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Archive for the ‘women’ Category

This Christmas day, I unwrapped a present from my landlady and, completely unexpectedly, a small purple hardback book with gold lettering and a beautiful portrait of Virginia Woolf fell onto my lap. I was delighted, and proceeded to read it cover to cover amidst wrapping paper and ended up holding back tears to prevent myself being utterly embarrassed in front of my in-laws.

virginia woolf life portraits

© Zena Alkayat and Nina Cosford

Virginia Woolf (Life Portraits) by Zena Alkayat and Nina Cosford poetically weaves the story of Woolf’s life with Alkayat’s considered text and Cosford’s illustrations, a fresh response to the Bloomsbury aesthetic. It opens with the following quote from Mrs Dalloway:

She sliced like a knife through everything; at the same time was on the outside, looking on.

This liminality, both the relation between work and life and Woolf’s psychological flux, is represented thoughtfully throughout the biography.

street haunting in life portrait

© Zena Alkayat and Nina Cosford

Alkayat focuses on the personal details of life: how Vanessa Bell’s sheepdog Gurth accompanied her “street haunting”, how Leonard and Virginia Woolf spent nights during the First World War in their coal cellar sitting on boxes, and that they later named their car “the umbrella”. She also puts us on a first name basis with Virginia, Vanessa and Duncan, et al. – a choice which made me feel closer to their world.

charleston in woolf life portrait

© Nina Cosford

Cosford’s illustrations are both sensitive to the Bloomsbury style and offer a fresh perspective. Her bold lines and patterns used to illustrate the pages about Vanessa Bell’s cover designs for Virginia Woolf’s novels, for example, are edged with mark-making in the mode of Bell. Her use of colour also seems emotive, following the waves of high and low that punctuate the narrative. Her illustrations capture the paraphernalia of every-day life, from the objects atop Woolf’s writing desk – diary, hair grips, photo of Julia, sweets – to the plants in the garden at Monks House, bringing Virginia’s life closer to home.

monks house plants

© Nina Cosford

Illustration and text come together beautifully in this miniature autobiography and would provide any reader with a poetic and surprising escape into the life of Virginia Woolf.

 

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The passing of noted scholar Julia Briggs

Julia Briggs, noted Virginia Woolf critic and biographer, died at about 6:30 a.m. Aug. 16 in the Royal Marsden Hospital in London, England. She had been in a coma for a week.

She was the author of Virginia Woolf: An Inner Life, the groundbreaking 2005 biography of Woolf that focused on her writing life. Read a BBC interview with Ms. Briggs in which she discusses An Inner Life. She also wrote a volume of criticism called Reading Virginia Woolf, which was published in 2006.

Ms. Briggs was the general editor of the highly successful Penguin Virginia Woolf, which included Three Guineas and A Room of One’s Own. She edited Night and Day for the series. 

Ms. Briggs also wrote Night Visitors: The Rise and Fall of the English Ghost Story, A Woman of Passion: The Life of E. Nesbit, 1858–1924, and This Stage-Play World, about the Elizabethan theatre. She was an expert on children’s literature and co-edited Children and Their books : a Celebration of the Work of Iona and Peter Opie.

She was a contributor to Cambridge Collections Online as well.

Ms. Briggs was a professor of English literature and women’s studies at De Montfort University in Leicester, England.  She served as chair of the faculty higher degrees committee and taught courses on Shakespeare, Virginia Woolf, twentieth-century and post-colonial literature.  Her research interests included Shakespeare and contemporary dramatists, women’s writing in early modern England and late-nineteenth and twentieth century literature.

Read obituaries in The Guardian and  The Independent, a story updated Sept. 21 in the Telegraph, and a thoughtful tribute by Anne Fernald on her blog Fernham.

6 February 2009 Update: Read more about Woolf Online, a Web resource conceived of and organized by Ms. Briggs before her death and launched this year.

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For many, it’s just a statistic: In 1921 England there were one and three-quaSingled Outrter million more women than men. For Virginia Nicholson, Vanessa Bell’s granddaughter, that statistic is the start of a compelling story.

In Singled Out: How Two Million Women Survived Without Men After the First World War, Nicholson traces the fate of a generation of women left to blaze a new path for themselves after the slaughter of World War I. Known as ‘the Surplus Women’, the women of this generation met fates different from their Victorian forebears. Some accomplished great things as they took up traditionally male pursuits. Others felt trapped, lonely, and desperate.

In Singled Out, Nicholson draws on her extensive knowledge of the period, skillfully weaving the life stories of a sampling of women into a compelling tale of the interwar years for English women. Read more about the book, which will be out in the UK later this month.

Nicholson is also the author of Among the Bohemians and is the co-author of Charleston: A Bloomsbury House and Gardens. Speaking of Charleston Farmhouse in Sussex, she will be there to talk about her new book on Sept. 13 at 7 p.m. Tickets are £14 and include Nicholson’s talk and a glass of wine.

Wish I could join her. But I do plan to read Singled Out as soon as I can get my hands on a copy.

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VW’s writing LodgeVirginia Woolf’s idea that a woman needs a room of her own in order to write fiction has inspired two retreat sites in the U.S. for women writers — as well as a $50,000 award that provides worthy women writers with an income of their own.

Room of Her Own on Ghost Ranch
A Room of Her Own Foundation, located in New Mexico, bills its nonprofit mission as “furthering the vision of writer Virginia Woolf by bridging the often fatal gap between a woman’s economic reality and her artistic creation.”

The foundation nurtures women writers in several ways. It offers writing retreats, as well as a $50,000 Gift of Freedom Award for worthy women writers. The award provides the winner with an income of her own while she completes her writing project.

Meredith HallMeredith Hall, whose 2007 Without a Map has received widespread critical acclaim, was the recipient of the 2004 Gift of Freedom Award. The award gave Hall the freedom to finish her book, which was originally conceived as a collection of essays but ultimately became a memoir.

I just finished reading Hall’s book, which begins with her experience as a 15-year-old teenager facing the harsh consequences of being pregnant and unmarried in a small New Hampshire town in 1965. Her sad and thoughtful story gripped me in a way that few stories do. I also found myself captivated by the beauty of her writing. But what affected me the most was the wisdom and insight she has drawn from her life experiences and the power of her honest portrayal of them. 

As for the six-day retreats that A Room of Her Own Foundation sponsors, they give women the time and place to do solitary writing and the opportunity to attend group workshops and discussions. Retreats are held at Georgia O’Keefe’s Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico. Scholarships are available.Room of Her Own tote & CD

The foundation’s Web site has a page dedicated to Woolf. It also has a store that features a tote bag and a CD, both titled “A Room of Her Own.”

Hedgebrook faces Puget Sound 
Then there’s Hedgebrook, a retreat well-known within the international writers’ community. It has hosted more than 1,000 women writers — about 40 each year — from all over the world. Residencies range from two weeks to two months, and they are offered to selected writers at no cost.

Writers chosen for the program are housed in handcrafted cottages on Whidbey Island, about 35 miles northwest of Seattle. Hedgebrook itself is situated on 48 acres of forest and meadow facing Puget Sound.

Resident writers spend their days in solitude – writing, reading, and walking. In the evenings, they gather in the farmhouse kitchen to share a home-cooked gourmet meal, along with their work, if they like.

The residency season runs from early February to mid-November, and the selection process begins in the fall of each year. Hedgebrook was co-founded by philanthropist Nancy Nordhoff in 1988 and became a non-profit in 2001.

Read the latest news about Hedgebrook and Lynne Varner’s column about the retreat published in The Seattle Times.

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