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Archive for January, 2020

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the publication of Virginia Woolf’s second novel, Night and Day. It also marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment in the U.S.

Fittingly enough, both deal with women’s struggle to obtain the right to vote.

While Woolf’s novel has often been overlooked, it is currently receiving the recognition it deserves. Nowadays it is described as “a remarkable story of two women navigating the possibilities opened up by the struggle for women’s suffrage.”

Reading and discussing Night and Day

In September of last year, Anne Fernald, professor of English and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Fordham University, led a reading group on Virginia Woolf and E. M. Forster at the Center for Fiction in Brooklyn that featured novelists Julie Orringer and Michael Cunningham discussing Night and Day.

Read Lauren Groff’s Introduction to Night and Day, which is included in the 100th anniversary edition of the novel, available from Restless Books.

According to Restless Books, the new edition of Woolf’s novel is part of a “series of beautifully packaged, newly introduced and illustrated great books from the past that still speak to our time, our place, and, especially, our restlessness. In addition to their original artwork and fresh introductions, Restless Classics brings the classroom experience to the reader with linked online teaching videos.”

Night and Day in conversation

You can also sit in on last year’s discussion of the novel held at the Brooklyn Center for Fiction by watching the video below.

In addition, “Night and Day at 100” was the topic of the International Virginia Woolf Society‘s guaranteed panel at the Modern Language Association Convention 2019. It addressed the question: What is the twenty-first century legacy of Woolf’s “nineteenth-century” novel?

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Today would be Virginia Woolf’s 138th birthday. Garrison Keillor features her in today’s “The Writer’s Almanac,” a nice tribute.

But the most high profile tribute on the occasion of her birthday was in 2018, when she was honored by a Google Doodle. Created by London-based illustrator Louise Pomeroy, it generated a lot of publicity for Woolf, prompting a variety of birthday greetings from around the globe.

Links to a few from that year and others are below, along with Keillor’s 2020 tribute.

Jan. 25, 2018 Google Doodle in commemoration of Woolf’s 136th birthday

 

  • In 2017, the Royal Opera House asked for reader reactions to Woolf’s work in conjunction with Wayne McGregor’s ballet Woolf Works.
  • In 2018, the LA Times memorialized Woolf in a long article that included this sentence: “A pioneer of stream-of-conciousness writing, Woolf left behind an endlessly influential body of work,” the LA Times in 2018.
  • That same year, The Independent published Woolf quotes that pertained to various aspects of life.
  • Book Trib celebrated with previews of her 10 greatest works.
  • Last year, CR Fashion Book asked us to “Remember when Virginia Woolf Taught Us How to Get the Girl?”
  • Also in 2018, Time magazine uploaded a brief video on Woolf titled, “Today Is Virginia Woolf’s 136th Birthday: Here’s What You Should Know About Her.”

Birthday wishes from the past on Blogging Woolf

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The New York Times is calling Virginia Woolf a fashion muse. Why? Three reasons.

Reason 1: She inspired the Met’s Costume Institute exhibit

She is the inspiration for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s coming Costume Institute blockbuster and gala, “About Time: Fashion and Duration.” The May 7 – Sept. 7 exhibit explores how clothes generate temporal associations that conflate past, present, and future, with Woolf serving as the “ghost narrator” of the exhibition, according to the Met’s website. It will feature 160 pieces of women’s fashion from the last 150 years, and beyond.

Reason 2: She inspired an opera

Her novel Orlando is the basis of a new production at the Vienna State Opera that premiered Dec. 8, 2019, with costumes by Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons. Fittingly, its the first opera commissioned by a woman composer in the 150-year history of the company. As Kawakubo said in The New York Times, “And also I have always been interested in Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury circle and “Orlando” in particular because of its central concept of ignoring time and gender.”

Reason 3: She inspired a Givenchy couture show

Her garden at Monk’s House, her relationship with Vita Sackville-West, and Orlando were the inspiration for Clare Waight Keller’s Givenchy couture show this week in Paris.

Woolf and contemporary fashion

Woolf’s connection to the fashion world is nothing new. Over the years she has inspired designers on both sides of the pond. Here are a few worth noting:

Woolf’s relationship to fashion

Woolf herself had a complicated relationship with clothing and fashion, one that has been much discussed in academic settings and online.

Catherine Gregg explores this theme in her Bloomsbury Heritage monograph Virginia Woolf and ‘Dress Mania’: ‘the eternal & insoluble question of clothes’ (2010). In it, she discusses Woolf’s “delight in clothes and interest in conceptions of fashion and femininity” as well as her sense of being an outsider when it came to fashion, as well as her loathing for its artifice (7).

More on Woolf and fashion

Since we started looking, we have noticed numerous references that connect to the topic of Woolf and fashion. Some are documented in the following posts:

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Five radical women writers living in a square in a London neighborhood. The square is Mecklenburgh. The neighborhood is Bloomsbury. And one of the women writers is Virginia Woolf.

The book that tells the story of the five independent women writers who lived in Mecklenburgh Square at various times between the two world wars is Francesca Wade’s Square Haunting: Five Women, Freedom and London Between the Wars, just published by Faber & Faber.

Besides Woolf, the women Wade discusses include detective novelist Dorothy Sayers, modernist poet Hilda Doolittle (known as HD), the maverick classicist Jane Ellen Harrison, and the economic historian Eileen Power.

The publisher’s website describes the book this way:

Francesca Wade’s spellbinding group biography explores how these trailblazing women pushed the boundaries of literature, scholarship, and social norms, forging careers that would have been impossible without these rooms of their own.

And one reviewer called Woolf “The presiding genius of this original and erudite book,” describing her “essay ‘A Room of One’s Own’ [as] provided the rallying cry, whether consciously or not, for five remarkable women, all drawn at some point in their careers to Bloomsbury’s Mecklenburgh Square.”

Glowing reviews

I plan to obtain a copy of Square Haunting and review it here. After all, Mecklenburgh Square has a special meaning for me, as it is one of the Woolf sites I visited in 2016 when Cecil Woolf, Virginia and Leonard’s nephew who passed away last June, led me on a six-mile walking tour of Bloomsbury. It was a most memorable day.

For now, though, here are a few quotes from the glowing reviews of Wade’s first book that have already been published online.

Wade’s book rises above the publishing cliches to tell a deeper story about women’s autonomy in the early 20th century, about their work and education, politics and activism. What emerges is an eloquent, pellucid, sometimes poignant study of five female intellectuals, each of whom disdained convention to fulfil their potential as thinkers and writers. – Review by Johanna Thomas-Corr, The Guardian

It is a pleasure to fall into step with the eloquent, elegant Wade as she stamps the streets of literary London. I would give a copy to every young woman graduating from university and wondering who and how to be … There is much to inspire. – The Times Literary Supplement

Wade is adept at evoking the gritty texture of the times, taking us seamlessly from the interior lives of her subjects into the world they inhabited and back again. – Ariane Bankes, Spectator

The site of the building in Mecklenburgh Square in which Virginia Woolf lived. Cecil and I paused here during our 2016 tour of Bloomsbury.

 

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“Shakespeare’s Sisters” is an essay in Rachel Cusk’s 2019 collection, Coventry (and the first one I turned to, for obvious reasons). She begins by asking, “Can we, in the twenty-first century, identify something that could be called ‘women’s writing’?”

In that context she discusses The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir and Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. “Between them,” she says, “they shaped the discourse of twentieth-century women’s writing,”

War vs. feelings

Eighty years later, as Cusk sees it, “a book about war is still judged more important than a book about ‘the feelings of women.’ Most significantly, when a woman writes a book about war she is lauded: she has eschewed the vast unlit chamber and the serpentine caves; there is the sense that she has made proper use of her room and her money, her new rights of property.

The woman writer who confines herself to her female ‘reality’ is by the same token often criticized. She appears to have squandered her room, her money.”

Just another women’s novel

Men have always written about the female experience–Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina come immediately to mind, as well as a number of novels by contemporary authors. I’ve seen some of these works praised to the skies, touted as the latest incarnation of the great American novel. Yet, still, too frequently, the women creating these novels are dismissed as writing just another woman’s novel.

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The road to the ERA leads to Virginia, including Virginia Woolf. For although it was the state of Virginia that today became the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, Virginia Woolf would surely approve.

When I read that news less than an hour ago, tears came to my eyes. If I hadn’t been at work, I probably would have let them fall. But I restrained myself and took to social media and this blog instead.

What happened today has been a long time coming. The ERA has a long history. It was nearly 100 years ago that Alice Paul crafted the amendment, which was first introduced in Congress in 1923 and subsequently reintroduced in every congressional session for half a century.

And the fight is not yet over. A Facebook friend who is also an attorney explained,

Now the legal battles begin. An opposing group has already filed for an injunction to prevent presentation to Congress based on the deadline. They will also say it is just plain too late, that the whole thing must start over. Proponents argue that the deadline was arbitrary, singular and an unconstitutional part of the process, inserted separately after the body of the Amendment was passed in an effort to scuttle it, and that a different Amendment (27) was ratified after 200 years of dormancy. Several red states that voted to rescind their ratification will also challenge, but there is no mention in the Constitution of a rescission process, only reversal as happened with Prohibition, plus, wouldn’t it be too late for that, too? (There are efforts in Congress to remove the deadline retroactively but, doubtful that will happen with this Congress. ) WHEW! I hope I am around to see a successful conclusion to an issue I have worked on for so long. And maybe even a woman President.

Meanwhile, thanks to the state of Virginia, Alice Paul, and all who came after her, including Virginia Woolf, whose feminist polemic A Room of One’s Own (1928) is part of the canon that propels us forward toward full equality.

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In England? Near Cambridge? Then you might be able to attend one or both of these talks on Virginia Woolf, presented by Literature Cambridge and Lucy Cavendish College. Here are the details:

Woolf and The Waves

Tuesday, 4 February, 1 p.m.: Rute Costa on ‘All is rippling, all is dancing’: Adapting The Waves into performance.  Founders’ Room, Lucy
Cavendish College, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, England.

Woolf and Katherine Mansfield

Tuesday, 10 March, 1 p.m.: Clare Nicholson, Literature Cambridge and
ICE, The Ambivalent Friendship of Virginia Woolf and Katherine
Mansfield: ‘A Public of Two’. Venue: Wolfson Room, Lucy Cavendish
College, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, England.

Both talks are free and open to all, town and gown.

A table full of Literature Cambridge T-shirts and information as students check in for one of the program’s 2019 summer courses. Literature Cambridge offers two new courses, Woolf’s Women and Reading the 1920s, this July.

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