Archive for the ‘On Being Ill’ Category

“Woolf and Illness,” the special topics issue of the Virginia Woolf Miscellany, has issued a call for papers with a submission deadline of July 15, 2016. Issue #90 will be published in the fall.


Virginia Woolf’s 1926 essay “On Being Ill” questions why illness has failed to feature as a prime theme of literature, alongside love, battle, and jealousy. This issue of VWM seeks contributions on Woolf’s exploration of illness in her life and work, as a paradigm for reexamining modernist literature and art, and its influence on subsequent writers.

Topics might include questions such as: How does the literature of illness challenge or enhance theories of trauma, narrative ethics, and disability studies? How does Woolf’s focus on the politics and aesthetics of the ill body inform our understanding of the period, including in relation to Victorian values, in relation to the 1918-19 flu pandemic, and in relation to mechanized modernity’s drive toward professionalization and specialization? How has the contemporary literary landscape changed to contribute to the popularity of Woolf’s focus — from the success of the medical humanities to the proliferation of autopathographies? What might be inspiring or potentially problematic in Woolf’s theory of illness as a site for creative rebellion?

Send submissions of no more than 2,500 words by 15 July 2016 to: Cheryl Hindrichs at cherylhindrichs@boisestate.edu

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Virginia Woolf begins her 1926 essay, ‘On Being Ill,’ with a doozy of a sentence.

on-being-illSo begins an essay by my San Diego writing colleague, Tom Larson, “Writing While Ill: Pathography, Then & Now” in Shenandoah, the literary journal of Washington & Lee University. He then quotes Woolf’s lengthy sentence, the first of a three-page, 21-sentence paragraph, so that readers can “behold Woolf’s lapidary craftsmanship . . . a stunningly stylized lead, rich in Proustian intricacies of phrasal singing and delayed cadence.”

He draws on Woolf’s essay, noting the likelihood that she wrote it after she had recovered from that particular bout of illness and the fact that it doesn’t discuss her ailments themselves. Woolf remarks that, “Illness makes us disinclined for the long campaigns that prose exacts;” in other words, writers in the throes of illness don’t feel well enough to write. Larson contrasts the illuminating vision of “On Being Ill” with Woolf’s more immediate but less-poetic responses to her daily condition in her diaries, and moves into his thesis by asking: “How do we make sense of language’s expression of the body (Woolf’s diary) and literature’s avoidance of the body (Woolf’s essay)?”

Cover of "Illness As Metaphor"

Cover of Illness As Metaphor

While neither Woolf nor Susan Sontag, in Illness as Metaphor, write about their own illness–significant as it was–in exploringthe topic, now we find ourselves in “the age of pathography, a virulent subset of memoir,” a term first used in 1988 by Joyce Carol Oates when describing biographies whose authors overemphasize the seedier aspects of their subjects’ lives, and now applied to the present plethora of illness and tragedy memoirs.

Tom Larson is not new to Virginia Woolf or the topic of memoir, which has made him both a resource and a stumbling block for me. His 2007 book, The Memoir and the Memoirist, explores the genre both past and present. He differentiates between autobiography and memoir, citing Woolf’s “I now and I then” perspective from “A Sketch of the Past.”

I was considering a paper on Woolf and memoir for a Woolf conference until I read Tom’s book and realized that I couldn’t add much to what he had already said.  Now, in this eloquent essay, he develops his ideas further.

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on becoming ill eventParis Press Books: On Being Ill


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John Lehman

Information about John Lehmann and other Bloomsbury Group figures has been newly posted to the Mantex site.

Roy Johnson of Mantex Information Design wrote Blogging Woolf to say he has added half a dozen new resources connected to Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group to the site. Here they are, with links:

Find more Bloomsbury Group materials, as well as biographical notes, study guides and literary criticism on twentieth century authors, including Woolf and other Bloomsbury Group members.

Visit the Virginia Woolf at Mantex page. Woolf study guides on the site include:Between the Acts

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Blogging Woolf is back from a holiday hiatus made longer by a bout with On Being Ill — the virus, not the Virginia Woolf essay published in 1930  by the Hogarth Press. But now that we are back, we recommend a couple of essays for your edification in this new year.

armoury-show-posterThe first, “1913–What year…” by Kathleen Dixon Donnelly on the SuchFriends blog, takes an in-depth look at the New York Armory Show in February 1913, connecting it to Bloomsbury Group painters Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, Roger Fry, etc. who closed London’s Second Post-Impressionist Exhibit early so many of the paintings could be sent on to New York.

Donnelly promises to post updates all year on what was happening to writers in 1913. You can also check out the Such Friends page on Facebook.

The second is Blogging Woolf contributor Alice Lowe‘s latest published work, “On the Road Again,” which appears in the current issue of The Feathered Flounder.

Lowe notes that “being the mother of a daughter and the daughter of a mother is a rich source of feathered flounderreflection.” In this latest poignant essay, she draws on those dual experiences, as well as “from those other gems, memory and aging” to wonder whether she has encountered the beginning of her dotage.

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top_mla_logoThe International Virginia Woolf Society traditionally sponsors two panels at the MLA Convention each year. Proposals for the MLA’s 125th annual convention, which will be held in Philadelphia Dec. 27 to 30 this year, are due March 15.

Abstracts for the following Woolf panels are being accepted:

  • Twenty-First-Century Woolf. A panel discussing Woolf’s continued relevance in and for the new century. According to conference organizers, topics might include transnationalism, new feminisms, the current wars, emerging commercial strategies, blogs and the common reader and more. Abstracts should total 300-500-words and be sent to Elizabeth Outka, panel chair, at eoutka@richmond.edu by March 15.
  • The Uses of Illness: Woolf and Medical Narratives. Illness is a dominant theme in Woolf’s work. This panel explores her narrative strategies writing illness, including the physical, psychological, social and ethical. Abstracts of 500 words are due by March 15 to David Eberly, panel chair, at david.eberly@chtrust .org. Use the subject line “Woolf MLA Panel.”

For more details on the MLA Calls for Papers, click here.

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Everywhere I go, I hear it — that hacking cough that people just cannot seem to get rid of this fall.

So how fitting that this week, the Financial Times published a review of Virginia Woolf’s 1930 volume On Being Ill.

As the story goes, Woolf fainted at a party in 1925. During the aftermath, which involved several months of recuperation, she wrote a thoughtful rumination on how illness changes one’s experience of the world.

Those thoughts were published by the Hogarth Press in a slim volume with cover art designed by her sister, Vanessa Bell. It was titled On Being Ill.

The Financial Times review mentions a new edition of the volume, published by Paris Press and with an introduction by Hermione Lee. It is a facsimile of the original, cover art and all.

Five years ago, in 2003, Lee presented the keynote address at the 13th Annual International Virginia Woolf Conference on the essay. The theme that year was “Woolf in the Real World.” Nothing is more real than illness.

The Paris Press edition is not that new. My volume, which I picked up several years ago at my local Borders, has a copyright date of 2002.

Perhaps you can pick up a copy for an ill friend. It just might change his or her experience of the world.

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