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Archive for the ‘29th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf’ Category

This is the fifth 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.

By Sanita Fejzić

The 29th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, Ohio, was the first formal gathering of Woolf scholars I attended.

Virginia Woolf portrait by Mathieu Laca hanging above writer Sanita Fejzić

I am not a traditional ‘Woolf scholar’ because my speciality is broader and outside English Literature: I am a Ph.D. candidate in Cultural Studies at Queen’s University in Canada with a focus on the relationship between environmental ethics and cultural production (with an emphasis on the written word). Yet, Virginia Woolf permeates so much of my thinking. A Room of One’s Own (1929) was an initiation, a provocation, an intellectual opening into thinking-as-woman in the university setting, a site of intellectual and creative production denied to a young Woolf.

Turning to Woolf to understand queer identity

In a period of generalized homophobia and literary censorship (think of Radcliffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness) Virginia Woolf penned Orlando (1928) in honour of her lover, the aristocratic poet and novelist Vita Sackville-West. Vita’s son Nigel called it, “the longest and most charming love letter in literature.”

As a lesbian, it is impossible for me not to turn to Woolf for her depth of understanding of what it means to assert a queer identity in heteronormative societies. Her exquisite play-poem, The Waves, accurately portrays the seeming impossibility of establishing lesbian desire and sense of self precisely because identity is relational and constituted by power.

Critics are quick to point out that Rhoda is the most abstract character of The Waves (1931). Yet Rhoda’s extreme social timidity coupled with her sense of alienation, her very literary way of processing events and people, her inability to express herself and her eventual suicide are not mere abstractions. These are the material symptoms of a profound social sickness.

In The Waves the self is constituted by others, specifically six other petals of the flower that make up a group of friends (or in childhood, a nuclear family). There is a palpable sense of how characters co-create one another throughout the text. The self is also shaped by social institutions like the school, and other state apparatuses.

Rhoda, whose sexual attraction for Miss Lambert is stunted and repressed, never fully blossoms into lived experience. How can lesbian desire and sexuality emerge in public and intimate spaces that deny the very possibility of romantic and sexual love between women? That is why, as I have argued elsewhere, Rhoda’s suicide was a co-creative act, one that was precipitated by homophobic and sexist social circumstances.

Virginia Woolf’s understanding of the ways in which power subjugates women and in particular queer women was a scaffolding in the limitations (and stubborn necessity) of my will to invent what I desire. My MA thesis focused on Virginia Woolf even though its subject was transcorporeality (a posthumanist term coined by Stacey Alaimo to signify fluidity between bodies, human and nonhuman bodies as well as theoretical bodies) and more-than-human intersubjectivity.

The Waves and our place in the world

Because if many have pointed out that Woolf was a protofeminist, I would suggest she was also a proto-posthumanist. It is impossible to read To the Lighthouse (1927) or The Waves, for example, without contending with the entanglement between humans and what we call ‘nature,’ an umbrella term for animals (which includes us), plants, water, landscapes, climate and geography and all the other vibrant materialities we coexist with.

The Waves reminds us of our place in the world. Our lives are, on the grand scale of geological time, but a single note in the grand cosmic symphony we come in and out of, like a wave emerging, peaking and disappearing in a vast ocean of movement. Today, we know today that humans are a geological force responsible for climate change, mass species extinction, ocean acidification, unhealthy levels of toxicity in our bodies and nonhuman bodies, threatening our very own survival. Woolf never fully let us forget our entanglements with our organic and inorganic (yet lively) co-existents.

If Virginia Woolf wanted to see a modern fiction concerned with the soul, with our inner lives, abandoning old pillars including linear plot, marriage, comedy and the rest, her work was nonetheless deeply attuned to the impact of seemingly impersonal historical hands on private lives. Between the Acts (1941) is a testament to the ways in which humanity (an abstract concept we never experience outside of cognition) and its past continues to affect and shape our present and future.

This, I think, is the most pressing philosophical issue in our ecologically compromised times: how to contend with a humanist and Enlightened past in times when the very concept of ‘human as separate and autonomous from nature’ is under great tension.

Woolf a good starting point

It is my view that Virginia Woolf is as good a starting point to begin thinking about posthumanism as the work of Nietzsche, Foucault or Haraway. As anthropologist Marilyn Strathern reminds us, who we think with matters, and Woolf’s fiction and non-fiction are so rich in breadth and depth that her work is, as the French say, inconturbable. I often imagine that had Woolf been permitted into a university, she would have instinctively gravitated toward research-creation as her methodology, writing fiction starred with theory and theory taken by poetic will.

To continue to read her and to gather in her honour as we do at Woolf Conferences is to utter a loud, prolonged, mournful yet exalted howl—for everything she has given us and for all we have lost when she took her life.

Editor’s Note: From the age of 15 to 19, Woolf took classes in continental and English history, beginning and advanced Greek, intermediate Latin and German grammar at the King’s College Ladies’ Department. She also had private tutors in German, Greek and Latin. One of them was Clara Pater, sister of critic and essayist Walter Pater. Read more.

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Sanita Fejzić (at left in pink top) among the Woolf scholars at Cincinnati’s Mercantile Library during a reception at the 29th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf.

Woolf scholars at the Saturday night banquet for the 29th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati in June 2019.

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This is the fourth 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.

Editor’s Note: Feb. 1 is the deadline for the call for papers for the 30th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf: Profession and Performance, which will be held at the University of South Dakota in Vermilion, South Dakota June 11-14. Get the details.

By Profa. Dra. Maria Aparecida de Oliveira

The Woolf Conference happens in a friendly, warm and welcoming environment. It really enhances the sense of community. It is an international community of scholars from different parts of the globe to share knowledge on a writer we all love. The conference enriches our knowledge not only about Woolf, but also in relation to other writers and to different approaches, theories and tendencies.

Stefano Rozzoni of Italy and Maria Oliveira of Brazil at the 29th Annual International Virginia Woolf Conference at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, Ohio, June 6-9, 2019.

The great quality of papers forces and challenges us to do our best. Consequently, it helps us to improve our research. By following how famous scholars undertake their own researches, it teaches us new ways to develop our studies.

I joined the conference in 2011 in Glasgow and it has been such a huge pleasure, because it inspires my work and my research on Woolf. It has also been a great space for collaboration. I met many people to whom we have collaborated in different panels, projects and books.

Thinking against the current

The 29th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf aimed at discussing Virginia Woolf and Social Justice and was a great opportunity for us from Brazil to denounce the atrocities happening in our country under the administration of the current president, the unnameable.

Davi Pinho and I were thinking against the current and thinking back through Three Guineas to discuss our three dots: Education, LGBTQ+ and the Environment. That was only June and our situation has just been worse and worse, first fire in the Amazon, now an oil leak on the precious beaches of Northeast.

The conference was an invitation to think together about social justice, inclusivity, utopias and the future of humanities in our current political climate.

It must be emphasized that Brazil’s political situation is an effect of what is going on in the United States. So, we are together in this conference as sisters in solidarity, fighting and resisting the tyrants in power.

In what follows, I will present my view of the conference. Unfortunately, it is limited, because I could not attend all the panels, as I wished.

Woolf, age, ageism, and activism

Beth Rigel Daugherty, Leslie Hankins and Diane Gillespie presented a panel on “Portraying and Projecting Age, Ageism, and Activism” on day one.

The first panel I attended was “Portraying and Projecting Age, Ageism and Activism,” by Diane Gillespie, Leslie Hankins and Beth Daugherty, Woolf’s muses.  Diane Gillespie’s paper was a very interesting one, on Leonard and Woolf and Age/ism.  Leslie’s subject was about silent movies and the suffragette movement, it was an impressive panel, as always.

Following that, Beth Rigel Daugherty gave a very moving talk on “Virginia Woolf’s Aging Women and Me,” how Woolf’s novels are populated by women who struggle with the battle of aging – Mrs. Dalloway, Mrs. Ramsay, Miss La Trobe, Mrs. McNab, Lady Parry, the lady by the window – all of them losing their minds. The author reminds us that “aging is also a fight, a great battle on a daily basis.”

Woolf, African-American Modernism and Utopias

Sayaka Okumura of Japan and Maria Oliveira at the 29th Annual Conference on Virginia Woolf.

Elizabeth Abel in her brilliant lecture “The Smashed Mosaic: Virginia Woolf and African American Modernism” talked about Woolf in relation to James Baldwin’s A Biography. Again, utopia was the main issue when she discussed “Cruising Utopia: The then and the of Queerness Futurity.” She said that Queerness is our future and hope.

Abel stated: “Forget the room of one’s own, write in the kitchen, lock yourselves in the bathroom…” and I continue… write in the bus, in a library, in a café, in a garden, by the sea, in a forest, by the river… but write yourselves, inscribe your bodies in history.”

J. Ashley Foster gave an inspiring paper on “Three Guineas and Developing the Standing and Digital Humanities Exhibition Surveying Utopias: A Critical Exploration,” linking war and peace to a feminist and modernist pedagogy inspired by Woolf.

Foster brought up Jane Marcus to say that a feminist pedagogy allows us to navigate between past and present, a kind of communication that enables us to perceive history in a different way. How can feminism construct another plot for history, social justice and hope? In this case, utopia is more than necessary.

Woolf, #MeToo, and suffragists

Dr. Anne Fernald and Dr. Tonya Krouse presented a delightful discussion on the plenary session “Woolf in the Era of #Metoo movement, asking how do we think of women in this frame? How do we connect Woolf, the second wave of feminism and the movement #Metoo?

They reminded us that in the 1970s, the feeling was of shame, women were not to be believed, so they remained silenced. Now, women are learning how to speak up, how to get together and fight. The authors also reminded us of the transformative power of literature to fight for social justice.

In the panel “Suffragist, Public and Private,” Eleanor McNees delivered a provocative and stimulating paper “Women’s Rights and Family Feuds: A Room of One’s Own, The Pargiters and Suffragist Responses to James Fitzjames Stephen,” linking Woolf to the first wave of feminism and to founding texts of that time, such as Subjection of Women, by John Stuart Mill and James Fitzjames Stephen, who fought for liberty, equality and fraternity. Moreover, McNees discussed Woolf’s participation in the women suffrage journal, her lecture for the London National Society for Women’s Service in 1931.

Mi Jeong Lee in her brilliant paper “Re-mapping Public and Private Specters of the Suffragette in Mrs. Dalloway’s Urban Parks,” analyzed the parks as public spaces for male imperialists, while women occupied domestic spaces, when women appear in the parks, we have the homeless, the old woman, the beggar in Mrs. Dalloway, a woman of no age, no sex.

Woolf and inclusivity

During the plenary Erica Delsandro and Kristin Czarnecki argued about “Woolf and Inclusivity” and they raised many questions:

  • Who is included and how?

    Erica Delsandro and Kristen Czarnecki at a plenary on Woolf and inclusivity at the 29th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf last June.

  • As you engage in the work of inclusivity, or more particularly, the work of decolonizing the academy, what challenges are you encountering?
  • Are inclusive projects legible to our professional communities?
  • How are such projects approached, read and valued?
  • Are we shaking, challenging the scholarly canon?
  • What are the benefits of undertaking inclusive reading projects, projects that often cut across the conventional analytical categories in the field?
  • Does this approach to reading and research impact your teaching and your pedagogical choices? If so, How?

Adriana Varga presented a very instigating paper about “Alienation: A View of Social Justice in Tony Morrison’s Reading of Mrs. Dalloway” that raised a lot of discussions on the anxiety of influence, but also on how we can read Woolf backwards, reading Woolf through Tony Morrison and, in my case, through Clarice Lispector. That paper brought a lot of food for thought. It was really inspiring.

In the last day we had a plenary discussion “Woolf and the Future of the Humanities in our Current Political Climate,” with Mark Hussey, Vara Neverow, Madelyn Detloff, Benjamin Hagen, Susan Wegener, and Laci Mattison.

That was a moment to think about Woolf and utopia, since we live in moments that we are fighting and resisting and there are moments of paralysis, of hostility, of political despair. That is the Brazilian scenario right now, a moment of political despair and we doubt about our future.

Is the Woolf conference headed to Brazil as we fight against the mainstream across the globe?

We finished the plenary discussing Woolf and inclusivity, how much is it including or excluding? Isn’t time for us to discuss Woolf’s racism, imperialism and anti-Semitism?

We talked about Woolf in global studies and Woolf in different languages, as Stefano argued. I know that now there is an Italian Virginia Woolf Society and another one in Korea.

I would love to take the Woolf conference to Brazil and we are starting to organize that. It would be also be divine to see a conference in China, India, Africa. At the end of the conference, I feel that social justice led us to utopia, to hope for better days and to keep fighting and thinking against the mainstream.

Read more in the series:

Comaraderie among natty young Woolf scholars at the Saturday evening banquet at the 29th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf. L-R Todd Nordgren of the U.S., Cecilia Servatius of Austria, and Michael Schrimper of the U.S.

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This is the third 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.

The road to Cincinnati is not long or arduous if you are starting out from downtown Toronto. In fact, it’s nearly a straight shot: taking the 401 West and crossing into the US at Windsor, the I75 South will lead you to your destination after eight or nine hours. I know this because it is the route I took to Woolf and Social Justice: The 29th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf, which was held at Mount St. Joseph University this past June.

Speeding towards any other conference, this long and unchallenging trek of highway might have provided an extended opportunity for me, a fourth-year PhD candidate, to stress over the paper I’d be delivering, and the many people I would soon need to meet (and impress). This was not my travel experience to this conference, however.

How come? The answer to that question begins with my acceptance into the conference program last February, and explains a good deal about the hearty welcome I received from all in Cincinnati.

There was, most welcome of all, a summoning together…

Shortly after sending word that I would indeed be presenting, conference organiser Drew Shannon (MSJ) contacted me personally via Facebook Messenger to ask if I had any questions or concerns about the coming gathering.

An enthusiastic first-time conference-goer hopes that his T-shirt will gain him entry to the Woolfians’ inner circles.

Over the course of our chat, I found myself provided not simply with logistical answers, but with a good idea of the Woolfians I would meet there (Jean Moorcroft Wilson! Cecil Woolf!), and anecdotes about Drew having enjoyed a London breakfast at their table—the same one that Woolf herself had used to set the Hogarth Press edition of Eliot’s The Waste Land.

I can’t say that I have ever been personally contacted by a conference organiser, and I had certainly never had one welcome me into the fold so enthusiastically. This, I’ve since gathered, was something that Drew did time and again in the months preceding our in-person meeting. The effort he exerted to make us first-timers feel welcomed (before, during, and after the conference) is to be commended, and, I would suggest, imitated by those in a similar position who dare try.

“All hope abandon, ye who enter here” (Dante), as seen on the entry to the stacks at Cincinnati’s Mercantile Library

As fate would have it, Cecil’s final illness prevented him and Jean from attending the conference, and, as I recently remarked to another Woolfian, the couple’s absence had a marked presence on the goings-on that was perceptible even to a first-time Woolf-goer like myself. I like to think that this was possible because of the excellent scholarship and better fellowship on offer at the IVWS’ historical conferences, the latest incarnation of which I experienced first-hand at VW29.

For example, a blending of the scholarly and the social was to be found at the ‘world premiere’ of Leonard Woolf’s closet drama The Hotel, which can safely be classified as a conference-wide effortWhile it was acted in MSJ’s large auditorium by Drew’s infamous Woolfpack, the performance’s numerous fourth-wall breaks and plentiful helping of cheek saw the whole audience participating in the evening’s entertainment.

Similarly, the wine and cheese reception at the city’s historic Mercantile Library is not an event whose rich setting and intimate conversation I will soon forget. Nor will I forget the successive evenings where conference attendees gathered in MSJ’s dorms to sip boxed wine, eat stale pizza, and discuss all things Woolf-related (and a few that were not).

Papers given on all kinds of books, hesitating at no subject however trivial or however vast…

The bard gazes (with contempt?) at a bookshelf asking who composed his life’s works, Mercantile Library

On the academic side of the equation, my interest as a scholar of the Great War was piqued by the panels on Woolf’s pacifism and war-legacies, and by my co-presenters in “Woolf, War, and Social Justice”: Charlotte Fiehn (Texas) and Chelsie Hoskins (Miami).

But variety was the name of the day (or week). For example, I attended M. Rita D. Viana’s (Universidade Federale de Santa Catarina) paper on differing translations of Orlando into Brazilian Portuguese. This small panel, which also included Scott Stalcup (Northern Illinois), initiated a discussion I found irresistible, despite the fact that I know no Portuguese and had never read Orlando (an oversight that I have since remedied).

The plenary talk on Woolf in the era of #MeToo meanwhile made an excellent argument for grounding transformative justice in storytelling, while panels throughout the week did not shy away from highlighting Woolf’s own race- and class-inflected blind spots when otherwise praising her activist writing.

By getting to know the group that had shared 28 such experiences (more or less) with Jean and Cecil, over the course of VW29 I gradually came to understand why they were so affected by the couple’s absence.

For it was the middle of June. The conference was over…

The author’s first GIF: MSJ’s gargantuan flag flying proudly on a quiet June night

Finally, for all that the people Drew gathered may have had in common, and even in light of their long shared history together, it cannot be said that they were a uniform crowd. Participants ranged in experience from senior undergraduates to retired faculty, with a healthy sampling from every stage in between (and an especially robust helping of graduate students).

What’s more, these participants came to Cincinnati from the world over—I have fond memories of sharing an American buffet-breakfast with two Brits, an Indian dinner with Brazilians, a meditation on MSJ’s massive American flag with an Irishwoman, and a number of similarly memorable conversations with Americans (and Canadians!) who might have started their weeks anywhere from coast to coast to coast. Variety indeed!

As I wound my way back to Ontario, this time driving north-east around Lake Erie, I found myself once more with time for reflection. I had learned quite a bit at Woolf and Social Justice, made some friends (“networked”), and had an unforgettable experience to boot. While it may not be practical or even possible for me to attend this conference’s successors every single year, I’m certain that I’ll find my way back amongst this group before too long, whatever winding road it may be that takes me there.

The only picture the author managed to take of himself at VW29, replete with a thumb in the upper-left corner.

Sean A. McPhail is a PhD candidate in the Department of English at the University of Toronto. His research (primarily) concerns the relationship between kinship and commemoration in the war-writings of Siegfried Sassoon.

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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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Stefano Rozzoni, a doctoral student at the University of Bergamo in Italy, at his first international Virginia Woolf conference, the 29th, held at Mount St. Joseph University, June 6-9 this year

Editor’s Note: This is the first of 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.

It has been a little more than four months since I attended the Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf for the first time. And it is more than a decade since I first read – as a nonconventional teenage boy with a peculiar inclination for theatre and the countryside, and definitely with no clear idea of what literature meant – the legendary opening line of what soon would become one of the most important books in my life: 

“Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.”

La Signora Dalloway

Perhaps it was the middle of August, since I vividly remember going to the library by bike, that I first asked my librarian for a copy of La Signora Dalloway – which is what we call the novel in Italy. At that time I read only a few pages before giving up the effort. It was a little confusing and difficult for me to get much meaning from those pages. Nevertheless, I did think that it was magnificently written. Also, I remember taking an oath: I would return to her works with a more mature perspective. I suppose that this was the moment when I fell in love with what was, at that time, a fascinating, a bit austere, an elegant, and above all, a nonconventional writer. 

A trio of conference attendees: Todd, Cecilia, and Michael

(It seems that outsiders get along with one another…) 

On that day I would have never, EVER, E-V-E-R thought that I would one day attend an extraordinary event such as the International Conference on Virginia Woolf. And not only one of the many, but the main reunion for Woolfian scholars who are spread all over the world. It was a very special moment, a gathering of great minds, creative researchers, and inspiring people…the kind of nonconventional (once again!) creatures you feel like you cannot do without once you have met them, and who actively contribute to making the world a better place.

A world full of Woolf readers and scholars

And when I say “the world” I am not just using one of those hyperbolic literary embellishments to sound more polite and somehow kinder than how one actually is. You do not need this façade with the Woolfians. You only need to be open and sincere, to not hesitate to show your passion, and to freely live your literary vocation. The rest follows.

During the conference one can really perceive that it is all about a generous, wide-spread community, which not only welcomes you in a surprisingly warmhearted way, but which also develops a closeness that results in an inspiring exchange of email, Facebook messages and pictures long after you have returned home. As international as this community is, it is not difficult to (unexpectedly) bump into some of its members in many other places around the world, especially during conferences. It has already happened twice to me in less then one month.

Perhaps these are the natural habitats of this valuable species, which, by the way, I would consider far from being endangered if you think that wherever you go, you can easily meet somebody going: “I love Virginia” / “Have you read The Waves?” / “I am totally a Bloomsberry!” / “Oh, Nicole Kidman, you know, the one playing Virginia Woolf in The Hours” (disclaimer: all these are original quotations that I have collected only in the last few weeks!). 

Conference participants lounge among the books at the Mercantile Library during a conference reception titled “Hours in a Library.”

The world may be big, but the Woolfian community is definitely bigger. And it was not Cincinnati which made me aware of this, for the geographical constraints of boot-shaped Italy did not prevent me from understanding how vivid the sense of belonging in this field is.

One can just look at the success of the Italian Virginia Woolf Society: despite being founded only two years ago, it has already reached more than 3,000 followers on social media, and it has organized countless sold-out events, including the first ever Italy-based Dallowday in the marvellous setting of Cappella Farnese in Bologna in June. I still remember the excitement of seeing some of the greatest and most inspiring homegrown super-stars related to Woolfian studies packed into one room. It was a real “room of her own” in which, in fact, I could not fit since there were too many people in it.

New guy in town

One thing that I have learned from this year’s conference, which I will treasure forever, is the idea that the “new guy” is to be respected and valued just like the hard-core members, whose meticulous and constant effort made the growth of the community possible. Hearing about the importance of supporting young generations of Woolfians (something I was told by several people who, in my eyes, were still very young and energetic – some rare qualities in academia!) was just one of those pats on the back that you do not often receive when taking the first steps in a new environment.

Hardworking Mount St. Joseph University students who were part of the Woolfpack that helped pull of this year’s conference

Similar to putting into practice the principles of inclusion, equality, and non-discrimination expressed in Virginia’s writing, this special Woolfpack (I owe this expression to the brilliant organizer of the conference, Drew Shannon, in reference to his talented students!) has offered me a real chance to experience a sense of hope in relation to the idea that, by committing to a daily praxis, you can act upon macropolitics, especially in relation to issues of social justice, which was the very focus of this year’s discussions.

It has been a little more than four months since the conference, but it seems to me that it is not over yet because the learning from one another, the taking and exchanging of ideas and suggestions, and above all, the chance to share our passion about literature is still ongoing.

And I bet that it will continue for a long time…

Comaraderie among a table full of Woolfians at the conference banquet

More Woolf scholars feast on food and conversation at this year’s conference banquet. At far left is organizer Drew Shannon.

Another table full of Woolfians at the conference banquet, including Kristin Czarnecki, president of the International Virginia Woolf Society, third from left.

More Woolf scholars and common readers with Stefano Rozzoni second from right.

A long shot of this year’s conference banquet, where novice and experienced Woolf scholars and common readers shared food, drink, and ideas.

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Stefano Rozzoni

As is customary at Woolf conferences, scholars from all over the world traveled to the 29th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, Ohio, adding a global perspective to Woolf studies.

Going global

Blogging Woolf snapped photos of some of these scholars at the June 6-9 event. And we share them here as we introduce an upcoming new series of posts.

The brainchild of Stefano Rizzoni, a doctoral student at the University of Bergamo in Italy, the proposed global series will answer questions like these:

  • What are Woolf conferences like? And how do they enhance a spirit of internationalism and community?
  • How do conferences enrich one’s work, vision and knowledge of Woolf and others?
  • How does one’s native country responds to Virginia Woolf studies?

If you would like to contribute to this series, please contact Blogging Woolf at bloggingwoolf@yahoo.com

Joshua Phillips of Scotland, Briany Armstrong and James Kearns of the UK, Jiwon Choi of China, and Maria Oliveira of Brazil.

Sayaka Okumura and Miyuki Tateishi of Japan

Victoria Callanan of Sweden and Maria Viana of Brazil

Anne Marie Bantzinger of the Netherlands

Cecilia Servatius of Austria

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“The Salon and the Press” was the title of this fun, lively, and informative afternoon session at the 29th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf, with chair Zachary Hacker of St. Ursula Academy.

The panel included:

  • Alive Staveley of Stanford, “Buying and Selling Modernism: The Hogarth Press Order Books”
  • Peter Morgan of Stanford, “Flung into Basements”
  • Julie Daoud and students of Thomas More College, “Voices in Bloom in the 21st Century: Reimagining the Salon’ as Chat-Room’ and Recasting Voices as if Embedded in the Net-Generation.”

Below are Blogging Woolf’s live tweets from the session.

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The Ten Principles

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