Archive for the ‘The Years’ Category

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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From reading Woolf, I knew that Tavistock Square in London had been touched by war. But until today, I didn’t realize how closely it was aligned with peace.Tavistock Hotel

First, the war connections. It was in Woolf’s Bloomsbury flat on the third floor of 52 Tavistock Square during the winter of 1936-1937 that she is said to have received a packet of photographs from the Spanish government. These were “not pleasant photographs to look upon,” she wrote in Three Guineas, for they depicted “dead bodies for the most part,” and devastated buildings, all victims of the Spanish civil war.

In July of 1937, she was once again at her Tavistock Square address when the violence of that war touched her in a more personal way. She learned that her twenty-nine-year-old nephew, Julian Bell, a volunteer ambulance driver in Spain, had been killed. It was a devastating personal loss, one she described in her diary as “a complete break; almost a blank; like a blow on the head: a shriveling up” (D5 104).

Four years later, in October of 1940, Woolf was visited by war again, this time in a more direct physical way. Her Tavistock Square building took a direct hit from a German bomb. When she viewed the devastation, she found “a heap of ruins…where I wrote so many books” (331).

War’s violence in real time
Fast forward to July 7, 2005. Woolf has been dead for sixty-four years, but Tavistock Square still exists. War strikes the location once more, when four terrorists detonate bombs in the London transport system, just as the morning rush hour comes to an end.The last of the four goes off on the Number 30 bus as it arrives in front of the British Medical Association, located on the east side of Tavistock Square, around the corner from the site of Woolf’s former flat. The blast, another incident in the 21st century “war on terror,” kills 52 persons and injures more than 770.

It is ironic that the gritty violence and destruction of war came again and again to the London location where Woolf spent 15 of her most productive years as a writer – and the place where she wrote two of her volumes most intimately connected to war and peace –Three Guineas and The YearsThree Guineas gives a creative and cogent argument that women must establish their own “Outsiders Society” in order to achieve peace. And The Years establishes unmarried matriarch Eleanor Pargiter as the character that holds the novel together and holds out hope for peace.

Peace comes to Tavistock Square
Virginia Woolf is not Tavistock Square’s only female connection to war and peace. Today I read about Rose Hacker, 101, who joined more than 100 other peace activists in Tavistock Square this week to remember the victims of the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima in 1945. The Bloomsbury square is the site of an annual commemoration of the Hiroshima victims.

At 101, Hacker has seen war come and go — and come again. She recalled sitting on the Tavistock Square gate and waving the Union Jack as residents flooded the square to celebrate the end of the First World War. And though she had been told by her teacher that there would be no more wars, she remembers hearing the same prediction when World War II ended.

Despite all that — and her feelings of shame that we still have nuclear weapons — she holds out hope for peace. “We must not lose hope,” she told the Camden New Journal. “If I have not lost hope in 100 years, then you young people can still have hope.”

The hope and wisdom of this longtime spokeswoman for peace inspires me. I feel the same way about a statue that I wandered across in Tavistock Square. It depicts Mahatma Gandhi, the martyred leader of the Indian independence movement who is known the world over for promoting active nonviolence.Ghandi Statue

This statue sits in the garden area of Tavistock Square on a central site donated by St. Pancras Borough Council. Since its unveiling in 1966, other peace memorials have been established in the square, and it has become a popular place for peace events.

On any given day, visitors to the quiet green space in the heart of bustling Bloomsbury can find individual candles around the statue’s base. The candles, glowing softly in the shadow of Ghandi’s statue, are lit by those who hope for peace.

Rose Harker can be counted among them. And Virginia Woolf is there in spirit.

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