by the Arts Council for England (South East) and the Kingston University Writing School.

The event will include a conversation about Woolf’s work between Professor Rachel Bowlby, author of Virginia Woolf: Feminist Destinations (1998, 1997) and Theodore Koulouris, author of Hellenism and Loss in the Work of Virginia Woolf  (2011). Their conversation will be followed by a Q&A from the audience.

Readings of creative work from two South East writers, Erinna Mettler and Hannah Tuson, will also be part of the day.

The conversation will not focus on purely ‘literary’ issues, but will widely address Woolf’s intellectual responses to the concepts of mourning, class, race, feminism, according to Koulouris.

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Penshurst Place

One of today’s Woolf sightings — #10 — claims that Penshurst Place and Gardens inspired Virginia Woolf. I wondered how.

So I explored the location’s literary links Web page and learned that Woolf visited the property with Vita Sackville-West, who was then living 22 miles away at Sissinghurst Castle and Gardens. Woolf later shared her personal impressions of the nearly deserted house and garden in a 1940 diary entry, specifically mentioning “the ‘shell of lady Pembroke’s lute – like half a fig’.”

In other news, Woolf is sighted in the literary canon. Edinburgh publisher Canongate’s canon, that is. Canongate is repackaging some of its titles in a new series called The Canon. Included among the 2012 titles is Woolf’s Orlando, with an introduction by Tilda Swinton. See #9.

And finally, Woolf has been sighted on stage in the ladies’ loo, along with Shakespeare’s Ophelia, in a production called Sailing On. Get the details in #12 and on the Events page.

  1. Eau Claire writer discovers iimportance of rediscovering selfLeader-Telegram
    However, the next time I make travel plans, I’ll remember the famous essay by the English author,Virginia Woolf, and request “A Room of One’s Own.” Tzetzo Gosch is a freelance writer in Eau Claire.
  2. All Made Up by Janice Galloway – reviewThe Guardian
    For Virginia Woolf, “life writing” seems to have meant biography, but the phrase has expanded since her time to include a wide range of what Galloway refers to in All Made Up as “putative non-fiction”, including memoirs and diaries. 
  3. Edith Sitwell: Avant Garde Poet, English Genius, Richard Greene, Virago, Pp …Organiser
    Born in a privileged family in England, she counted as friends the likes of WB Yeats, TS Eliot,Virginia Woolf and Gertrude Stein. Graham Greene was one of her ‘followers.’ A new biography on her, thirty years after the last one was published and 45 …
  4. Callahan’s ‘Consummation of Dirk’ wins Starcherone PrizeBuffalo News (blog)
    The gifted child contemplating murder, the husband drowning in melancholy, the pro basketball athlete finding his road to Damascus all emerge from adept torrents of words that bear comparison with Virginia Woolf and David Foster Wallace,” wrote Mason …
  5. A Room of Miss Mozart’s Own, Cinespect
    In “A Room of One’s Own,” Virginia Woolf uses the extended metaphor of “Shakespeare’s sister” to describe the hardships faced by artistically brilliant women whose opportunities are stifled and curtailed when compared to men with similar talents.
  6. Too much grief, The Guardian
    When, in Jacob’s Room, the grieving widow Betty Flanders sits on the beach and writes a letter, Virginia Woolf gives us her tears thus: “The entire bay quivered; the lighthouse wobbled; and she had the illusion that the mast of Mr Connor’s yacht was
  7. Joan Bakewell prepares to solve the world’s problems, Telegraph.co.uk
    They range from The Ego Trick by philosophy’s most waspish thinker, Julian Baggini, to a lingeringly lyrical account of walking the length of the Ouse River – haunted by the shade of Virginia Woolf, who drowned herself in its waters.
  8. Grim Reader, Aug. 19, 2011: Jani Lane, Sophie Gurney and Howard Paster, Obit-Mag.com
    The artist Sophie Gurney’s mom was Charles Darwin’s granddaughter and an artist herself; their circle included the likes of Virginia Woolf. A Telegraph obit says these things “shaped Sophie Gurney’s unusual childhood.” Well, yeah.
  9. Canongate to launch The Canons, The Bookseller
    Among the 2012 titles are Virginia Woolf’s Orlando (introduced by Tilda Swinton), Richard Brautigan’s Sombrero Fallout (introduced by Jarvis Cocker) and The Selected Poems of Anna Akhmatova (selected and introduced by Jo Shapcott).
  10. Island says goodbye to its gardener, Guernsey Press and Star (subscription)
    It has inspired such literary luminaries as Percy Bysshe Shelley, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Virginia Woolf. James will be assisting the head gardener in the design and care of more than 51 acres of gardens. ‘I was at Writtle College from 2003 to
  11. One Minute With: Alison Pick, novelist and poet, The Independent
    This changes on a dime, but today I’ll say Virginia Woolf for her range, her nuance, her nostalgia, her sensuality. It’s a tiny little bedroom in my home in Toronto. When we bought it, we were told it was a bedroom but we couldn’t fit a bed into it.
  12. Sailing On, The Skinny
    Eventually the women introduce themselves, and we realise we are actually lucky to be in the presence of two female icons,

    Meeting in the ladies loo in "Sailing On"

    Virginia Woolf and Ophelia – both missing, presumed drowned. Together they explain their mission to help a frequent visitor,

  13. CORNELL PLANTATIONS FALL LECTURE SERIES LINEUP, GardenNews.biz (press release)
    Vita Sackville-West, a prolific poet, novelist, and memoirist, considered herself foremost a writer, but her enduring reputation rests on the imprint of her provocative personality on the life and writing of Virginia Woolf, and on her stirring
  14. Darwin the Writer, By George Levine, The Independent
    What’s more, Levine highlights his effect upon later work, with close analysis of Hardy’s The Woodlanders and an adroit glance at Virginia Woolf’s “The Mark on the Wall”. There is also a persuasive take on Wildean paradoxes, and, brilliantly,
  15. Dinner in vineyards for a good cause, Santa Rosa Press Democrat
    The outdoor pizza oven will be working hard and, for dessert, JJ Wilson, retired SSU professor of English and renowned Virginia Woolf scholar, will prepare honeydew melon drenched in absinthe and topped with a chiffonade of mint. As of press time,
  16. 1965 Impala Hell Project, Part 9: Fastening Shoulder Belts, Bailing From Academia, Truth About Cars
    Accelerating this realization was the fact that I had been taken under the wing of the angry, sociopathic professor of feminist literature who had poisoned her relationships with academics on several continents (I was heavy into Virginia Woolf at the
  17. Hollywood beauties go Plain Jane for roles, msnbc.com
    To play real-life literary figure Virginia Woolf, Kidman wore a prosthetic nose and dark brown hair. Not much change by some measures, but the effect was one of transformation, allowing Kidman to get lost in Woolf’s sudden presence, and win the best
  18. Back to School The Backup Plan, Salt Lake City Weekly
    I like art history, I like film, I like Virginia Woolf (OK, I love her. Don’t hate), but do I love them enough to spend $50000 on them? Thus, therefore, ergo, in conclusion, there isn’ta backup plan; there never was a backup plan.
  19. Would Alan Moore’s ‘1969’ work without Wikipedia?, Creative Loafing Atlanta (blog)
    Now partnered with Virginia Woolf’s immortal Orlando, a similarly ageless Mina and Allan return to Swinging London to solve a mystery involving Oliver Haddo, a satanist they thwarted back in 1910, but has managed to remain alive.
  20. Canberra Conversations: Thomas Keneally, ABC Online
    “He’d have music evenings and he took the honours English boys down the back of the room, opened a cupboard and there was all the good stuff: Graeme Greene, Evelyn Waugh, TS Eliot, Virginia Woolf, and that’s when I felt the world expand greatly,
  21. Sophie Gurney, Telegraph.co.uk
    Her mother, Gwen Raverat, granddaughter of Charles Darwin, was the leading woodcut artist of her time, and her close friends included Virginia Woolf, Rupert Brooke, André Gide and Stanley Spencer. This milieu, combined with the influence of the
  22. Literary Criticism and Generics of the Text published, Iran Book News Agency
    The book consists of chapters “Virginia Woolf’s Room”, “TS Eliot’s Literary Dictatorship”, “Types of Literary Criticism”, “Classic Novel and New Novel”, “Meaning and Visual Artistic Significance”, “Literature and Philosophy”, “Understanding Myths”, 

    "Literary Criticism and Generics of the Text" by Iranian author Abdol-Ali Dastgheib

  23. @EmeliSande chats to MSN’s @TinieTinah (part 2), MSN Music UK (blog)
    On my left arm I have ‘A Room of One’s Own’ which is a Virginia Woolf book that I love. And on the back of my neck I have ‘Did our last castle look like this?’ which came from thinking past lives, people you’ve created with before and stuff like that.
  24. Woman battles bipolar to publish ghost story, Birmingham Mail
    The winner will be announced at a ceremony at Charleston House, East Sussex, the former home of author Virginia Woolf. Jan is now planning to run a series of writing workshops aiming to encourage other women into print. And she is being supported in
  25. When fiction becomes a work of art, Sydney Morning Herald
    Bell designed a number for books by her sister, Virginia Woolf, and her whimsically abstract style became emblematic of Woolf’s publishing house, Hogarth Press. In some of the great covers of that period, you can see cubism and expressionism at work.
  26. Friday, August 26, eTaiwan News
    Julio Cortazar, Argentinian writer (1914-1984); Branford Marsalis, US jazz musician (1960–); Macaulay Culkin, US actor (1980–). Nothing has really happened until it has been recorded _ Virginia Woolf, English author and critic (1882-1941).
  27. A space of your own, Malaysia Star
    The experience of restricted physical space led me to re-read Virginia Woolf’s seminal lecture, A Room Of One’s Own. In 1928, when Woolf was asked to speak about women and fiction to an audience at Girton College, Cambridge, she decided to seek the
  28. Edith Wharton: Sex, Satire and the Older Woman, By Avril Horner and Janet Beer, The Independent
    And in respect of female consciousness, the authors argue, she has much in common with Virginia Woolf. Like Woolf, Wharton can be placed at the end of a long European lineage that includes George Eliot. “The supposedly reactionary values implicit in
  29. `The Help’ is middlebrow? So be it. Count me in.Los Angeles Times
    Virginia Woolf defined the middlebrow reader as “betwixt and between,” devoted not to art for its own sake but to “money, fame, power, or prestige.” In other words, the middlebrow is not quite as smart as the true highbrow and not as spirited as the …
  30. For Love of the GameNew Yorker (blog)
    In her essay “How Should One Read a Book,” Virginia Woolf furnishes some magnificent advice: Perhaps the quickest way to understand the elements of what a novelist is doing is not to read, but to write; to make your own experiment with the dangers and 
  31. Carnegie Mellon’s Miller Gallery Opens New Section of Pittsburgh BiennialPR Newswire (press release)
    Inspired by modernist writer Virginia Woolf’s antidote to the war-mentality brewed in boardrooms and command centers, subRosa re-envisions lab workbenches as a series of small tables for more intimate and conversational “tea-table thinking. …
  32. Never mind the looters, what about the ‘fascists’?Spiked
    Using words that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Virginia Woolf’s diaries on one of her off-days, one radical journalist claimed that ‘in Enfield a mob of white men swarmed through the streets chanting “England”’. Chanting ‘England’? 

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It’s D-Day in Conneaut, Ohio. And as I sit here at my kitchen table under a sun-drenched window, I can hear — and feel — the loud drone of airplanes overhead and the gunfire nearby.

The invasion, complete with a beach landing, explosions in the sand, shots fired by opposing forces and airplanes flying low overhead, started promptly at 3 p.m., right on schedule.

The D-Day reenactment has been staged in Conneaut since 1999. The location was chosen because the township park’s 250-yard-long public beach and adjacent sloping terrain are said to closely resemble Omaha Beach in Normandy, France.

As I sit just four blocks away from the battle site and listen to the sounds of make-believe war, I wonder: What was it like for those who actually lived through World War II and experienced the sounds of a real war overhead?

Virginia Woolf described it this way in “Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid” (1940):  “It is a queer experience, lying in the dark and listening to the zoom of a hornet, which may at any moment sting you to death. . .The drone of the planes is now like the sawing of a branch overhead. Round and round it goes, sawing and sawing at a branch directly above the house…A bomb drops. All the windows rattle.”

I could walk down to the park bluff to get closer, to see the “invasion” myself. But it’s easier to imagine the reality here in my kitchen than at the actual site.

From past experience, I know that the crowd of spectators sipping cold drinks and licking ice cream cones makes it difficult to imagine a real battle, where people kill and are killed. And the uniformed volunteers who portray the German and Allied soldiers of June 6, 1944, take so much obvious enjoyment in the weekend’s events that they prevent me from suspending my disbelief in the proceedings.

Last night, for example, we saw a man in full uniform riding through town in an open military Jeep. His posture, his heavy wool uniform on a hot summer afternoon, the jaunty tilt of his cap and the expression on his face as he suavely steered the vintage vehicle, said it all. He was so puffed up with the importance of his imaginary role in the upcoming “battle” that my companion and I turned to each other and laughed. Out loud.

Under the laughter, though, I recalled Virginia Woolf’s statement in Three Guineas (1938) that “wearing pieces of metal, or ribbon, coloured hoods or gowns, is a barbarity which deserves the ridicule which we bestow upon the rites of savages.”

My fear that some of those watching the events today may think that war is exciting, glorious, even fun, also prevents me from attending. I remember that in Three Guineas Woolf recognizes that “war is a profession; a source of happiness and excitement.”

And I read with dismay that as part of the event, children will build their own miniature Omaha Beach in the sand. I am not sure what to make of that.

It is true that veterans are recognized and honored at the events of this weekend in our small city. And a few remaining WW II vets in town have been interviewed for a commemorative DVD.

But I remember Woolf’s response to war, and I am forced to stop and think again. I recall the fear she shared in her diaries as she heard — and sometimes watched at close proximity — German planes fly over the Sussex countryside during the second World War. And I recall her plea for peace in “Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid.”

Those thoughts sound more loudly in my head than the airplanes. Or the gunfire. Or the explosions on the beach. And Woolf says such thoughts are more powerful than all three.

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Editor’s Note: This commentary and photo were contributed by Suzanne Bellamy who exhibited her painting, “Woolf and the Chaucer Horse,” at the 21st Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf.

"Woolf and the Chaucer Horse" by Suzanne Bellamy

The research

Researching illuminated manuscripts and Psalters opened the vision of the written page to the visual world that has always been there for me in Woolf as a reader. The page drips with image and interaction with other form, and as a writer of that tradition she embodies that now invisible world. Woolf says in ANON that the printing press ultimately took that rich layered other dimension away, but she is still soaked in it in her visual invocations, in her synaesthesic imagination.

The painting

I started working on the painting as I was reading the scholarship around Between The Acts, the late 1930s and Woolf’s last writings. Seeing her riding on Chaucer’s horse, as the Chaucer of her times, came visually first, then all else flowed from that. The Chaucerian trope of the stories wrapped within the journey infuses all Woolf’s work, as also in the essayistic form itself, street haunting being an expression of the pilgrim’s way.

The painting is as much an illuminated manuscript as a map… as a collage of layered memory, where everything happens and all at the same time, as in the novel. In harmony with the 1930s’ rural revivalism and sensitivity to possible loss of cultural heritage, the spirit of continuity is challenged by the threat from the planes and the coming war. But the land itself holds the dream of a common culture which is soaked in Nature and wild forms, animals birds, structures and sounds.

Some images swirled around in my head for weeks but never made it onto the canvas much as I tried to force the issue. The old wall and the ladder, the horse with the green tail, Sohrab the dog, the greenhouse, Mrs. Swithin’s hammer, and also Mrs. Swithin’s criss-cross letter (a term from ancient manuscripts), imps, elves, demons and mirrors, all the flowers, cars, the barn, the pub, the megaphone, Giles feeling chained to a rock, the white lady — those never made it but are in there somehow.

But the stegasaurus and the mammoth made it, and the fossils, the Roman roads, the planes, the pond, the house (taken from Vita Sackville-West’s book on English Country Houses), the cows, the Ouse and the map of the Sussex coast, and then the Celtic maze which held it all together. The maze, the Chaucerian horse, and the lines of the Prologue were the moments that gave it all a structure. The idea that words came from hearing birdsong drawn from the core of the maze holds the centre.

There are several examples of doubling and tripling images, as for example with the Uffington White Horse, the Guernica Horse and the Chaucer Horse. Also with the Circle of Birds and the formation of Lancaster Bombers over the English Channel, as contrary formations. The South Downs, the coastline, the map of Sussex, Lewes and Rodmell, the River Ouse and tributaries, prehistory, mastodons, cars and Roman roads, images improvised from medieval illuminated manuscripts. I used the Oxford Ellesmere text for the five lines of the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales. Copying those five lines straight onto the canvas from the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, from the online Oxford site of the Ellesmere text, was a deep thrill.

The exhibit

The painting, which measures two by four metres, was planned to act as a set canvas behind the pageant performance, but that proved to be technically impossible. In the end it hung in the Bute Hall below the stained glass windows, close to the window of Chaucer. The light streamed through the image of Woolf on her horse, the Chaucer of her times, and all was well.

More coverage of the 21st Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf on Blogging Woolf:

  

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I watched the PBS Masterpiece adaptation of Winifred Holtby’s South Riding this spring, and while it was an interesting, entertaining and well-produced drama, I felt—as I often do with film adaptations—that a lot was missing.

To assure audience attention and satisfaction, novels tend to be reduced to their most skeletal elements, romance and overt conflict. With any luck the film will remain essentially faithful to the book, but what you see may not be what it’s really about.

I knew Holtby—a champion of women’s rights and an advocate for social justice—from Vera Brittain’s Testament of Friendship, and of course as an early biographer of Virginia Woolf, but I’d never read her fiction. South Riding was her last novel, published posthumously in 1936 and considered her greatest work.

There was enough in the mini-series to convince me that there was a lot more going on than Sarah Burton’s unrequited love for Robert Carne, so I checked the book out of the library. I found it an engrossing saga, pursuing a number of complex and overlapping storylines. The relationship between Sarah, the new liberal high school principal (“schoolmistress”), and Carne, a conservative farmer with a long family history in the region, is just one of them.

It’s more about community and local government—the good, the bad and the ugly. Holtby’s mother had been a council member, known as aldermen (alderwomen? alderpersons?—no such acknowledgment was deemed necessary at the time) in the Yorkshire town where she was raised, so Holtby had a front-seat view.

One of the main characters in South Riding is Alderman Mrs. Beddows, the only woman on the council and a voice of reason and compassion. The council’s decisions, their impact on various constituencies, the greed and self-interest, bargaining and buying of votes and other shenanigans taking place behind closed doors—are little different from what we see today in all branches of government.

Virginia Woolf gets a provocative mention when we read about Arthur Thomas Drew, a character who “did business round about Kiplington in a small way, but he did moral censorship in quite a large one.” He thought all modern novels belonged in the public incinerator: Aldous Huxley was a “disgusting pervert,” Naomi Mitchison “not fit for a lunatic asylum,” and Virginia Woolf a “morbid degenerate.” When challenged, he would say, “No, I’ve not read it all through, but I know enough.”

Woolf and Holtby met once in 1931 while Holtby was writing Virginia Woolf: A Critical Memoir. In her introductory note, she states that Woolf did not authorize the book or read the manuscript; that she asked only that Holtby “treat her work with the candour and impartiality applied by critics to the writings of the dead.”

Woolf, however, wrote to Ethel Smyth, expressing annoyance that Holtby was going to Smyth to verify facts. “Why doesn’t she send the biography straight to me … after all I’m the chief authority… Why she should impute such delicacy to me I can’t imagine. And she is far too kind, gentle, and well meaning to hurt a hair on the hinder leg of a fly” (Letter #2429, 6 Sept. 1931).

Indeed, Holtby expressed high praise for Woolf’s writing, calling To the Lighthouse “one of the most beautiful novels written in the English language.” She was disappointed in The Waves, however, and predicted a limited audience for future work, in spite of ranking Woolf beyond any other living writer and placing her “beside the work of the great masters.”

It is reported that Woolf wrote to Holtby in 1935 and asked if she would write an autobiography for Hogarth Press. I don’t find it among the collected letters—is there any record of it? Holtby declined, as she was not well and was writing South Riding at the time; she died shortly after its completion.

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