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Archive for the ‘Woolf and feminism’ Category

King’s College, Cambridge

It’s day two of the Literature Cambridge course Virginia Woolf’s Gardens, and we spent two hours touring the gardens of King’s College, Cambridge. Then came the best part of all. We saw the window of a room that was the setting for a scene in Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own.

Not a room of her own

That important part of our tour came at the end, as we got a look at the second floor window of the room overlooking the college green where, our guide told us, Woolf wrote the first chapter of A Room of One’s Own (1929). Later, Trudi Tate, director of Literature Cambridge, corrected that statement. Instead, she told us, the room was the setting for the well-appointed lunch Woolf describes in the first chapter of Room.

The room, of course, was not her own, but was the quarters of Dadie Rylands. Women were not admitted to King’s until 1972, so they obtained their degrees at the University of Cambridge’s two women’s colleges, Newnham, founded in 1869, and Girton, founded in 1871.

We were not able to visit the actual room that helped inspire Woolf, as it is now the accounting office for the college. Ironically, it was off limits to Woolf pilgrims, we who revere her feminist polemic about the ways the patriarchy limits women. I do admit that our group of more than two dozen would have crowded such small quarters.

Bloomsbury paintings in the hundreds

However, after viewing the Provost’s Garden, we were taken inside the nearby Provost’s Lodge. There, we were shown two first-floor rooms hung with original paintings by Bloomsbury artists Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, Roger Fry, and Dora Carrington.

I took plenty of photos of the paintings we saw, but publication of them — even on the internet — is not permitted without permission, and we did not want to trouble our gracious guide to obtain that.

As it turns out, hundreds of paintings by Grant and Bell are hung around the college, many of them donated by Maynard Keynes. A catalogue of the Bloomsbury art is in the works, but it will be several years before it is ready. We were told that it may be available in digital format.

Corrected and updated: 17 July 2019

Virginia Woolf wrote the first chapter of “A Room of One’s Own” in Dadie Rylands’ room at King’s College, Cambridge, which was behind the second floor window shown here.

This was part of the view Woolf would have seen from Dadie Rylands’ room at King’s College, Cambridge, where she wrote the first chapter of “A Room of One’s Own.” As our guide told us, the buildings, the lawn, and the gardens have changed little since Woolf’s day.

Woolf mentions undergraduates punting on the river in “A Room of One’s Own.” They, and tourists, still do that today on the River Cam located just beyond the lawn pictured above.

In the Provost’s Garden at King’s College, Cambridge, a private place we viewed on our tour.

A flower bed in the Provost’s Garden, with a pot of colorful sweet peas growing up a trellis.

Giant magnolias from the U.S. frame a doorway in the Provost’s Garden.

Sun-kissed floral closeup in the Provost’s Garden.

The Wine Room in the Provost’s Lodge is filled with paintings by members of the Bloomsbury Group. It is often used now as a seminar room. The 23 students in our group snapped lots of photos of the art.

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The Guardian reports on the cooking exploits of writers, including Virginia Woolf, by quoting a post published on thecottage loaf Paper and Salt blog on Woolf’s 131st birthday that provides some detail about her experiences in the kitchen.

Bread, particularly the traditional British double-decker cottage loaf, was her specialty. And even her cook knew it. Cook Louie Mayer is quoted describing how Woolf taught her how to make the dough, knead it, shape it and bake it. Her memories are included in Recollections of Virginia Woolf.

Was Woolf’s baking advice helpful or snobbish? Was Woolf’s interest in cooking and baking a relaxing diversion from writing or a betrayal of her feminism?

The Guardian article gives Angela Carter‘s views on both issues. Post your thoughts in the Comments section below.

Read more about Woolf and food.

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I am enjoying a snow evening. Not a snow day, just a snow evening.

My university cancelled evening classes because of the snow, which means I don’t have to teach tonight. So instead of standing in front of a classroom, I am sitting at home on a sofa.

The unexpected free time feels especially fine. Outdoors I can hear my neighbor running his snow blower. In the kitchen, the tea kettle sounds ready to boil. The only jarring note is the TV, but it is the news hour, and my husband does have it tuned to PBS.

Meanwhile, with Jim Lehrer in the background, I pull together Woolf notes:

  • From Anne Fernald of Fernham, comes a tweet advising us to read “Always A Rambling Post on Common Readers, Classes and the Noise of Poetry,” which extols the virtues of Woolf, “a poet who wrote novels.”
  • S. Shulman shared a story about a Princeton exhibit in the Firestone Library’s Main Gallery called “The Author’s Portrait.” The exhibit runs through July 5 and includes a 1928 portrait of Woolf.
  • She also sent a link to a Londonist story, “Which is the Best London Novel?” Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway is tied for the number three spot on the list. And Ian McEwan’s Saturday, inspired by Mrs. D, is number nine.
  • In an article in the London Times, Naomi Wolf cites Virginia Woolf in her article, Sleep is a Feminist Issue.
  • On The Walrus Blog, a post called “Ghost Stories” argues that the cult of authors may result in ” fancy editions of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s grocery lists, or leather-bound copies of Virginia Woolf’s to-do reminders.”
  • A note from the Literary Gift Co. illustrates our fetishization of authors. The company offers “Virginia Woolf Parcel Tape” to seal your special packages. It is emblazoned with a Woolf quotation, “Life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope which surrounds us from the beginning of conciousness to the end,” from her essay  “Modern Fiction.”
  • A VWoolf Listserv conversation about Woolf’s mental state generated tips for further reading. They include:
  • And if you need a chuckle after all this serious talk, take a look at the Punch cartoon whose link was sent by Stuart N. Clarke in response to the discussion on the VWoolf Listserv regarding Woolf and weather, a topic obviously dear to my heart.

Which leads me full circle to the topic with which I began: I am enjoying a snow evening. And it is pure white bliss.

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Whatever holiday you celebrate, you may need a last-minute gift idea for a favorite reader. Here are a few books that could suffice. The bonus is that each has a Virginia Woolf connection, however slim.

  • Writers’ Houses is a book produced by Francesca Premoli-Droulers that includes wonderful photographs of the homes of writers. Those of Vita Sackville-West and Virginia are included. Read more.
  • A Truth Universally Acknowledged: Thirty-Three Great Writers on Why We Read Jane Austen, edited by Susannah Carson, includes Virginia’s thoughts about the great novelist of Regency England. She is among 33 authors whose opinions are included in this volume, published by Random House. Read more. And check out a post about the book on a super Austen blog I just discovered, Jane Austen’s World.
  • The newly released The Letters of T.S. Eliot, Volume Two: 1923-1925 includes letters from Virginia. It is edited by Valerie Eliot and Hugh Haughton and published by Faber Faber. Volume Two is being published simultaneously with the revised edition of Volume One of the letters, which covers the years from 1898 to 1922. Read more.
  • A new translation of  The Second Sex By Simone de Beauvoir replaces all of the original material removed by its original translator. This material includes long extracts from works by Virginia Woolf, Sophie Tolstoy and Colette, among others. Translators Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier Jonathan Cape also corrected mistranslations of philosophical terms and punctuation. These changes, along with the replacement of approximately 15 percent of the original content — particularly from sections on history and literature — are said to make a meaningful impact for readers interested in gaining greater understanding of Beauvoir’s views on women’s lives. Read more.

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