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Archive for the ‘The Waves’ Category

Available on YouTube from now until July 10 is the Royal Ballet’s performance of Wayne McGregor’s Woolf Works, a triptych created in 2015.

Featuring music by Max Richter, the ballet received critical acclaim, winning McGregor the Critics’ Circle Award for Best Classical Choreography and the Olivier Award for Best New Dance Production.

Inspired by the writings of Virginia Woolf, Woolf Works is based on three of Woolf’s novels: Mrs Dalloway, Orlando and The Waves and weaves in elements from her letters, essays and diaries. the ballet looks at both her life and her work.

 

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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.

Read more in the series:

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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Last week, I wrote about the Virginia Woolf cookie cutter. This week, I am writing about the Virginia Woolf pen. Or to be more accurate, I am embedding Matthew Holliday‘s Oct. 21 tweets about the Bloomsbury group, Virginia Woolf, and fountain pens.

A limited edition Woolf pen

But first let me mention the Writers Edition Virginia Woolf Montblanc pen set, which pays tribute to The Waves. Launched in 2006 in a limited edition, the run included 4,000 sets including a ballpoint pen, fountain pen, and mechanical pencil, as well as 16,000 fountain pens and 18,000 ballpoint pens.

Out of range

None of them are currently for sale on the Montblanc website. But you can find them on ebay at prices ranging from $499 for the ballpoint to $3,450 for the set.

We can all put the pen on our wish list. Sadly, few of us will find our wish coming true. The cookie cutter, however, is infinitely more affordable.

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Painting of Virginia Woolf by Vanessa Bell currently displayed at Monk’s House

Here are the details of three talks on Virginia Woolf and her times, hosted by Literature Cambridge and Lucy Cavendish College during Michaelmas Term 2019.

Each is free and open to all, town and gown. Participants can buy lunch in the Lucy Cavendish dining hall from 12.30 pm before the talk.

What: Reading Ritual in The Waves (1931) with Ellie Mitchell, ADC Theatre, Cambridge
When: Tuesday 15 October, 1 p.m.
Venue: Founders’ Room, Lucy Cavendish College, Lady Margaret Road, Cambridge.

The Waves was variously described by Woolf as a ‘playpoem’, a ‘mystical poetical novel’ and ‘something struggled for’. This talk reads the novel in the light of Woolf’s interest in the anthropologist Jane Harrison’s theories of classical culture, art and ritual.

What: Professor Dame Gillian Beer, Clare Hall, Cambridge, on Modernist Alice.
When: Tuesday 5 November, 1 p.m.:
Venue: Wolfson Room, Lucy Cavendish College, Lady Margaret Road, Cambridge.

The Alice books transform from age to age and place to place. In the period of Modernism in Britain and Surrealism in Europe, they took devious and different directions. The talk will be illustrated with writing and images drawn from Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Walter de la Mare, Arthur Eddington, Vladimir Nabokov, Andre Breton, and others.

What: All-day reading of The Waves
When: Sunday 27 October, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. with regular refreshment breaks. Come for part of the day or the entire day — your choice.
Venue: Thomas Gray Room, Pembroke College. Free, but please book if possible via Eventbrite

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Fall Events

What: Study Day on Reading The Waves
When: Saturday 21 September 2019
Where: Stapleford Granary
Cost: £90/£80 students and Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain members.

What: Ellie Mitchell, Talk on Reading Ritual in The Waves
When: Tuesday 15 October 2019
Where: Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge
Cost: Free talks for Town and Gown

What: All-day reading of The Waves
When: Sun. 27 October 2019
Where: Cambridge
Cost: Free but places are limited. Email info@literaturecambridge.co.uk if you would like to attend.

Summer 2020 Courses

Virginia Woolf’s Women, 19-24 July 2020. An intensive week of lectures, seminars, tutorials, walks, talks, and visits to places of interest in Cambridge.

Reading the 1920s, 26-31 July 2020. An intensive study week on literature from the decade following the First World War. Authors include T.S. Eliot, E.M. Forster, Lawrence, Woolf, Radclyffe Hall, Helen Zenna Smith, Edmund Blunden.

Discount for early bookings. Members of the VWSGB can book at the student rate, subject to availability.

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