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Archive for July 18th, 2019

A Room of One’s Own. We have read it. We have discussed it. We have been inspired by it. But today 23 of us got an up-close view of Virginia Woolf’s original draft manuscript for the book. Now you can, too, thanks to Leonard Wool and the Fitzwilliam Museum.

At the Fitzwilliam

Leonard Woolf donated a large piece of the manuscript to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge in 1942, after the museum’s director requested that Leonard give the institution something related to Virginia’s work. But because it was wartime, the manuscript lay neglected for nearly 50 years.

Titled “Women & Fiction,” it is the first draft of the book Woolf would eventually call A Room of One’s Own, and it has two other connections with Cambridge. The book had its origins in two talks on women and fiction that Woolf gave at Newnham and Girton Colleges in Cambridge in October 1928. And a lunch Woolf ate in Dadie Rylands’ room at King’s College inspired the luncheon scene in the first chapter of the book.

Background of the manuscript

Our visit to the Fitzwilliam to view Woolf’s manuscript was today’s outing for the Literature Cambridge course on Virginia Woolf’s Gardens. Dr. Trudi Tate, director of the course, shared some of the book’s background.

Dr. Trudi Tate

”Woolf worked incredibly quickly on this book, so fast, in fact, that she found it difficult to read her own handwriting when she had to type it up,” Tate said.

”As Beth Daugherty tells us, she wrote a huge amount of the book in two months, March and April 1929. She began to create the book in her mind when she was lying in bed, recovering from illness. She drafted it rapidly, in ‘one of my excited outbursts of composition’ (Diary 3, 218-19),” Tate explained.

Significance of the manuscript

The manuscript’s significance as the working draft for A Room of One’s Own was not recognised by scholars until the 1990s, according to the Fitzwilliam’s website.

At that time, S.P. Rosenbaum published a full transcription (1992). In his introduction, he gives details of Woolf’s lectures at the Cambridge colleges and traces the text’s evolution — from talks to magazine article to feminist polemic in book form.

The 20 pages from chapter three of the manuscript that are not part of the Fitzwilliam document are preserved separately in the Monks House Papers at the University of Sussex.

Creative process of the book

Tate detailed how Woolf’s writing process for Room included several stage of creation:

  1. the lectures, including the “Women & Fiction” essay and the “Women in Fiction” draft viewed at the Fitzwilliam
  2. A Room of One’s Own typescript
  3. A proof copy of the book
  4. The first published edition of the book, published by the Hogarth Press in Britain and Harcourt Brace in the U.S. in 1929.

Digitized version available online

The digitised version of the manuscript that was once on display at the Fitzwilliam as part of the museum’s past exhibition “Virginia Woolf: an exhibition inspired by her writings” is available online. View the entire manuscript on the Fitzwilliam Museum website.

A side view of Virginia Woolf’s manuscript of “Women & Fiction,” which was the first draft of “A Room of One’s Own.”

The cover of Woolf’s draft manuscript for “Women & Fiction”

Page one of the manuscript, with Woolf’s own edits. Note: This page is the same color as the others but the lighting makes it look lighter.

Page seven of the manuscript with Woolf’s edits and margin notes

Page 12 of the manuscript

Each student in the Literature Cambridge course Virginia Woolf’s Gardens was able to view the manuscript up close and take photos of it.

After learning about the manuscript and viewing it, the students in the Literature Cambridge course from countries including Japan, Italy, Germany, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, India, the UK, and the U.S., took turns reading the first chapter of “A Room of One’s Own” aloud.

Some of the 23 students in the Literature Cambridge course on Virginia Woolf’s Gardens

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