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Archive for the ‘The Years’ Category

The Bulletin of the New York Public Library dating from 1897 through 1977 is now online and includes the Virginia Woolf Issue, Issue 2, Winter 1977.

This issue features the Stephen family on the cover, along with multiple articles on The Years and essays that examine Three Guineas.

A special treat in the issue is Woolf’s hand-drawn genealogy of the Pargiter family that appears on the reverse of the Contents page, Page 155 in the PDF. Issue 2 begins on page 152 in the PDF numbering.

Thanks to Vara Neverow and the VWoolf Listserv for news of this online resource.

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Andrea Barrett is one of my favorite contemporary writers. Her science-infused stories are extraordinary, but until recently I hadn’t read her early work from before the 1996 National Book Award winning Ship Fever.

Recently I came across Barrett’s 2015 essay in the literary journal Agni, “The Years and The Years.” Barrett starts by noting that while The Years isn’t considered one of Woolf’s finest novels, for her it “made possible the first I would publish.” I was thrilled to find this connection between Woolf and Barrett.

Crafting her first novel in the mid-eighties Barrett had her themes, her time and place. To fill them she had characters and relationships spanning three decades. But after writing hundreds of pages and discarding most of it, she couldn’t find a satisfactory way to shape the material. Then she read The Years. She describes the opening scene as an overture—“technically brilliant, profoundly moving”— in the way it introduced the characters and their lives with “ripples that reinforce each other as they intersect  …. Everything, it turns out, changes everything. Everything repeats and reverberates.”

Barrett went to Woolf’s diary, to where she sets out her ideas for The Years: “I want to give the whole of the present society …. with the most powerful and agile leaps, like a chamois, across precipices from 1880 to here and now.”

The structural elements of The Years became a framework from which Barrett was able to give shape to her story. She discovered that, like Woolf, she could skip over portions of time, “shining a beam on one moment and then, years later, on another, suggesting swiftly by thought and conversation what had happened in the space between.”

The result was Lucid Stars, published in 1988. Each of four sections is broken down into dated chapters, and each part’s block of years has a different central character with her own voice. Each section stands apart from the whole while at the same time knitting it together. Like The Years.

Woolf continued to influence Barrett. She tells how Orlando, Jacob’s Room, Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, and The Waves all showed her the intricacies of writing about biography, history, politics, and war in fiction. Barrett did all of this, in her own voice and style, in the stories and novels that followed Lucid Stars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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There are mysteries to be solved in the world of Woolf. And Virginia Woolf scholars have their magnifying glasses out.

The 24th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf: Writing the World, held in Chicago June 5-8, was the fifth I’ve attended. And, as always, what struck me most was that, as always, there are new things to learn about Woolf and her contemporaries.

Robyn Byrd of Northern Illinois University, one of the graduate assistants who helped organize the conference.

Robyn Byrd of Northern Illinois University, one of the graduate assistants who helped organize the conference and who was on hand throughout the week.

This time, the new things were steeped in mystery, mysteries that such scholars as Suzanne Bellamy of the University of Sydney, Julie Vandivere of Bloomsburg University, Susan Wegener of Southern Connecticut State University, and Denise Ayo of the University of Notre Dame are busy uncovering.

Mystery number one: Woolf’s sentences

Suzanne Bellamy, a visual artist from Australia, kicked off the mysteries as part of a panel chaired by Judith Allen titled “Propaganda, Codebreakers, and Spies.”

Bellamy, appearing remotely via video and Skype, covered the codebreaker piece of the panel in her discussion of Edith Rickert, a Chaucer scholar who had what Bellamy called “a cypher brain.” Rickert worked as a codebreaker in both world wars. She also supervised a student thesis at the University of Chicago that has prompted Bellamy to do some further sleuthing.

The 1930 thesis, written by Elizabeth McKee and titled “A Study of the Style of Mrs Virginia Woolf with Special Emphasis on her Thought Patterns,” was the first academic piece done on Woolf, as it predates Ruth Gruber‘s 1934 work, Virginia Woolf: The Will to Create as a Woman. McKee’s thesis focused on Woolf’s sentence structure. Without computers, McKee analyzed Woolf’s sentences and worked up complicated graphs that illustrated her findings. According to McKee’s research, Woolf wrote two kinds of sentences: groping sentences searching for clarity and descriptive sentences where every word has meaning.

Suzanne Bellamy via Skype with Judith Allen and Patrizia Muscogiuri

Suzanne Bellamy via Skype with Judith Allen and Patrizia Muscogiuri

Once Bellamy discovered McKee’s work, she was intrigued by the connections it helped her make between code breaking, sentence structure and modernism. But she remains mystified by the lack of available information about what McKee did after she graduated from the University of Chicago in 1930.

Bellamy continues to investigate that mystery so she can flesh out McKee’s story for her doctoral work on early textual readings of Woolf. In it, she focuses on McKee’s work and the work of three other early Woolf scholars, two Americans and two Australians.

Mystery number two: Pepita’s origins

I can’t even brush the surface of the complicated story of paternity, deception, inheritance and intrigue that Julie Vandivere presented in a panel on “Vita, Pepita and Orlando.” Vandivere took on Pepita de Oliva, grandmother of Vita Sackville-West and the subject of Vita’s book, Pepita.

In her research, Vandivere works to uncover the marital history of Pepita and the true heir to Knole House and the Sackville fortune. Along the way, documents turned up missing — destroyed or stolen by Pepita or the Sackville-Wests — no one knows, or at least, I don’t. As a result, the true story is missing as well. But Vandivere, using her language skills as a comparative literature specialist, continues working to track them down.

Mystery number three: Woolf’s anti-Semitism

Banuta Rubess of the University of Toronto presents "You're Invited: Performing 'Mrs. Dalloway'."

Banuta Rubess of the University of Toronto presents “You’re Invited: Performing ‘Mrs. Dalloway’.”

In her private writings, Woolf revealed her anti-Semitic feelings. But were her anti-Semitic scenes in The Years more of the same? Or did she purposefully create them to make her readers aware of their own biases at a time when fascism and tyranny were abroad and at home?

Susan Wegener worked to unravel that mystery in her paper, “Processing Prejudice: Writing Woolf’s Jewish World.” By doing a close reading of key scenes in The Years  traditionally seen as anti-Semitic, Wegeman argued that Woolf  created those scenes to reveal stereotypical anti-Semitism.

By the time the novel was published in 1938, Wegener maintained, Woolf was already defining herself by her husband Leaonard’s Jewishness. As a result, she said, “Woolf was aware of her racial biases and processed them in her text.”

Mystery number four: Woolf’s edits

Denise Ayo teased out a mystery with a similar feel in her paper, “Staging (Self-)Censorship: Virginia Woolf’s `Women Must Weep.'” In it, she compared the chopped-up version of Three Guineas that appeared in the May and June 1938 issues of the Atlantic Monthly under the title “Women Must Weep — Or Unite Against War” to the actual text from which they derived.

Denise Ayo

Denise Ayo

She noted that the Atlantic Monthly version is not just an excerpt of Three Guineas. Nor is it a condensation or summary of sorts. Instead, it leaves out material without using ellipsis and includes text that is not in the published version. Its prose is fragmented, leaving words and thoughts hanging.  It contains contradictory meanings. And its organizational structure is disjointed.

So was Woolf temporarily off her mark when she sent her piece to the Atlantic? Did she wearily submit to a bad edit job? Or, once again, was the hash that is “Women Must Weep” done for a purpose?

Ayo argued for the latter. In Three Guineas Woolf complained that journalism was a “mincing machine,” so in her Atlantic piece she did the mincing herself to make a point, Ayo maintained.

According to her, “Woolf meant to communicate to Atlantic Monthly readers that the integrity of her message had been corrupted” by periodical culture that cannot accept a feminist pacifist approach to the world.

No mystery about the depth, breadth of the conference

The conference, sponsored by Loyola and Northern Illinois universities, and attended by more than 200 common readers, students, faculty and independent scholars from around the world, boasted about 63 sessions.

Conference organizers and their graduate assistants: Sarah Polen, Diana Swanson, Pamela Caughie and Katie Dyson.

Conference organizers and their graduate assistants: Sarah Polen, Diana Swanson, Pamela Caughie and Katie Dyson.

That doesn’t include special events — such as a performance of Sara Ruhl’s Orlando pulled off by students after just three weeks of rehearsals — or “Performing Woolf: ‘A Mark on the Wall'” by Adrianne Krstansky of Brandeis and Abigail Killeen of Bowdoin College.

The conference also included a thought-provoking keynote roundtable discussion on Woolf and violence with Mark Hussey of Pace, Ashley Foster of CUNY, Sarah Cole of Columbia, Christine Froula of Northwestern, and Jean Mills of John Jay College and keynotes by Maud Ellman of the University of Chicago and Tuzyline Allan of Baruch College.

The Virginia Woolf Players line up to read Woolf.

The Virginia Woolf Players line up to read Woolf.

The social finale for most conference participants was the Saturday night banquet, preceded by drinks and appetizers in the Mundelein Hall Courtyard and topped off by the traditional readings of favorite Woolf passages by the Virginia Woolf Players.

Stalwarts stayed on for Saturday morning sessions before packing up and heading out to home countries ranging from the UK to Japan.

More conference links

 

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three guineas websiteIn the 1930s, Virginia Woolf began to collect newspaper clippings about the relationships between the sexes in England, France, Germany and Italy. She pasted these clippings into scrapbooks that became the foundation from which she developed two of her works — her novel The Years (1937) and her pacifist-feminist polemic Three Guineas (1938).¹

In 1983, Brenda Silver produced the foundational work on these manuscript materials when she published Virginia Woolf’s Reading Notebooks, a volume that summarized more than 40 volumes of Woolf’s notes, including those compiled during the 1930s. Because Silver’s work covers such vast territory, it can be described as “a dated list of the contents of each of the notebooks.” As a result, it gives us an inside look at what Woolf was reading as she was writing her novels and essays.

Although it is out of print, hard copies of Virginia Woolf’s Reading Notebooks can be obtained from second-hand sellers and libraries. Now Woolf scholars and common readers everywhere can once again obtain access to the notebooks Woolf used when writing Three Guineas through the Three Guineas Reading Notebooks website. The password-protected site requires users to purchase an annual subscription. To do so , send an email to Vara Neverow.

What the site gives subscribers is online access to fragile archival material that one would be forced to travel to England to access. Included are digital images of three of Woolf’s reading notebooks that are part of the University of Sussex’s Monk’s House Papers.

According to Neverow, Merry Pawlowski conceived the concept of preserving these documents digitally in the 1990s. Pawloski and12th Woolf conference collected papers Neverow worked together on the project and originally launched a website created and hosted at California State University, Bakersfield until last year. The website has now been transferred to Southern Connecticut State University.

In addition to the Three Guineas Reading Notebooks, two digital volumes of selected papers from Woolf conferences are also available at the site, and neither is password-protected:

  • Woolf: Across the Generations: Selected Papers from the Twelfth Annual Conference on Virginia Woolf (2002)14th Woolf conference selected papers
  • Back to Bloomsbury: Selected Papers from the 14th Annual Conferences on Virginia Woolf (2004)

Both are downloadable as PDFs at no cost.

¹This is briefly discussed in Mark Hussey’s Preface to Harcourt’s annotated edition of Three Guineas (2006).

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VW Diary Vol. 5Once again, Virginia Woolf has said it for me – her words expressing my mind far better than I can do it myself. Thinking about the new year and what it might mean for me, I thought I would see what Woolf had to say. I found two witty and wonderful examples in her diary.

January 2, 1931:
Here are my resolutions for the next 3 months; the next lap of the year.
To have none. Not to be tied.
To be free & kindly with myself, not goading it to parties: to sit rather privately reading in the studio.
To make a good job of The Waves.
To stop irritation by the assurance that nothing is worth irritation [referring to Nelly].
Sometimes to read, sometimes not to read.
To go out yes—but stay at home in spite of being asked.
As for clothes, to buy good ones.

January 4, 1936:
To read as few weekly papers…as possible [until The Years is finished];
to fill my brain with remote books & habits;
altogether to be as fundamental & as little superficial, to be as physical & as little apprehensive, as possible.

Five years apart, these entries have a common theme – reminders of what’s important: her work and well-being, an appreciation of simplicity. And that works for me too. Happy New Year!

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Time’s list of “The 25 Most Powerful Women of the 20th Century” includes Margaret Sanger, Hillary Clinton, Mother Theresa, Madonna – – and Virginia Woolf.

The Time editor who chose Woolf for the list calls her  “one of the most famous, well regarded novelists of the 20th century.” She also describes her as an astounding and prolific, sharp and witty literary critic.

In the video, she mentions several Woolf novels, Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, The Waves and Between the Acts. Woolf’s novels, she says, are “hard to read but extremely rewarding.” And Woolf herself is someone she wishes she could have dinner with.

You can also read Time’s April 1937 cover story on Woolf and view the cover photo, which is pictured at left on the Web page for the Time video.

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News blogs and Web sites are busy publishing ruminations about books and writing. Here are links to a few with connections to my favorite author. Virginia Woolf, of course.

  • In the Wall Street Journal, Rebecca Stott names Woolf’s Orlando as number two in a list of the top five works of historical fiction.
  • A Seattle Post-Intelligencer reader blog, written by a local librarian named Ann G., is “Looking back at reading by the decade.” In the post, Ann picks her favorite book by decade. For the 1930s, her choice is The Years. The novel, Woolf’s last published in her lifetime, was praised by the New York Times as her “richest novel” when it came out in 1937. It became a best seller in the United States that year. As a result, Woolf was featured on the April 12, 1937, cover of Time magazine. The cover story compared Woolf to Margaret Mitchell, whose Gone With the Wind was a 1936 best seller.
  • In an ode to diaries on The Guardian’s Web site, writer Gyles Brandreth pays homage to an edited volume of Woolf’s diary entries. Brandreth praises the volume, titled A Moment’s Liberty: The Shorter Diary of Virginia Woolf, for including “a gem on every page.” Anne Olivier Bell is the editor.
  • Margaret Drabble opines about the unique genre of the short story on The Guardian Web site. In her piece, she says Woolf tried to emulate her rival Katherine Mansfield’s short story style. But Drabble finds Woolf’s style “less accomplished, and sometimes embarrassingly whimsical.”
  • The New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2009 includes at least two by authors who read Woolf. They include
    • Family Album by Penelope Lively, whose City of the Mind is clearly influenced by Mrs. Dalloway, and
    • A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster by Rebecca Solnit, plenary speaker at this year’s Woolf and the City, the 19th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf.

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