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Archive for November, 2019

Since I am currently studying in Canterbury, it would be unthinkable for me, Virginia Woolf’s admirer and scholar, not to visit St. Ives, the mythic place that inspired the most of Virginia Woolf’s novels, but particularly Jacob’s Room, To the Lighthouse and The Waves.

Talland House

My own exploration of the site has been inspired by Ratha Tep’s Back to the lighthouse: In search of Virginia Woolf’s lost Eden in Cornwall” that appeared in The New York Times on Feb. 26, 2018.

However, as I and my husband chose to visit St. Ives at the very beginning of November, the weather conditions did not permit us to see all the places we had longed to see.

From London to St. Erth

We started our journey to St. Ives early on Friday morning and after we had arrived in London, we boarded the Great Western Service from London to St. Erth.

Surprisingly, the five-hour journey turned out to be quite tolerable, thanks to the comfortable service and a good read (Woolf’s Orlando). How different, longer and more uncomfortable the Stephens’ journey must have been at the turn of the 20th century, with all the luggage and servants packed for their summer stay in Talland House!

In St. Erth we had to change for a local service running to St. Ives, a beautiful scenic ride alongside the Cornish coast.

In St. Ives

We arrived in St. Ives around 6 p.m. and made our way up the hill to our B&B that I had chosen due to its location with a view of The Island with St. Nicholas Chapel and Godrevy Lighthouse – the lighthouse!

Although we found a lot of useful information about tourist attractions in St. Ives and its surroundings in a folder in our room, the official guide booklet did not mention Virginia Woolf and the Stephens as famous residents of the town.

The view from our window – Godrevy Lighthouse in the distance
The view of the Island and St. Nicholas Chapel

Exploring the town

The following day, which was extremely windy, we started our exploration of the town. In spite of the construction of modern buildings, numerous hotels and other vacation accommodation, the spirit of the old town from the Stephens’ days was still noticeable – crooked hilly streets in the centre, several churches and the incessant sound of breaking waves.

After hiking up to St. Nicholas Chapel, we visited Talland House, which is located right above the local railway station and which is nowadays, unfortunately, encircled by quite ugly blocks of summer apartments. Luckily, the house is now in the hands of Chris and Angela Roberts who try to renovate the house and re-create the garden in its original spirit. You can read about their praiseworthy effort on a sign attached to the wall of the house.

Woolf talks about her father’s discovery of the house in “A Sketch of the Past” as follows:

Father on one of his walking tours, it must have been in 1881, I think – discovered St. Ives. He must have stayed there, and seen Talland House to let. He must have seen the town almost as it had been in the sixteenth century, without hotels, or villas; and the Bay as it had been since time began. It was the first year, I think, that the line was made from St Erth to St Ives – before that, St Ives was eight miles from a railway. Munching his sandwiches up at Trengenna perhaps, he must have been impressed, in his silent way, by the beauty of the Bay; and thought: this might do for your summer holiday, and worked out with his usual caution ways and means.

Main shopping street in the town centre
Talland House – the steps below the left French window are those where the Stephens used to take their family photo
Sign about the current owners’ aim for Talland House garden
Talland House garden

View from the garden

Even though the house is not opened to the public to admire its Victorian beauties, we were still able to appreciate the view from the garden – Godrevy Lighthouse in the distance, which made Leslie Stephen move his London household to St. Ives every summer until 1894. We visited the garden in an inappropriate season so we could not see its blooming flowers.

However, we were able to see the steps below the left French window of the house where the family used to sit and have their family pictures taken. Moreover, the window directly makes you think of the window from the novel To the Lighthouse which symbolised the distance and seemingly impassable boundary between the house and the lighthouse, or the private life of the family and the outside.

Quite surprisingly, despite the distance from the ocean, the breaking of waves was still audible from the garden of Talland House, as well as from our hotel room, with the same intensity as Woolf describes in the following quotation from “A Sketch of the Past”:

If life has a base that it stands upon, if it is a bowl that one fills and fills and fills – then my bowl without a doubt stands upon this memory. It is of lying asleep, half awake, in bed in the nursery at St Ives. It is of hearing the waves breaking, one, two, one, two, and sending a splash of water over the beach; and then breaking, one, two, one, two, behind a yellow blind.

The view of the Lighthouse from Talland House garden

The fact that Woolf places this memory of St Ives and at the base of her life-experience bowl reveals how much she was influenced by the place. As she mentions later in the same memoir, “In retrospect nothing that we had as children made as much difference, was quite so important to us, as our summers in Cornwall”, by which she admits the formative effect of the Stephens’ holidays on the Cornish coast. It was so overwhelming to stand in front of the house to which Woolf pays tribute in To the Lighthouse, but sadly, without being able to talk to the Stephens.

To the lighthouse . . . sort of

The following day we decided to pursue James’s childish wish to visit the lighthouse. Owing to windy weather conditions and rough sea we were forced to abandon the idea of making a boat trip and we went by bus to Upton Towans (line T2 for those who would like to do the same) and from there we followed the Coastal Path to Godrevy Beach and the headland providing the best view of Godrevy Lighthouse.

The scenery along the path was astonishing and it was exciting to approach closer and closer the lighthouse which is the main source of the novel’s symbolism. The inner voice in my head was repeating Mr. Ramsay’s excuse “It won’t be fine” and Nancy’s and Lily’s concern about “What does one send to the Lighthouse?”

When we got to the closest viewpoint on the mainland, we sat on a bench and observed waves breaking on the little island’s shore. It is a pity that today you cannot see the lighthouse’s rotating “yellow eye” because it has been replaced by LED light mounted on a platform nearby the original lighthouse.

I must frankly admit that after two days of harsh wind and rain, after getting soaked while watching seals in a cove, I started to be more sympathetic to Mr. Ramsay’s scathing sentence “It won’t be fine” – was he just the more rational one? Did my own journey to the lighthouse reconcile me with the man?

Coastal path to Godrevy Lighthouse
Godrevy Lighthouse

I would recommend visiting St. Ives to all those who are deeply in love with Virginia Woolf and her writing because it is great to get a sense of the place that I had been imagining in my head for at least a decade.

More Cornish coast magic to explore

Unfortunately, we did not have time to visit surrounding villages such as Zennor where Woolf lived when she returned to the town as an adult woman. I am convinced that this visit to St. Ives is not our last one and that we will continue exploring the magic of the Cornish coast and landscape. We definitely need to make a boat trip from St. Ives to the lighthouse, which must be really enjoyable in the summer.

 

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Literature Cambridge runs an intensive summer course on Woolf every year in July. In 2020, from July 19-24, the course will explore Woolf’s Women.

Students in Literature Cambridge’s Virginia Woolf’s Gardens course in July 2019 visit the Fitzwilliam Museum.

Women as Woolf’s characters

The course will look at some of her fascinating women characters, such as Mrs. Dalloway and her daughter; Mrs. Ramsay and Lily in To the Lighthouse, plus the intriguing figure of Orlando, who leads us to wonder: What is a woman, to Woolf?

Women in Woolf’s life

And what about the women in Woolf’s life who were so important to her writing: her mother Julia Stephen, her sister Vanessa Bell; friends such as writer Katherine Mansfield and composer Ethel Smyth; lover Vita Sackville-West; plus scholars such as Jane Harrison and Janet Case?

What did Woolf think about women and education, and the women’s colleges at Cambridge, in A Room of One’s Own?

Walks, talks and visits

The course, held at the University of Cambridge, will visit the two original women’s colleges, Girton and Newnham, where Woolf gave talks in 1928 which became A Room of One’s Own in 1929. There will be a visit to the Fitzwilliam Museum to see the original manuscript of this ground-breaking book, with a talk by Claire Nicholson.

There will be a rich program of lectures, seminars, supervisions (tutorials), walks, talks, and visits to places of interest in Cambridge. Teachers include: Gillian Beer, Claire Davison, Alison Hennegan, Karina Jakubowicz, Isobel Maddison, Trudi Tate, Claudia Tobin, and Clare Walker Gore.

Marion Dell of the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain and an expert on Woolf’s family history will give a talk on Julia Stephen. Susan Sellers will read from her acclaimed novel about Woolf and her sister, Vanessa and Virginia. And much more.

Readings for the course

  • Mrs Dalloway (1925)
  • To the Lighthouse (1927)
  • Orlando (1928)
  • A Room of One’s Own (1929)
  • Between the Acts (1941)

Discounts are available for members of recognized literary societies; and for CAMcard holders. To request a booking form: https://www.literaturecambridge.co.uk/bookings

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This is the second in a new series of posts that will offer a global perspective on Woolf studies, as proposed by Stefano Rozzoni at the 29th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf. If you would like to contribute to this series, please contact Blogging Woolf at bloggingwoolf@yahoo.com.

Veronika Geyerová presenting at the 29th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf at Mount St. Joseph University

When I saw Stefano Rozzoni’s idea about sharing our experience concerning the 29th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf, I thought that it might be a good way to express my feelings and gratefulness for the great and enriching moments I experienced at Mount St. Joseph University. I would also like to share a few facts about Woolf studies in the Czech Republic as it may sound ”exotic” to some people that Woolf is studied even there.

On the Woolf trail

I started to be a Woolf enthusiast early at grammar school and I decided to pursue my passion for literature at the University of South Bohemia in Budweis where I studied English philology and French philology. I wrote my BA and MA thesis on Woolf and her conception of time and because my longing for knowledge had not been satisfied by then, I decided to continue as a PhD student at Charles University in Prague.

I have just finished the second year of my study in which I again focus on Woolf. In particular, my dissertation deals with material objects and reality in her fiction from the non-dualist perspective of process philosophy.

Unfortunately, I was too scared to submit an abstract for last year’s conference but this year I decided to summon up courage and bingo – my paper was accepted!

As a Woolf conference newbie

Understandably, I arrived at Mount St. Joseph and the Woolf conference pretty nervous because it was my first time in the US and also my premiere in front of the Woolf community. For that reason I really appreciated Drew Shannon’s introductory talk on the first day when he was saying that he felt he was a complete ”misfit” during his first contact with the community – so did I!

However, my worries and nervousness dissolved as soon as I got to know a few people and I understood that the community is incredibly openhearted and welcoming in the Whiteheadian sense – “the many become one and are increased by one.” Moreover, I started to feel like “a fish in water” (as we say in Czech) because I finally met people who are sincerely passionate about the same subject like me.

After I had given my talk, I felt even more relaxed and was able to enjoy the lively atmosphere of the conference. To be honest, I was astonished at the range of topics related to Woolf that were presented at the conference. In addition, It was so refreshing to hear people draw parallels between Woolf and current issues like racism, LGBT community rights, the rising wave of populism all over the world (really, our Czech prezident Zeman and the Prime Minister are not much better than Trump), etc.

Meeting of the minds

Most of all, I wish to thank the organizers of the conference for a really smooth and extremely well-prepared event and for the given opportunity to present my work in front of the people whose feedback is invaluable for me. Thanks to the conference, I have met a lot of wonderful scholars whom I had wanted to meet in person and whose papers and books I read and I highly respect (I do not want to name anyone).

I am also really pleased with a positive feedback on my current research from those who take pleasure in reading literature through the philosophical lens. Indeed, I am more motivated to continue in my research than before the conference because I can see that it is worth being a part or such an inspiring and extraordinary community.

Woolf and Modernism in the Czech Republic

As I have promised, I would also like to provide an insight into Woolf studies in the Czech Republic. Woolf is, of course, a part of obligatory reading at high schools and particularly at English Literature departments at most Czech universities. She is often the author whom BA and MA students choose for their theses.

I was lucky because I studied under an excellent and (not only) modernist scholar Martin Hilský who has written many essays and even one monograph on modernism. His wife Kateřina Hilská is a prominent Czech translator and she is the author of most Czech translantions of Woolf’s novels, diaries and short stories. Thanks to her magnificent translations, Woolf is quite popular with Czech readers. Nevertheless, this modernist author remains one of those artists who are either adored or rejected (from my own experience, even my university colleagues call her a “hyper-sensitive woman” or “suicidal bitch”). 

Woolf in translation — or not

Obviously, Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse are Woolf’s most known novels in the Czech Republic. However, some novels, for example Night and Day or The Years, have not been translated into Czech yet. On the contrary, my favourite novel The Waves has been translated into Czech, although it is extremely difficult for both the translator and for the reader.

Quite interestingly (a note for my conference colleague Natalia), the Czech edition of Orlando and Three Guineas do not include photos. Unfortunately, there is no official Woolf society in the Czech Republic, which is a pity and something that should be improved in the future. As a result, I have joined the International Virginia Woolf Society last month.

I would like to end my post with personal experience from entrance exams to one of Czech PhD English Literature programmes. At the entrance interview I was introducing my dissertation proposal on Woolf and material reality in her fiction and although I had great recommendation from the previous study and excellent study results,

I was rejected on the basis of choosing Woolf for my research. The committee basically told me that she is a kind of “exploited” author, they asked me about the novelty of my research and recommended opting for another author and apply again the following year. I guess that you can imagine my disappointment after I had been told that I could not study the only author that I really want to study in depth.

Why I read Woolf

I cannot resist saying that Woolf is someone very dear and special to me because she sometimes speaks from the depths of my heart. I strongly believe that this is also the only prerequisite for a successful and lasting academic work. Although Woolf has been discussed by a great number of scholars and from countless points of view, I reckon that every individual response to Woolf is unique and contributes to the vast already existing scholarship.

In my opinion, the talks and presentations given at the conference just prove it and moreover, they justify Woolf’s stable and relevant position among contemporary writers (who are often given preference because they guarantee “novelty” and “originality”).

For this reason, I would like to express my gratefulness to my supervisor Ladislav Nagy, who has always encouraged me in studying Woolf, for giving me the ideas about the philosophical background of my research and for letting me explore the themes that I am interested in without imposing any limitations.

Struggle of the humanities

The sad incident described above undeniably stems from the humanities’ struggle for money and the government’s urge to turn them into ”hard science” (especially in the Czech Republic there is a general tendency to debase the humanities in favour of natural science and technology studies). Hopefully, literary scholarship will survive and flourish thanks to the passionate group of scholars such as Woolf’s community whose motto might be Woolf’s quote from A Room of One’s Own:

Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.

 

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I have one foot in each of two literary worlds–Virginia Woolf and creative nonfiction–and am always pleased when I find crossover between the two, as in this remembrance of Louise DeSalvo in Brevity: “Losing Louise, Finding Joy: The Death of a Mentor and the Afterlife of Her Legacy.”

She died Oct. 31, 2018, in Montclair, N.J., at the age of 76.

 

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Kind. Gentle. Tough. Those were the words used to describe Cecil Woolf in the Camden New Journal story reporting on the Oct. 19 memorial service held in his honor at St. Peter’s Church in Belgravia, London.

Cecil Woolf and Jean Moorcroft Wilson at their home in London, June 2017.

About 150 friends, relatives, colleagues, and admirers attended the service for Cecil, the oldest living relative of Virginia and Leonard Woolf, who died June 10 in London at the age of 92.

Claire Nicholson, chair of the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain, and Vivien Whelpton of the War Poets Association spoke, as did his widow, Jean Moorcroft Wilson. Each recalled Cecil’s work as a a gentleman, a publisher, and an advocate for social justice.

More memorials in print

Issue 95, the Spring/Summer 2019 issue of the International Virginia Woolf Society’s Miscellany will include a special section devoted to Cecil.

In addition, a paper based on the panel “The Woolfs, Bloomsbury, and Social Justice: Cecil Woolf Monographs Past and Present,” which was presented at the 29th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf, has been accepted for publication in the two-volume conference proceedings. Published by Clemson University Press, each volume will include 16 essays.

Retitled “The Woolfs, Bloomsbury, and Social Justice: the Ongoing Legacy of Cecil Woolf Publishers as an Advocate for Social Justice,” the paper will be co-written by:

  • Karen Levenback (Franciscan Monastery). Introduction to Cecil Woolf Publishers
  • Lois Gilmore (Bucks County Community College), “A Legacy of Social Justice in Times of War and Peace.”
  • Paula Maggio (Blogging Woolf), “Cecil Woolf Publishers: Using the Power of the Press to Advocate for Peace.”
  • Todd Avery (University of Massachusetts, Lowell), “Just Lives of the Obscure: Cecil Woolf, Biography, and Social Justice.”
  • Vara Neverow (Southern Connecticut State University) Respondent

This photo of Cecil Woolf as a young lance-corporal fighting in Italy in the Second World War was used on the cover of the Order of Service at his Oct. 19 memorial service.

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