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Archive for the ‘To the Lighthouse’ Category

Since I am currently studying in Canterbury, it would be unthinkable for me, Virginia Woolf’s admirer and scholar, not to visit St. Ives, the mythic place that inspired the most of Virginia Woolf’s novels, but particularly Jacob’s Room, To the Lighthouse and The Waves.

Talland House

My own exploration of the site has been inspired by Ratha Tep’s Back to the lighthouse: In search of Virginia Woolf’s lost Eden in Cornwall” that appeared in The New York Times on Feb. 26, 2018.

However, as I and my husband chose to visit St. Ives at the very beginning of November, the weather conditions did not permit us to see all the places we had longed to see.

From London to St. Erth

We started our journey to St. Ives early on Friday morning and after we had arrived in London, we boarded the Great Western Service from London to St. Erth.

Surprisingly, the five-hour journey turned out to be quite tolerable, thanks to the comfortable service and a good read (Woolf’s Orlando). How different, longer and more uncomfortable the Stephens’ journey must have been at the turn of the 20th century, with all the luggage and servants packed for their summer stay in Talland House!

In St. Erth we had to change for a local service running to St. Ives, a beautiful scenic ride alongside the Cornish coast.

In St. Ives

We arrived in St. Ives around 6 p.m. and made our way up the hill to our B&B that I had chosen due to its location with a view of The Island with St. Nicholas Chapel and Godrevy Lighthouse – the lighthouse!

Although we found a lot of useful information about tourist attractions in St. Ives and its surroundings in a folder in our room, the official guide booklet did not mention Virginia Woolf and the Stephens as famous residents of the town.

The view from our window – Godrevy Lighthouse in the distance
The view of the Island and St. Nicholas Chapel

Exploring the town

The following day, which was extremely windy, we started our exploration of the town. In spite of the construction of modern buildings, numerous hotels and other vacation accommodation, the spirit of the old town from the Stephens’ days was still noticeable – crooked hilly streets in the centre, several churches and the incessant sound of breaking waves.

After hiking up to St. Nicholas Chapel, we visited Talland House, which is located right above the local railway station and which is nowadays, unfortunately, encircled by quite ugly blocks of summer apartments. Luckily, the house is now in the hands of Chris and Angela Roberts who try to renovate the house and re-create the garden in its original spirit. You can read about their praiseworthy effort on a sign attached to the wall of the house.

Woolf talks about her father’s discovery of the house in “A Sketch of the Past” as follows:

Father on one of his walking tours, it must have been in 1881, I think – discovered St. Ives. He must have stayed there, and seen Talland House to let. He must have seen the town almost as it had been in the sixteenth century, without hotels, or villas; and the Bay as it had been since time began. It was the first year, I think, that the line was made from St Erth to St Ives – before that, St Ives was eight miles from a railway. Munching his sandwiches up at Trengenna perhaps, he must have been impressed, in his silent way, by the beauty of the Bay; and thought: this might do for your summer holiday, and worked out with his usual caution ways and means.

Main shopping street in the town centre
Talland House – the steps below the left French window are those where the Stephens used to take their family photo
Sign about the current owners’ aim for Talland House garden
Talland House garden

View from the garden

Even though the house is not opened to the public to admire its Victorian beauties, we were still able to appreciate the view from the garden – Godrevy Lighthouse in the distance, which made Leslie Stephen move his London household to St. Ives every summer until 1894. We visited the garden in an inappropriate season so we could not see its blooming flowers.

However, we were able to see the steps below the left French window of the house where the family used to sit and have their family pictures taken. Moreover, the window directly makes you think of the window from the novel To the Lighthouse which symbolised the distance and seemingly impassable boundary between the house and the lighthouse, or the private life of the family and the outside.

Quite surprisingly, despite the distance from the ocean, the breaking of waves was still audible from the garden of Talland House, as well as from our hotel room, with the same intensity as Woolf describes in the following quotation from “A Sketch of the Past”:

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. It is of lying asleep, half awake, in bed in the nursery at St Ives. It is of hearing the waves breaking, one, two, one, two, and sending a splash of water over the beach; and then breaking, one, two, one, two, behind a yellow blind.

The view of the Lighthouse from Talland House garden

The fact that Woolf places this memory of St Ives and at the base of her life-experience bowl reveals how much she was influenced by the place. As she mentions later in the same memoir, “In retrospect nothing that we had as children made as much difference, was quite so important to us, as our summers in Cornwall”, by which she admits the formative effect of the Stephens’ holidays on the Cornish coast. It was so overwhelming to stand in front of the house to which Woolf pays tribute in To the Lighthouse, but sadly, without being able to talk to the Stephens.

To the lighthouse . . . sort of

The following day we decided to pursue James’s childish wish to visit the lighthouse. Owing to windy weather conditions and rough sea we were forced to abandon the idea of making a boat trip and we went by bus to Upton Towans (line T2 for those who would like to do the same) and from there we followed the Coastal Path to Godrevy Beach and the headland providing the best view of Godrevy Lighthouse.

The scenery along the path was astonishing and it was exciting to approach closer and closer the lighthouse which is the main source of the novel’s symbolism. The inner voice in my head was repeating Mr. Ramsay’s excuse “It won’t be fine” and Nancy’s and Lily’s concern about “What does one send to the Lighthouse?”

When we got to the closest viewpoint on the mainland, we sat on a bench and observed waves breaking on the little island’s shore. It is a pity that today you cannot see the lighthouse’s rotating “yellow eye” because it has been replaced by LED light mounted on a platform nearby the original lighthouse.

I must frankly admit that after two days of harsh wind and rain, after getting soaked while watching seals in a cove, I started to be more sympathetic to Mr. Ramsay’s scathing sentence “It won’t be fine” – was he just the more rational one? Did my own journey to the lighthouse reconcile me with the man?

Coastal path to Godrevy Lighthouse
Godrevy Lighthouse

I would recommend visiting St. Ives to all those who are deeply in love with Virginia Woolf and her writing because it is great to get a sense of the place that I had been imagining in my head for at least a decade.

More Cornish coast magic to explore

Unfortunately, we did not have time to visit surrounding villages such as Zennor where Woolf lived when she returned to the town as an adult woman. I am convinced that this visit to St. Ives is not our last one and that we will continue exploring the magic of the Cornish coast and landscape. We definitely need to make a boat trip from St. Ives to the lighthouse, which must be really enjoyable in the summer.

 

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Editor’s Note: Maggie Humm provided Blogging Woolf with the story and images of her experience working with France Culture radio and the French TV channel ARTE’s series Invitation Au Voyage on programs about Virginia Woolf.

By Maggie Humm

A cold, windy day in April 2019 saw me walking and talking in Kensington for France Culture radio about Virginia Woolf’s London childhood and her own daily walks with her father. Thankfully, my talk didn’t have to be in French or delivered sideways as in The West Wing.

Maggie Humm with the French TV channel ARTE’s series Invitation Au Voyage in St. Ives

France Culture has over 3,000 podcasts and items about Virginia Woolf. Director Simonetta Greggio simply said, “I love Woolf.”

Woolf and France past

As Blogging Woolf readers know, Charles Mauron translated “Time Passes” from To the Lighthouse in Commerce as early as Winter 1926, and Woolf’s works were translated into French more quickly than into other languages.

Woolf knew several leading French intellectuals including Mauron – Jacques Raverat and Jacques-Émile Blanche – and the translation of Mrs Dalloway had a preface by André Maurois. Simone de Beauvoir discusses Woolf in The Second Sex.

To the lighthouse

Top of my bucket list however was visiting Godrevy Lighthouse thanks to Lolita Rivé of Elephant Productions who invited me to present “Cornwall Through the Eyes of Virginia Woolf” as part of the French TV channel ARTE’s series Invitation au Voyage.

It’s not possible to convey my excitement and delight reading To the Lighthouse at Godrevy Lighthouse, as well as reading The Waves on St. Ives beach.

Maggie Humm heads to Godrevy Lighthouse with the French TV channel ARTE’s series Invitation Au Voyage. As Woolf said about St. Ives Regatta Day – it made her ‘think of a French picture’ (MOB: 132). Vive la France!

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Botanic Garden gates

Today at the Literature Cambridge course on Virginia Woolf’s Gardens, we went To the Lighthouse.

Not literally. But that was the focus of both the lecture by Trudi Tate and our small group tutorials this morning, before we veered off across the land to the Cambridge University Botanic Garden. There, garden historian Caroline Holmes led us on an afternoon tour of plants from all over the world.

We didn’t make it through the entire 40 acres of the garden that opened in 1846. Nevertheless, we saw, felt, and sniffed a wide variety of the more than 8,000 species growing there.

Discussing the garden in To the Lighthouse

Predictably enough, our morning discussions about To the Lighthouse focused on Woolf’s use of the garden in her 1927 novel. In her lecture, Tate touched on ways the garden connects to mother and memory, as well as the Victorian past.

Later this morning, in our four-person tutorial group led by Karina Jakubowicz, two things stand out to me from our discussion. One was the way the urns full of red trailing geraniums fail to attract Mr. Ramsay’s full attention but cause him to go off on intellectual tangents. The other was the meaning of Mrs. Ramsay’s green cashmere shawl in the “Time Passes” section. We all thought there was more to explore there.

Walking the gardens

Now for photos from the day, starting at Wolfson College, home of this year’s Literature Cambridge course, and ending with a walk through the Cambridge University Botanic Garden.

The Wolfson College garden where two of the four tutorial groups at this year’s Literature Cambridge class discussed Woolf’s “To the Lighthouse” this morning.

Entrance to the Cambridge University Botanic Garden on Trumpington Street

The knowledgeable Caroline Holmes provided the history of the trees and other plants at the Botanic Garden during our tour, adding a touch of humor throughout.

The iconic fountain designed by David Mellor, a focal point at the eastern end of the Botanic Garden’s Main Walk

Path through the Winter Garden

Floral close-up

One of the many trees on the Main Walk of the Botanic Garden

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From the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain comes news of these events:

  • What: All-day reading of Woolf’s 1927 masterpiece, To the Lighthouse
    When: Sunday 14 October 2018, 9.30 a.m. to (approx.) 8.30 p.m.
    Where: Lucy Cavendish College
    Details: Free and open to all, both town and gown. Come for an hour or so, or come for the day.
    Lunch will be available to buy in the Lucy Cavendish dining hall, 12:30-1:30 p.m. RSVP for lunch by emailing tt206@cam.ac.uk
    Get more details.
  • What: Talk on two previously unpublished sketches “The ‘Cook Sketch‘ and ‘The Villa Jones‘: Virginia Woolf’s Lost 1931 Sketches”
    When: Tuesday 30 October 2018, 1 p.m.
    Where: Clara Jones, King’s College, London.
    Details: This talk will introduce two previously unpublished sketches discovered in the pages of a little-known notebook held in New York’s Morgan Library. The two sketches differ formally but collectively suggest an alternative starting point for the much-discussed political turn in Woolf’s writing during the 1930s. Hosted by Literature Cambridge and Lucy Cavendish College. Get more details.
  • What: VWSGB members are invited to the Leslie Stephen Lecture
    When: Monday 15 October: Lecture at 5:30 p.m. with drinks reception following at 6:45 p.m.
    Where: Lecture in the Senate House, Cambridge; drinks reception in The Combination Room, The Old Schools.
    Details: Lecture by Sir Simon Schama on “Liberalism, populism and the fate of the world”
    Details: Free. Get more details.

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Cape Ann, Massachusetts, 1928. Bea is on the porch reading the book her cousin Rose has handed her, The President’s Daughter, which Bea describes as the trashiest book she’s ever read, though she can’t resist it. Rose, in turn, has picked up To the Lighthouse, and admits that she doesn’t understand it.

Bea had finished the book last week and had not stopped thinking about it but she did not think that understanding—the way Rose meant it—was its point. She understood that Mrs. Ramsay was her mother and that she, Bea, was “the sudden silent trout” pinned against the glass (if she read again she would see they were not pinned but “hanging,” but that was the difference between this kind of understanding and Rose’s), and Bea understood that the book as a whole was about her own life and that other people probably understood it to be about theirs. But her understanding in this way was vague—the book had stayed with her through the week like a glowing, invisible pet she could not risk touching. “I think it’s about memory,” she said. “And about how the present is always becoming the past, both in our consciousness of it and in reality. And about the confusion, or maybe the elision, between the two, and also between reality and a person’s vision of reality. Very little happens but a lot is happening. A character can stand with a foot on a threshold and her whole world shifts.”  Bea had not known how good it would feel to talk about the book. The only educated women she spoke with on a regular basis—club women she courted at benefits or after her speeches—talked about Virginia Woolf like Lillian and her friends fawned over Parisian silk. “Also, it’s about women and men,” Bea concluded, starting to worry that she was making little sense. “And whether or not the children will get to the lighthouse.”

Another sign of Anna Solomon’s homage to Woolf in Leaving Lucy Pear is the occasional appearance of references to a Nurse Lugton, who tended Bea when she experienced a mental breakdown. Oh yes, there’s a ceramic lighthouse too….

In an interview on NPR’s “Here and Now,” Anna Solomon said that Woolf was an important influence on her consciousness both as a writer and as a human being, that Woolf helped her find her own voice. She added that it gave her pleasure to have her character reading the work that she herself loved.

Woolf aside, I found this an interesting and well-written novel, an unusual and compelling slice of life.

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The two Lilys have been on my mind for a while, and after rereading To the Lighthouse and House of Mirth, I’ve begun a trail of comparisons and contrasts to which I plan to add some personal reflections and who knows what else for a future essay.

Virginia Woolf reviewed House of Mirth and regarded Lily Bart with sympathy, as having “many of the faults of her surroundings” but also “a capacity for better things which is never to be exercised.” I also found a paper by a Wharton scholar that compares Lily Bart and Clarissa Dalloway, but I don’t think the Lilys have been broached together.

Just to be sure, I googled and found just one reference, to a passage that unites them in a 1990 novel by Roberta Silman, Beginning the World Again: A Novel of Los Alamos. I got the book right away, of course, and soon found myself embroiled in a well-researched account, based on actual events and real as well as fictional characters, of the secret mission to build the atomic bomb in the New Mexico hills during World War II.                

The protagonist is Lily Failka, the wife of a nuclear physicist on the team. This is her story about her time there, her marriage, the families, the project, the secrecy. Before accompanying her new husband to Los Alamos, Lily had been a graduate student in literature and was writing a thesis on Melville. Classic novels come up frequently in her thinking and in analogies she makes. When she has an affair with one of the other scientists, she introduces him to literature. Years later, looking back:

There were often months, then years when I scarcely thought about Jacob, and when I did, I was so detached that I was another person, another Lily—“Lily Bart, Lily Briscoe, Joyce’s Lily in ‘The Dead,’ Lily of the Field?” I could hear Jacob’s low voice asking me. All those Lilys I had told him about. No, none of those, but someone still within me whom I scarcely knew anymore.

I sought out and had an email exchange with Roberta Silman, who proudly claims Grace Paley as her mentor and friend. Her context for the reference was Lily Failka’s introducing her physicist lover to her favorite literature, but Roberta noted characteristics that perhaps all the Lilys share, providing food for thought for my own project. Roberta also took pleasure in casting her Lily in the company of the memorable Lily Bart and Lily Briscoe.

 

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Literature Cambridge presents “Reading To the Lighthouse,” a study day on Stapleford poster Woolf 2016 jpg
Woolf’s much-loved novel of love, art, yearning, and loss, on Saturday, Sept. 17.

Cambridge academics Frances Spalding, Trudi Tate and Dame Gillian Beer will lecture on different aspects of the book. Each lecture will be followed by a discussion.

Cost: The cost is £90 for the day, which will run from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. At the end of the day, participants are welcome to stay on for drinks and informal discussion. You can book it online.

Location: The venue is the Stapleford Granary, an old granary transformed into a beautiful
lecture and concert hall, just outside Cambridge. It’s easy to reach by train
from London or Cambridge. Or come by bus or bike from Cambridge. Some
parking available.

Refreshments: Light refreshments will be provided; please bring a packed lunch

Stapleford Granary

Stapleford Granary

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