Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘books’ Category

In 2009 I posted a review of Stephanie Barron’s The White Garden, and a year later about discovering Virginia Woolf’s socks (on Julian Bell) in bed with infamous spy Anthony Blunt. In exploring spy connections, I’d somehow I’d overlooked—until now—the 1983 novel by Ellen Hawkes and Peter Manso, The Shadow of the Moth: A Novel of Espionage with Virginia Woolf.

It’s 1917, mid-World War I, and Woolf’s curiosity is aroused by the report of a young Belgian woman’s suicide. One thing leads to another, as Woolf and an American journalist uncover a clandestine attempt to pass English military secrets to the Germans. Spies and double agents, aristocrats and industrial magnates, MI5 and Scotland yard—all the greedy, power-hungry men; even Maynard Keynes and Clive Bell; even Leonard Woolf by his overprotectiveness of Virginia.

At the end she realizes that “The war might alter everyone’s values but her personal fight had to be on her own terms. She wouldn’t wage it by adopting men’s ways.” Back at work on her novel in progress, what would become Night and Day, she creates the character of Mary Datchet, a spirited, determined, independent woman, to balance the conventional Katharine Hilbery.

I enjoyed this portrait of a spirited, determined, and independent Virginia, but most striking was the authors’ epilogue:

“In 1937, with war once again threatening Europe, Virginia Woolf wrote Three Guineas, her indictment of masculine aggression, German fascism and incipient totalitarianism at home. Four years later, in 1941, her body was found in the river Ouse behind Monk’s House, her home in Sussex. To this day, her death is commonly believed to have been a suicide.”

Here, as in The White Garden, is the supposition that there were other possibilities. In an email exchange, I asked Stephanie Barron (real name Francine Mathews) how she came to question the cause of Woolf’s death. She said her research uncovered what for her were surprises: Leonard announcing Virginia’s death the day after she disappeared; the lack of a full-blown police investigation; Leonard’s identification of her remains alone; the swiftness of cremation; his burial of the ashes by himself.

“It all seemed highly irregular, almost furtive. It smacked of a cover-up. Probably that was due to the stigma of mental illness and suicide. But if one chooses to write speculative fiction, it’s rife with possibilities.”

Woolf scholars have accepted the seemingly incontrovertible evidence of her suicide. Still—and not to succumb to the current fetish for conspiracy theories—it’s hard not to wonder….

Read Full Post »

One day walking round Tavistock Square I made up, as I sometimes make up my books, ‘To the Lighthouse’ – Virginia Woolf.

That quote is the inspiration for an illustrated pamphlet published last month and created by artist Louisa Amelia Albani. Titled A Moment in the Life of Virginia Woolf: A Lighthouse Shone in Tavistock Square, the booklet visually reimagines this ‘moment’ on a summer afternoon in London’s Tavistock Square in 1925.

To do so, it uses Woolf’s own words from her letters and diaries, along with excerpts from To the Lighthouse (1927).

I ordered a copy of Albani’s pamphlet last week. It hasn’t arrived from London yet, but I did get a thank you email for my order directly from Albani — an unexpected but lovely treat.

Art exhibit too

The artist also has an online art exhibition with the same title. The exhibit includes more than a dozen pieces based on Woolf. Many of them are already sold, so if you are interested in an original piece of art connected to Woolf, take a look now.

Below is a video of the project that the artist has posted on YouTube.

 

 

Read Full Post »

Mitz: The Marmoset of Bloomsbury is a book about Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s pet marmoset that they adopted in 1934 and took with them when they visited Berlin in 1935. And it is now available on Amazon, with the e-book selling for $1.99 and the paperback $11.19.

At that price, I couldn’t resist adding the Kindle version to my Woolf collection, even though I already own the hardcover version published by Harper Flamingo in 1998.

Author Sigrid Nunez drew on memoirs, letters, diaries, biographies, and her imagination to write this mock biography that is said to pay homage to Woolf’s Flush.

Accolades from reviewers

According to reviewers, it “offers a striking look at the lives of writers and artists shadowed by war, death, and mental breakdown, and at the solace and amusement inspired by its tiny subject.”

This new edition includes an afterword by Peter Cameron and a never-before-published letter about Mitz by Nigel Nicolson.

It was also named one of NPR’s best books of 2019. Here’s what NPR had to say in its review:

Mitz captures the heartrending downside of love and connection — loss. But it also reminds us, beautifully, of the “great solace and distraction” of literature.

At this time in history, as in the late 1930s, we can all use some solace, as well as some distraction.

Read Full Post »

Pace University Press announces the release of the 2020 Woolf Studies Annual.

Featuring articles, reviews of new books, and a guide to library special collections, Woolf Studies Annual is the premier academic journal on the life, work, and times of Virginia Woolf.

Here’s what you’ll find in the 26th volume:

  • Josh Phillips’s transcription of part of the holograph manuscript of The Years, which provides a new take on that novel’s relationship to Three Guineas, enabling further exploration of Woolf’s complex creative processes.
  • Catriona Livingstone’s reading of Woolf through the lens of science fiction, which provides a fresh and provocative look at some well-known texts
  • Sebastian Williams providing insightful observations into Woolf’s Bioethics in “Animals and Dependency in ‘The Widow and the Parrot.’”
  • Reviews by Elizabeth Outka, Celia Marshik, and more.

This volume is edited by Dr. Mark Hussey. For a complete Table of Contents or to place an order, visit press.pace.edu

ISBN: 978-1-935625-46-9 Price: $40

Read Full Post »

Congratulations to Kristin Czarnecki, current president of the International Virginia Woolf Society, on the publication of her memoir—The First Kristin: The Story of a Naming. While the book focuses on Kristin’s unique story, the fact that Virginia Woolf is an important part of Kristin’s life makes Woolf germane to her personal narrative as well.

Her parents named their firstborn Kristin for the fictional Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset. The child died tragically at age three. Eight years later, after having another daughter and a son, they had a daughter whom they named Kristin.

Her mother told her they loved the name: “We didn’t name you after her.” But the fact of it and the need to understand and adapt to this unusual circumstance have weighed heavily on Kristin throughout her life.

Of bonds and memories

The word necronym refers to a name shared with a dead sibling. A not uncommon occurrence during times of high infant mortality, it’s unusual now, and some believe the second bearer of the name might be haunted by it. Kristin establishes her groundwork early: “Have I been haunted? By the thought of my parents’ grief, yes. By having the name, no.” She adds that she and the first Kristin have shared “a very close conspiracy,” citing Virginia Woolf’s description of her bond with her sister Vanessa.

Kristin explores her motivations and actions and how they relate to the first Kristin. Her speculations—“Who can pinpoint why we are the way we are. And who’s to say our memories bear any relation to the way things actually were?”—recall Woolf in “A Sketch of the Past” when she questions the reliability and volatility of memory.

Woolf writes in “Sketch” of her childhood days at St. Ives: “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.” Kristin in turn recalls happy childhood summers in Rockport, Massachusetts: “In the impact upon us of summers by the sea, Virginia Woolf and I are kindred spirits.”

Laying things to rest

We read memoirs to learn about others’ lives and to reflect on our own. Two things impressed me from reading this book. One, at a personal level, the question of how I or anyone would have felt in Kristin’s circumstances. The other is my interest in the construction of memoirs.

Conjuring Woolf’s “I now and I then” Kristin has managed to draw from two aspects of herself, the child who grew up under this considerable weight and the curious scholar who explores every nuance. She distances herself when she consults and absorbs the relevant literature, piecing it into the fabric of the story.

Just as Woolf claimed to have laid her parents to rest after writing To the Lighthouse, so Kristin considers her memoir in a similar way. It was something she needed to do, and the process opened up valuable channels of communication with her parents and siblings. She’ll never forget the first Kristin, but now, perhaps, she can move on.

Where to order it

Kristin’s memoir is available from Main Street Rag.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: