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Archive for the ‘Virginia Woolf’ Category

Zadie Smith’s novels and essays never fail to display her keen powers of observation, analysis, and expression. In Feel Free, her new essay collection, Virginia Woolf is a strong influence, never far from Smith’s mind, an “expert witness” to invoke as she regards her subjects and her craft. Five examples serve as evidence.

  1. The first essay that caught my attention was “Life-Writing.” It’s a wry account of failure, much like my own, to keep a diary during adolescence, “a banal account of fake crushes and imagined romance and I was soon disgusted with it and put it aside.” As a young adult she found inspiration in Woolf’s diaries and gave it another go. “I tried to copy the form and style of Woolf’s single-volume Writer’s Diary,” but that didn’t last either. She realized that “I don’t want any record of my days.” For better or worse, her email history is “probably the closest thing to an honest account of my life, at least in writing.”
  2. In “Dance Lessons for Writers” Smith finds applications to writing in the dancing of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, Michael Jackson and Prince, Janet Jackson, Madonna and Beyonce. Fred Astaire’s movements, she says, “are so removed from ours that he sets a limit on our own ambitions. Nobody hopes or expects to dance like Astaire, just as nobody really expects to write like Nabakov.” She introduces the Nicholas brothers, Harold and Fayard: “Writing, like dancing, is one of the arts available to people who have nothing. ‘For ten and sixpence,’ advises Virginia Woolf, ‘one can buy paper enough to write all the plays of Shakespeare.’ The only absolutely necessary equipment in dance is your own body.”
  3. “A Bird of Few Words” considers the portraits of British-Ghanaian painter Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, whose subjects appear like “a group of intensely creative people in a small community.… Early New York beatniks, maybe, or some forgotten, south London chapter of the Bloomsbury Group. Poets, writers, painters, dancers, dreamers, philosophers—and lovers of same.” Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant are evoked in the modernist palette, and a further connection is made in that Yiadom-Boakye was influenced by Walter Sickert, about whom Woolf wrote a monograph, its cover illustrated by Bell.
  4. In a review of a book about Harlem, Smith compares the author, Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, to Woolf in that both are “bookish and devoted, interested in everyday matters,” and like Woolf in A Room of One’s Own, Rhodes-Pitts employs a technique of authorial transparency.
  5. “Notes on NW” Smith speaks directly to Woolf’s influence. In her novel NW she sought to “create people in language,” to do justice to “the unruly, subjective qualities of language” and “the concrete ‘thingyness’ of people.” This was Woolf’s way of being a modernist: “she loved language and people simultaneously.”

Essences of Woolf permeate Smith’s work, overtly and indirectly: “I admire Beckett and respect Joyce. I love Woolf. Whenever the going gets tough I reread her journals and it helps me through.”

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Virginia Woolf scholar Nell Toemen was visiting St. Ives this week and sent Blogging Woolf the accompanying photo of Talland House, where local residents Chris and Angela Roberts are sprucing up the garden.

For more on visiting St. Ives, see In Her Steps.

Talland House, St. Ives, Cornwall

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Speculative fiction, aka sci-fi – a world where at first young women, then all women, discover they have physical powers, superpowers, that enable them to rise up against the patriarchy.

One review of The Power called it “Hunger Games crossed with Handmaid’s Tale.” The author, Naomi Alderman, claims Margaret Atwood and Ursula LeGuin as mentors and models.

I read it with nary a thought of Woolf, caught up in the story and its key characters. So imagine my surprise and delight when I came across this subtle reference, accessible only to those in the know.

A sympathetic male journalist encounters one of the most powerful of the women during an extreme crisis and hopes she will help him:

“A fragment of something he read a long time ago floats through his mind. A flattering looking glass. He has to be a flattering mirror for her, reflecting her at twice her ordinary size, making her seem to herself to be strong enough to do this thing he needs her to do.”

I was able to contact Naomi Alderman and asked if she could say something about her decision to paraphrase this particular concept from A Room of One’s Own. Her reply:

“Firstly because ARoOO is just so so good. Secondly because I found that part particularly relevant to my own life, and how a good Orthodox Jewish girl is supposed to be ‘trained’ to behave – to tell men they’re wonderful all the time. And because it is so horrifying when you realise you’ve been doing it, and because in the moment of writing this scene I understood why in extremis it has been necessary for women to do this, to save their own lives.”

On the subject of women, misogyny and power, it’s ironic that the next book on my stack is Mary Beard’s Women & Power. Same subject but a far different style and approach. But both timely and powerful. When Woolf urged women to write she didn’t say to write futuristic thrillers or feminist manifestos; she said “write what you wish.”

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Virginia Woolf walked into the River Ouse 77 years ago today. We will always remember.

The note left for Leonard

Text of the note

Dearest,

I feel certain I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don’t think two people could have been happier till this terrible disease came. I can’t fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can’t even write this properly. I can’t read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that – everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer.

I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been.

Audio of the note

Past tributes

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It’s official. Dalloway Day is the third Wednesday in June on both sides of the pond.

After years of discussion and advocacy for a day that gives Virginia Woolf’s Clarissa Dalloway equal weight with James Joyce’s Leopold Bloom, both the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain and the International Virginia Woolf Society have designated the third Wednesday in June as #DallowayDay.

Finally, we have an officially recognized day for celebrating Clarissa Dalloway’s walk across London in Woolf’s 1925 novel Mrs. Dalloway to “buy the flowers herself.”

This year it’s June 20

This year the third Wednesday falls on June 20, and events are already being planned on the official date and those surrounding it. Here are those we know about so far.

  • The Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain is getting together with Waterstones, as it did last year, to arrange a walk, discussion and talk on Saturday, June 16. It will be announced on the new VWSGB website and Facebook page, and by Waterstones as well.
  • Many members of the International Virginia Woolf Society will be together and on their way to Knole House and Sissinghurst Gardens for the pre-conference outing on June 20, the day before the 28th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf begins. I imagine we will celebrate the day in some way and I welcome your ideas.
  • Places and Paces: Walking with Mrs. Dalloway, June 20, 4-5 p.m., at the British Library. Sponsored by the library and its Royal Society of Literature. Hermione Lee will discuss the novel’s walks and follow its paths into dreams, memories, and moments of revelation. Ticket prices range from £5 to £8 and can be booked online.
  • Dalloway Day with Sarah Churchwell, Alan Hollinghurst, Hermione Lee and Elaine Showalter, June 20, 7-8:30 p.m. at the British Library. Sponsored by the library and its Royal Society of Literature. The event will include a discussion on the significance of the novel and its effect on literary culture with Woolf’s biographer Lee; novelist Hollinghurst; literary critic Showalter, author of the seminal A Literature of their Own, and Churchwell, chair of public understanding in the humanities at the School of Advanced Study. Ticket prices range from £10 to £15 and can be booked online.
  • Monk’s House is holding an event on June 20, and the details will appear on the Monk’s House page of the National Trust website once they are settled.
  • The Italian Virginia Woolf Society is organizing an event dedicated to Woolf in June called “Una giornata tutta per lei” (A Day of Hers Own) on June 9 at the Casa Internazionale delle Donne, the International House of Women, the society’s home base.

Tell us about your #DallowayDay event

We urge you to add your own events in the comments section below or by sending an email to bloggingwoolf@yahoo.com, whether they are on the official date or another date. And please use the hashtag #DallowayDay in your social media posts so we can track them.

Watch out for The New Yorker

After June 20, keep your eyes out for The New Yorker magazine. A writer and editor for that publication has been in touch with Woolf societies and Blogging Woolf to discuss our plans for Dalloway Day. It turns out he is interested in traveling to England in time for Dalloway Day celebrations so he can cover it for the magazine.

His piece, if the idea is given the go-ahead, would appear in both the print and online editions, with photo coverage online. If so, this would make 2018 a banner year for dear Virginia — a Google Doodle and an official day of Clarissa’s own, covered in The New Yorker!

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To read words from Woolf on this auspicious day, check out this post that includes a popular quote from Woolf cited on this date three years ago, along with her diary entries for this date from 1918-1941.

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“Hilda and Virginia” starts today and runs through March 3. This double bill of two plays by veteran writer and activist Maureen Duffy, tells the stories of two remarkable women:

  • 7th-century abbess Hilda of Whitby, who brought Christianity to the Anglo-Saxons and was a teacher and adviser to kings, in “The Choice,” and
  • Virginia Woolf, who, in “A Nightingale In Bloomsbury Square,” looks back on her life, revealing the backdrop to her successful works.
The production is at the Jermyn Street Theatre, 16b Jermyn Street,, London SW1Y 6ST 020 7287 2875. Tickets are £30.

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