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Stefano Rozzoni, a doctoral student at the University of Bergamo in Italy, at his first international Virginia Woolf conference, the 29th, held at Mount St. Joseph University, June 6-9 this year

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a new series of posts that will offer a global perspective on Woolf studies, as proposed by Stefano Rozzoni at the 29th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf. If you would like to contribute to this series, please contact Blogging Woolf at bloggingwoolf@yahoo.com.

It has been a little more than four months since I attended the Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf for the first time. And it is more than a decade since I first read – as a nonconventional teenage boy with a peculiar inclination for theatre and the countryside, and definitely with no clear idea of what literature meant – the legendary opening line of what soon would become one of the most important books in my life: 

“Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.”

La Signora Dalloway

Perhaps it was the middle of August, since I vividly remember going to the library by bike, that I first asked my librarian for a copy of La Signora Dalloway – which is what we call the novel in Italy. At that time I read only a few pages before giving up the effort. It was a little confusing and difficult for me to get much meaning from those pages. Nevertheless, I did think that it was magnificently written. Also, I remember taking an oath: I would return to her works with a more mature perspective. I suppose that this was the moment when I fell in love with what was, at that time, a fascinating, a bit austere, an elegant, and above all, a nonconventional writer. 

A trio of conference attendees: Todd, Cecilia, and Michael

(It seems that outsiders get along with one another…) 

On that day I would have never, EVER, E-V-E-R thought that I would one day attend an extraordinary event such as the International Conference on Virginia Woolf. And not only one of the many, but the main reunion for Woolfian scholars who are spread all over the world. It was a very special moment, a gathering of great minds, creative researchers, and inspiring people…the kind of nonconventional (once again!) creatures you feel like you cannot do without once you have met them, and who actively contribute to making the world a better place.

A world full of Woolf readers and scholars

And when I say “the world” I am not just using one of those hyperbolic literary embellishments to sound more polite and somehow kinder than how one actually is. You do not need this façade with the Woolfians. You only need to be open and sincere, to not hesitate to show your passion, and to freely live your literary vocation. The rest follows.

During the conference one can really perceive that it is all about a generous, wide-spread community, which not only welcomes you in a surprisingly warmhearted way, but which also develops a closeness that results in an inspiring exchange of email, Facebook messages and pictures long after you have returned home. As international as this community is, it is not difficult to (unexpectedly) bump into some of its members in many other places around the world, especially during conferences. It has already happened twice to me in less then one month.

Perhaps these are the natural habitats of this valuable species, which, by the way, I would consider far from being endangered if you think that wherever you go, you can easily meet somebody going: “I love Virginia” / “Have you read The Waves?” / “I am totally a Bloomsberry!” / “Oh, Nicole Kidman, you know, the one playing Virginia Woolf in The Hours” (disclaimer: all these are original quotations that I have collected only in the last few weeks!). 

Conference participants lounge among the books at the Mercantile Library during a conference reception titled “Hours in a Library.”

The world may be big, but the Woolfian community is definitely bigger. And it was not Cincinnati which made me aware of this, for the geographical constraints of boot-shaped Italy did not prevent me from understanding how vivid the sense of belonging in this field is.

One can just look at the success of the Italian Virginia Woolf Society: despite being founded only two years ago, it has already reached more than 3,000 followers on social media, and it has organized countless sold-out events, including the first ever Italy-based Dallowday in the marvellous setting of Cappella Farnese in Bologna in June. I still remember the excitement of seeing some of the greatest and most inspiring homegrown super-stars related to Woolfian studies packed into one room. It was a real “room of her own” in which, in fact, I could not fit since there were too many people in it.

New guy in town

One thing that I have learned from this year’s conference, which I will treasure forever, is the idea that the “new guy” is to be respected and valued just like the hard-core members, whose meticulous and constant effort made the growth of the community possible. Hearing about the importance of supporting young generations of Woolfians (something I was told by several people who, in my eyes, were still very young and energetic – some rare qualities in academia!) was just one of those pats on the back that you do not often receive when taking the first steps in a new environment.

Hardworking Mount St. Joseph University students who were part of the Woolfpack that helped pull of this year’s conference

Similar to putting into practice the principles of inclusion, equality, and non-discrimination expressed in Virginia’s writing, this special Woolfpack (I owe this expression to the brilliant organizer of the conference, Drew Shannon, in reference to his talented students!) has offered me a real chance to experience a sense of hope in relation to the idea that, by committing to a daily praxis, you can act upon macropolitics, especially in relation to issues of social justice, which was the very focus of this year’s discussions.

It has been a little more than four months since the conference, but it seems to me that it is not over yet because the learning from one another, the taking and exchanging of ideas and suggestions, and above all, the chance to share our passion about literature is still ongoing.

And I bet that it will continue for a long time…

Comaraderie among a table full of Woolfians at the conference banquet

More Woolf scholars feast on food and conversation at this year’s conference banquet. At far left is organizer Drew Shannon.

Another table full of Woolfians at the conference banquet, including Kristin Czarnecki, president of the International Virginia Woolf Society, third from left.

More Woolf scholars and common readers with Stefano Rozzoni second from right.

A long shot of this year’s conference banquet, where novice and experienced Woolf scholars and common readers shared food, drink, and ideas.

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Mrs Dalloway in slipcase. Courtesy of SP Books

The full-length draft of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway was waiting for me when I returned in July from the Literature Cambridge course Virginia Woolf’s Gardens. Lucky me.

As I eagerly opened the heavy package, I thought I knew what to expect from this handwritten manuscript of what would become Virginia Woolf’s famous 1925 novel. After all, its publication had been highly publicized by the mainstream press and widely shared on social media.

What I didn’t expect was its beautiful detail, its literal weightiness, and the fact that Woolf’s draft would be so very different from the final product we know, love, study, and write about today.

June 3, 2019, tweet from @BookBrunch

A lusciously weighty volume

Published by SP Books, the volume is luscious and large. Measuring 13″ x 9.5″ it is hand-bound, with linen-textured covers of dark green and a slipcase to match. The lettering on the cover and slipcase, including Woolf’s distinctive signature, is a rich metallic gold. Each volume is hand-numbered from one to 1,000. All of these beautiful features indicate the importance of this limited edition classic book, as well as the author we love.

The manuscript reproduces the three handwritten stitched notebooks, much of them written in Woolf’s trademark purple ink, in which she drafted “The Hours.” Written between June 27, 1923, and October 1924, these notebooks would eventually become her classic novel Mrs. Dalloway.

Virginia Woolf’s Signature. Courtesy of SP Books

Holding genius in one’s own hands

One usually must visit a library, a museum, or some other official place to study Woolf’s writing process in detail. When we visited the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge as part of our Literature Cambridge course, we saw the first draft manuscript for Woolf’s classic feminist polemic A Room of One’s Own (1929). Each of us had a few precious minutes with the manuscript, noting Woolf’s edits and marginal notes and taking photos.

Bookmark. Courtesy of SP Books

Now, however, thanks to SP Press, any of us who can rustle up about £190 or $220, can own our very own Woolf manuscript, giving us the opportunity to study it in detail at our leisure.

The Woolf draft, along with others in the series, provide, “A return to ‘slow reading’ in a digital age” and “offer an intimate insight into the writer’s mind and thought-processes, showing their crossings-out, notes and revisions,” according to SP Press.

Female-centric and revolutionary

I admit that I haven’t had time to read the manuscript from cover to cover. Woolf herself had trouble reading her own handwriting at times, so imagine how difficult it is for the unaccustomed common reader to parse her penmanship.

First page of notebook 2 (purple ink). Courtesy of SP Books

But it’s easy to see from the opening pages that the draft Woolf produced is totally different in focus, tone, and structure from the novel she eventually created. While Mrs. Dalloway focuses on Clarissa, introducing her with the famous line, “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself” (MD 1),”The Hours” initially focuses on Peter Walsh and includes this opening line:

In Westminster, where temples, meeting houses, conventicles, & steeples of all kinds are congregated together, there is at all hours & halfhours, a round of bells, correcting each other, asseverating that time has come a little earlier, or stayed a little later, here or here. – “The Hours”

So a quote from Michael Cunningham‘s introduction to the SP Books facsimile of “The Hours” certainly rings true: “Had Woolf completed a novel called “The Hours,” it would not have been the Mrs. Dalloway that has become a cornerstone of 20th-century literature.”

The back story

The facsimile edition includes an essay from Woolf scholar Helen Wussow that provides the genesis of the character of Mrs. Dalloway, as well as that of the manuscript itself.

According to Wussow, Leonard Woolf wrote to Vita Sackville-West after Virginia’s death to tell her that her friend and lover had left a manuscript to her. Leonard’s job was to choose which Vita would receive. He decided upon Mrs. Dalloway, sending Vita the entire manuscript on June 21, 1941. The British Library eventually purchased it from her.

Wussow also details the whereabouts of the typescript (not yet found) and page proofs for the novel, as well as Woolf’s working methods.

More on SP Press

Other SP Press limited edition copies of handwritten manuscripts include classics such as The Great Gatsby, Jane Eyre and The Picture of Dorian Gray. Follow them on Twitter @saintsperes.

Title – 1 – 1923. Courtesy of SP Books

1st opening, on the 1st page of notebook 1. Courtesy of SP Books

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Fifty ceramic plates decorated with images of famous women through the ages, from Sappho to Greta Garbo to Virginia Woolf. That describes the Famous Women Dinner Service painted by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant between 1932 and 1934 that is now on display in the Outer Studio at Charleston.

The series includes 12 dancers and actresses, 12 writers, 12 beauties, and 12 queens, each painted on plain white Wedgwood, in addition to a set of period women and two portraits of the artists themselves. The women are surrounded by bold patterned borders, with Duncan as the only man in the series.

History of the dinner service

Bell and Grant painted the dinner service for Kenneth Clark, the art historian and director of the National Gallery, and his wife Jane. As a friend and patron to Bloomsbury artists, he owned a large collection of their work. The dinner service the Clarks commissioned was made up of 140 pieces and was one of the largest commissioned works produced by the Bloomsbury artists.

Charleston

The service remained a part of the Clark household until a 1956 move to Saltwood Castle. Remarkably, it had already survived the Blitz and numerous changes of address before it went missing.

Historians considered the dinner service lost for nearly 40 years. Last year, officials at the Piano Nobile Gallery were shocked when one of its clients admitted to having the entire set, which was quietly returned to the UK.

It is now owned by The Charleston Trust, thanks to the support of Piano Nobile, generous grants from the Heritage Lottery Memorial Fund and Art Fund, and donations from a circle of remarkable women.

The artistic process and feminist philosophy

The dinner service forms an impressive testament to Bell and Grant’s close working partnership at Charleston. They carefully researched each woman they chose, basing most of their paintings on photographs and portraits.

The design, which places women at the center of the conversation, was left to the discretion of Bell and Grant; the two artists did not need final approval from the Clarks.

The exhibit information at Charleston notes that, “The final 48 famous women make an intriguing and unexpected list, one that demonstrates Bloomsbury’s understanding of gender equality” and “anticipates feminist politics.” As Bell noted to Roger Fry in 1932, the project “ought to please the feminists.”

The research

The series features women with “an overlapping strength of character,” according to Hana Leaper, who has completed groundbreaking scholarship on the series. Her scholarly work  has been followed by closer scholarship dedicated to the individual plates.

This research was published in print for the first time last year as From Omega to Charleston: The Art of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant 1910-1934 . The book was produced in partnership with the Paul MellonCentre for Studies in British Art.

Four years earlier, in 2014, curatorial interns at Charleston discovered preliminary sketches for the plates and posted the findings of their research on the Charleston Attic blog. The initial designs were carried out on round scraps of paper and card in pencil and ink.

When the Literature Cambridge course on Virginia Woolf’s Gardens ended last month, I was among the students who took a coach trip to Charleston, where we viewed the entire collection.

Very little is known about women,” wrote Woolf in 1929. “The history of England is the history of the male line, not the female. Of our fathers we know always some fact, some distinction. They were soldiers or they were sailors; they filled that office or they made that law. But of our mothers, our grandmothers, our great-grandmothers, what remains? – Virginia Woolf, “Women and Fiction,” 1929

This figure greets visitors to the Famous Women Dinner Service exhibit on display in the Outer Studio at Charleston.

Overall view of the Famous Women Dinner Service at Charleston

Plates depicting actresses in the Famous Women Dinner Service

Plates depicting writers in the Famous Women Dinner Service. The Vanessa Bell plate is in the second row from the top, far right.

More notable women in the Famous Women Dinner Service

Various famous women from throughout history are depicted in this selection of plates from the Famous Women Dinner Service.

The Virginia Woolf plate in the Famous Women Dinner Service, which was hand-painted by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant between 1932-1934.

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Peter and Jill Seddon, two retired academics from Brighton University, replicated as exactly as possible a trip made by Leonard and Virginia Woolf in the spring of 1928 to Cassis and back. You can follow along with them on Instagram.

The purpose of the Woolfs’ trip was to visit Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant at their house, La Bergere, on the Fontcreuze Estate near Cassis.

Peter, a researcher, artist and intervention artist, and Jill, a pioneer and innovator in design history, posted images and commentary about their 2018 trip each day. You can find their photos on Instagram at @followingthewoolfs

Meanwhile, here are two of the first posts the couple posted, along with a later one. The first two are tagged #followingthewoolfs.

Nobody shall say of me that I have not known perfect happiness. -Virginia Woolf on her first trip to Cassis in 1925.

 

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One of four pieces of furniture painted by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant in Cassis and collected by Jerome Hill, the founder of the Camargo Foundation. (1930s?)These four pieces are now in a corridor in the Foundation building since they are considered too frail for use in the other rooms. This example echos much of such work in Carleston House and work they undertook for the Omega Workshops established by Roger Fry. For those unfamilar with it, the Camargo Foundation supports residencies for artists, dancers, film makers, creative writers, as well as residencies for scholars in the humanities working on Francophone projects. #leonardwoolf #virginiawoolfquotes #virginiawoolf #pallenthousegallery #townergallery #pheonixgallerybrighton #brightonmuseumsndartgallery #camargofoundation #charlestontrust #monkshousent #kingscollegearchives

A post shared by Peter & Jill Seddon (@followingthewoolfs) on

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A Literary Tube map of London by In the Book replaces Tube stations with famous novels based on the area in which they were set. The site asks, “How many have you read?” and includes Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway.

Close-up of the Westminster Tube station near the home where Mrs. Dalloway prepares for her party.

The map was designed to act as a definitive virtual book tour of London for both locals and tourists, according to developers. They “believe literature has the wonderful ability to color a certain area like nothing else!”

Here’s what In the Book has to say about their latest creation:

The literary Tube map shows upper-class housewife Clarissa Dalloway preparing for her party near Westminster station, as well as Sherlock Holmes about to embark on another mystery near Baker Street. We can also see Roald Dahl’s famous tale The BFG two stops away from J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, two timeless children’s classics that are situated on the central line.

Developers say they “found it fascinating how certain genres and authors were married with certain parts of the map: Dickens’ London dominates the Central Line, while gothic Victorian works Dracula, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Picture of Dorian Gray can all be found haunting the Piccadilly Line. Zadie Smith’s works were located on the northwest Jubilee Line while Martin Amis’ novels were more prominent around West London.”

In The Book is a personalized book company based in Hertfordshire.

Literary Tube Map

Tube Map Central

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Once our Literature Cambridge course on Virginia Woolf’s Gardens was over, it was time for a pilgrimage. So on a bright and sunny July Saturday, we climbed aboard our coach and headed to Monk’s House from Cambridge.

Our driver dropped us off in Rodmell after our three-hour trip and we literally headed down The Street. After a brief walk, we arrived at the front gate of the country home that Virginia and Leonard occupied, beginning in 1919.

It was magical. Walking through the gate and down the path, I felt as though I was on hallowed ground, following in the footsteps the Woolfs had made.

We ate lunch in the garden, watched a dramatic reading of a scene from Between the Acts, with Virginia’s Writing Lodge as a backdrop, toured the ground floor of the home fitted out with the Woolfs’ belongings, and wandered through the garden filled with colorful and profuse blooms.

Follow along as I share some photos from our day.

Front gate of Monk’s House

The path behind the Monk’s House gate

As the Monk’s House guidebook states, “Books dominated the house.” And books are the first thing you see as you enter through the low back doorway. They line the stairs to the second floor.

Off to the left is the original Monk’s House sitting room, furnished with pieces ranging from the 17th to the 20th centuries. The still life design on the fire screen is by Duncan Grant, with the needlework by his mother, Ethel Bartle Grant. The upholstered armchair to its right was Virginia’s favorite, featuring a print by Vanessa Bell.

Another view of the original Monk’s House sitting room, which was created when the Woolfs knocked down a partition wall in 1926. It combined areas for reading, writing, and eating. Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant painted the dining table — with its geometric design of criss-cross strokes — and four chairs in the early 1930s.

The square coffee table in the center of the room is topped with tiles by Duncan Grant. They depict Venus at her toilet.

A table and six painted chairs with needlework panels designed by Vanessa Bell dominate the dining room. The needlework panels depict bowls of flowers against a window. Grant’s mother completed the embroidery.

The Monk’s House dining room fireplace

The oil portrait of Virginia Woolf painted by Vanessa Bell in 1912. It hangs on a wall between the stairway and the dining room at Monk’s House.

The doorway, framed with roses, that leads from the garden to Virginia Woolf’s bedroom at Monk’s House

Virginia Woolf’s bedroom was part of an extension to Monk’s House built in 1929. It truly was a room of her own as one had to enter it from the garden, as in the photo above.

The fireplace in Virginia Woolf’s ground floor bedroom is decorated with tiles that were a gift from Vanessa Bell. They depict a ship with a lighthouse in the distance.

Virginia Woolf’s Writing Lodge, built in 1934 and and extended in the 1950s by Leonard for his companion Trekkie Parsons. The new space is now used as an exhibition room.

This table sits inside the Writing Lodge covered with her tortoiseshell glasses, folders with handwritten labels that she used for her manuscripts, pen and ink, newspapers, and wads of rumpled paper.

Just one view of the extensive Monk’s House garden, lovingly tended by Leonard, with the central part consisting of a series of small spaces enclosed by plants and joined by a network of narrow paths.

The Millstone Terrace, whose name comes from the millstones the Woolfs found in the garden.

The Fish Pond, one of three ponds Leonard installed, this one on a narrow strip of south-facing garden enclosed on three sides by flint walls.

The lawn at Monk’s House where the Woolfs played bowls and visitors today continue the tradition.

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We have already followed Virginia Woolf to locations at Newnham College, King’s College, and the Fitzwilliam Museum during our time at the Literature Cambridge course Virginia Woolf’s Gardens.

But today, the first overcast, drizzly day since we arrived, we went off on our own. We made a trek to nearby Grantchester — and two other spots in Cambridge we just discovered.

The Orchard

Virginia Woolf, along with Maynard Keynes and E. M. Forster, was a member of the Bloomsbury Group and a member of the Grantchester Group as well. Focused around poet Rupert Brooke, who lived in the picturesque Grantchester, the latter group met at Orchard House there, where Brooke is said to have hosted wild parties.

The original pavilion of The Orchard still exists, and one reaches it via a long path from High Street surrounded by a quiet green lawn dotted with apple trees and dark green deck chairs grouped around tables.

An outdoor display board tells the story of the Grantchester Group. Indoors, photos and a display case of Rupert Brooke books, photos and memorabilia, tell his story. Photos of other writers and celebrities, including Woolf, cover the walls.

Byron’s Pool

The river Cam runs through Grantchester Meadows, which includes Byron’s Pool. In the early 1900s a group of Cambridge undergraduates and their friends, dubbed the neo-Pagans, bathed there, according to the University of Cambridge website.

Rupert Brooke and Virginia Woolf are also said to have swum naked by moonlight at Byron’s Pool in 1911. Today, cars on the M11 roar past that spot.

Now one must be a member to obtain access to pool, as entry is not granted without a key. But a gracious friend of someone affiliated with the Literature Cambridge course drove us down the nearest Cambridge road behind the pool, and we snapped a photo of the field that fronts it.

One warm night there was a clear sky and a moon and they walked out to the shadowy waters of Byron’s Pool. ‘Let’s go swimming, quite naked,’ Brooke said, and they did. – Rupert Brooke: A Biography by Christopher Hassall (1964)

The Porch

Also in Cambridge, we found The Porch at 33 Grantchester St., the home of Caroline Emilia Stephen, Woolf’s aunt. Her niece and Woolf’s cousin, Katharine Stephen, was a librarian and later the Principal at Newnham College, where Woolf gave her “Women and Fiction” talk in October 1928.

Both Woolf and her sister Vanessa Bell stayed with their aunt at The Porch when they visited their brothers Adrian and Thoby during May Week at Trinity College. Woolf herself made “formational visits” to her aunt, who she sometimes called “the nun,” from 1904 to 1906. Virginia and Adrian also lived with Stephen for a period of time in 1907, after Vanessa’s marriage to Clive Bell.

As Jane deGay writes on the Leeds Centre for Victorian Studies Blog: “[Caroline] Stephen played a key role in helping Virginia Woolf distance herself from patriarchal ideologies by developing a radical approach to religion and spirituality that was deeply feminist.”

A Quaker, it was this aunt who at her death in 1909 left Woolf the £2,500 inheritance that gave her a modest income of her own. The amount indicates the special relationship she had with Woolf, as she left Adrian and Vanessa just £100 each.

Sign directing visitors to The Orchard Tea Garden in Grantchester, where Virginia Woolf drank tea with Rupert Brooke and others.

The original pavilion where Woolf and others met for tea on rainy days

Sign noting the literary significance of the original pavilion at The Orchard

Information board outside the pavilion noting members of the Grantchester Group, which included Virginia Woolf

Just two of the photos lining the walls inside the pavilion. Woolf’s is on the right.

Past this field of grasses and wildflowers and the stand of trees beyond sits Byron’s Pond, where Woolf and Brooke went skinny dipping.

The Porch, 33 Grantchester Rd., Cambridge, the home of Woolf’s Aunt Caroline Emilia Stephen. Woolf and her sister Vanessa Bell stayed here.

Closeup of the home’s sign, identifying it as The Porch

 

 

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