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Archive for the ‘To the Lighthouse’ Category

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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Produced by BBC TV, this 1970 documentary, Virginia Woolf: A Night’s Darkness, A Day’s Sail, was unavailable for years but is now posted on YouTube.

It is a gem, including footage of Talland House, the Stephen family’s summer home, and Godrevy Lighthouse. It also includes interviews with Leonard Woolf (from 1967), Angelica Garnett, Quentin Bell, George Rylands, Elizabeth Bowen, Duncan Grant, Benedict Nicolson, Lord David Cecil, Dame Janet Vaughn, Raymond Mortimer, and Louie Mayer (the Woolfs’ cook at Monk’s House). They talk about Woolf’s character traits, as well as her genius, her writing habits and her love of London. And they discuss the Bloomsbury Group.

Portions of Mrs. Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927) and A Room of One’s Own (1929) are also read on camera. And you’ll see the actual Hogarth press.

She always asked everybody, ‘What did you have for breakfast.’ – Angelica Garnett

 

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I love punctuation; I’m a nut about it. I read it as carefully as I do words, measuring  flow to the lighthouseand rhythm, looking for meaning between the dots and dashes.

So a recent blog post got my attention—the author wanted to see if novels could be distinguished by their punctuation. A kindred spirit, he believes punctuation is a fundamental part of writing.

Adam J. Calhoun compares Faulkner’s Absolom, Absolom! with Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. The differences are visible and as striking as one would expect. Blood Meridian consists mostly of short, crisp sentences—seen as several consecutive periods with no intervening marks, breaks of an occasional comma, a dash here and there, more periods. The punctuation in Absalom, Absalom! looks the way Faulkner reads: he uses everything he can get his hands on, with lots of commas and far fewer periods. The author of this study calls it “statements within statements within statements.”

He adds other novels to his discussion. Surely, I thought, he’ll include Woolf! But no, he mentions Ulysses, Pride & Prejudice, A Farewell to Arms, and a few others. I couldn’t leave it there. A few years ago I wrote an essay about punctuation and drew from To the Lighthouse to demonstrate Woolf’s creative use of punctuation; I had some data to add to the picture.

To his visual comparisons of Faulkner’s and McCarthy’s textless text, I add a brief example from To the Lighthouse:

”   ,   ,   ,   ”   .   ”   ,   ”   .    ,   ,   ,   ,   ,   ,   ,   .   ,   ,

,   ,   ,   ,   ,   ,   ,   ,   ,   .   .   ,   ,   ,   ,   ,   ,   —   ,   ,

,   ,   ,   ,   ,   ,   .   ”   ,   ”  ,   ,   ”   .   ”   ,   ,   ,   ,   .

;   ,   ,   ,   ,   ,   ,   ( )   ,   .   .   .   ;   ;   ,   ,   ,   ,   ;   ;

This is just the first few paragraphs (I did several pages) but you get the idea. Woolf’s sentences skip and dance and weave with runs of commas; there are eleven of them in a 100-word sentence on the first page. You rarely see two periods (simple sentences) in a row. She peppers her prose (more evident in a more extensive sampling) with semicolons, dashes, parentheses, exclamation marks and ellipses.

Blood Meridian averages 15 words per sentence, Absalom 40, Lighthouse (in my sampling) 34, Farewell to Arms 10. Ursula LeGuin says of Hemingway: “He had many guns, several spouses, and a beard. He wrote short sentences.”

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