One was intentional; the other was serendipity. In his review of my monograph, Beyond the Icon: Virginia Woolf in Contemporary Fiction, for the Bulletin of the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain, Stephen Barkway noted one of my omissions, Wise Virgin by A.N. Wilson, published in 1982.
As I told Stephen, I’m the first one to acknowledge that my list is far from complete, but I’m always eager to rectify that and continue to amass Woolf references, old and new.
So I read Wise Virgin and found a fascinating story of a father and daughter, overly dependent on each other, who embark on romances that help them to separate and spread their wings. The daughter, 17-year-old Tibba, fantasizes about fictional characters and their authors, especially Woolf and the Bloomsberries. Her hero-worship comes up frequently in references to Woolf’s novels, imaginary conversations with Lytton Strachey, and the poster hanging in her room.
After she meets Piers Peverill, however, she looks back on her earlier behavior as a childish phase. “… the period, aeons since, at least three weeks before, when Virginia Woolf had been all in all to her. She had come to tire of the mannerisms of that genius, and to look about for another. Her heart was ready for a change. She now saw that even an arch-satirist could herself be satirized. One could laugh at The Waves…” Woolf as a rite of passage?
My next book was a complete departure, or so I thought, plucked off the “new fiction” shelf at my local library. Heft, a new novel by Liz Moore that I’d seen blurbed in the New York Times Book Review, turns out to be the story of two generations as well, in the characters of Arthur Opp, an obese house-bound academic, and Kel Keller, a baseball-obsessed teenager. The quirky characters and offbeat story are reminiscent of Anne Tyler.
Early in the novel Arthur describes his best friend, Marty Stein, whom he met as a graduate student at Columbia: “She was a year ahead of me, perpetually hunched over, scurrying from place to place like a mouse in glasses. It was Marty—expert on the work of Gertrude Stein, Djuna Barnes, Virginia Woolf; willfully and perhaps exaggeratedly ignorant about much of the rest of the canon—who got me a job at the college that became my home for nearly two decades.” Woolf as pigeonhole character marker!
Now, thanks to a VWoolf Listserv discussion of Roman à clef depictions of Bloomsbury, I’m reading David Garnett’s Aspects of Love.