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Archive for the ‘Woolf online’ Category

Virginia Woolf may soon have a London Tube stop named after her. And you can help make it happen.

Woolf is on the list of famous women being promoted as part of the City of Women London. Organized by the Women of the World foundation, the public history project is modeled after a similar one in New York.

The idea started with Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, who created an alternative map of the New York subway system that renamed stops after women, non-binary people, and female groups. The map turned into an iconic poster that has been updated to include new additions.

Vote for Virginia 

The London version, coordinated by Solnit, Jelly-Schapiro, Reni Eddo-Lodge, and Emma Watson, reimagines the city’s classic Tube map as one that celebrates women who’ve made their mark on the city. And of course, that would be likely to include Woolf.

Suggestions for the London Tube map will be gathered by consulting with historians, writers, curators, community organizers, women’s rights organizations, museums, and librarians and through an open call to the public to submit ideas. Your vote for Woolf — or the woman or non-binary individual of your choice — can be sent to cityofwomenlondon@gmail.com or submitted via an online form.

How does it impact our imaginations that so many places in so many cities are named after men and so few after women? What kind of landscape do we move through when streets and parks and statues and bridges are gendered … and it’s usually one gender, and not another? What kind of silence arises in places that so seldom speak of and to women? This map was made to sing the praises of the extraordinary women who have, since the beginning, been shapers and heroes of this city that has always been, secretly, a City of Women. And why not the subway? This is a history still emerging from underground, a reminder that it’s all connected, and that we get around.
—Rebecca Solnit

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Here is some news from the world of Virginia Woolf, as shared by the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain.

  • A Room of One’s Own is being dramatized on Radio 4 May 31 at 3 p.m. BST. A Room of One’s Own was recorded during lockdown with actors and production team all in rooms of their own. Listen to the broadcast here.
  • The society’s 2014 Annual Virginia Woolf Birthday Lecture 2014 by Hermione Lee, “To pin down the moment with date and season,” is the only one available online. View it on YouTube.

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Virginia Woolf is an icon. We who love her know that. Now the BBC has recognized the fact.

The BBC is running a TV series called “Icons,” involving a public vote for one of four nominees in each of seven categories — and Woolf is a candidate in the seventh:

  1. Leaders
  2. Explorers
  3. Scientists
  4. Entertainers
  5. Activists
  6. Sports
  7. Artists & Writers
Once those seven are chosen, there will be an overall vote for the 20th century’s greatest icon.

Artists and Writers on the air

On Tuesday 29 January at 9 p.m. on BBC2, the Artists & Writers category will feature Woolf, as well as Pablo Picasso, Alfred Hitchcock and Andy Warhol. The program, presented by actress Lily Cole, can be found online after broadcast.

You can vote

Voting begins at the end of each program and the vote is open until 4 p.m. the next day. For Woolf’s category, the voting window is from 10 p.m. Tuesday, 29 January – 4 p.m. Wednesday 30 January, London time. To vote, you will need to create an account. Get more voting information.

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What Would Virginia Woolf Do? That’s the name of a Facebook group and a book. And I have to wonder what Woolf would do if she saw either one. 

Would she be flattered? Would she be horrified? Would she be angry? Would she be disgusted?

Critic Daphne Merkin, a memoirist and cultural critic who is a non-posting member of the group, told The New York Times that Woolf would be mortified.

I know I’m mortified for her. Let me explain why.

The Facebook group that misses Woolf

First came the Facebook group started by Nina Lorez Collins, a former literary agent, writer and mother of four grown children, while she was going through a self-admitted midlife crisis.

She saw the group as a safe and private space for women to talk about their problems and propose solutions with which Woolf might agree. She describes it on Facebook as:

“A closed, confidential, forum for women over 40 with a bent toward the literary, witty, and feminist. A place to discuss, support, and share things that we may not care to share with the men and children in our lives.”

According to a March 28 story in the “Style” section of the New York Times, the group has more than 7,600 followers across the country.

A Woolfian lurking among the Woolfers

Members of Collins’ Facebook group call themselves Woolfers. I became one of them this week so I could see for myself what the group was all about. I had to attest to the fact that I was over 40, submit a list of books I had recently read, and give my email address in order to submit my name for membership.

Once approved, I was able to view the group’s members — numbering 8,419 as of today — its posts, photos, videos, book lists, etc.

Only two of the posts I scrolled through mentioned Woolf and a few unidentified photos pictured her books or her home at 29 Fitzroy Square. Of the two book lists I skimmed, one included To the Lighthouse and another recommended that novel, along with A Room of One’s Own, Mrs. Dalloway and Orlando.

The posts I scanned were about sunscreen, teenagers, college tours, vaginal dryness, fasting, colonoscopies, tinted eyebrows, traveling to Hawaii, poetry, a writing contest, Mary Magdalene, furry slippers and wearing bejeweled sandals with a chipped pedicure.

Recommendations on the site included such things as restaurants, hotels, spas, shops, universities and museums, but I saw nothing connected to Woolf.

I also noticed that the instructions to group members mentioned Woolf only once: “For the Love of God, Please spell Woolf Correctly!” I would also say: For the love of Woolf, please punctuate and capitalize correctly, particularly in an admonition invoking her name.

Collins herself mentions Woolf in a couple of her posts — one noting the anniversary of her death and another including two phrases from “On Being Ill,” although she doesn’t cite the source.

Note: Within a few hours of this post going live, Collins or one of her administrators kicked me out of her Facebook group. Thank you for the honor, Ms. Collins.

The book title without a punchline

Now Collins has parlayed the private Facebook group into a book, coming out in hardcover this month, whose official title is What Would Virginia Woolf Do?: And Other Questions I Ask Myself as I Attempt to Age Without Apology.

The book, said to include personal essays, is billed as “Part memoir and part resource on everything from fashion and skincare to sex and surviving the empty nest” and “a frank and intimate conversation mixed with anecdotes and honesty, wrapped up in a literary joke.” The website describes its title as “ironic.”

But where’s the irony and what’s the joke? If it’s connected to Woolf’s suicide, I consider that an obvious cheap shot. If it’s connected to something else, that connection is not apparent or explained.

Where’s the Woolf?

The book’s title sends the message that Collins consults Woolf’s writing and life for answers to questions raised by group members. But that isn’t the case.

If the book’s content reflects the Facebook group, it will be focused on the kinds of things a frank women’s magazine for women over 40 that is supported by advertising would discuss — skincare, diet, weight loss, fashion, and relationships — all centered on aging. I don’t see Woolf in this.

The New York Times agrees. It described the book as “a sometimes wince-inducing primer on fashion, sex, marriage, divorce, money and health.” Nevertheless, the book and the group have grabbed headlines. News of both has spread to the UK and Australia.

Wince-inducing Woolfers

The NYT winced at the book, but I am wincing at more than that. The Times says some (insert wince here) “Woolfers” do more than complain and kvetch. They have also formed subgroups that focus on philanthropy, activism, business networking and writing.

That’s nice. But take a look at Collins’ website and you’ll find more to wince at. It includes the wince-inducing word “Woolfer” so frequently that I could barely continue reading, and it has a blog rife with predictable alliterative topic headings such as “Woolfer Wins” and “Woolfer Wisdom.”

There’s a “Shop” tab on the site with this sales pitch: “From t-shirts to tote bags to vibrator necklaces, we’ve got what you need to get decked out like a true Woolfer.”

The “Resources” tab on the site includes a long list of recommended books by women, but only one — To the Lighthouse — by Woolf.

Collins’ characterization of Woolf? “[A] brilliant feminist I admire, a woman who chose to end it all in her late 50s.”

Collins links us to her own published writing, including her tale of how she was arrested three times in connection with domestic abuse against her ex-husband.

Would Woolf use cheap alliteration, hawk vibrator necklaces, exploit the suicide of another writer, and abuse her husband? I think not.

Just read the real deal

Virginia Woolf was an intelligent and thoughtful writer who valued her readers, as well as the importance of language and history and literature. Her thinking, along with her writing, was brilliant and precise, groundbreaking and timeless.

There are self-help books that do a wonderful job of invoking Woolf to give advice about writing and about life. A Life of One’s Own: A Guide to Better Living Through the Work and Wisdom of Virginia Woolf by Ilana Simons and The Virginia Woolf Writers’ Workshop: Seven Lessons to Inspire Great Writing by Danell Jones, come to mind.

Collins’ book is not in the same league. Not by a long shot.

And although I am not embarrassed by vaginas — indeed, I celebrate them — it pains me to see Woolf’s name in the middle of a hot pink vagina graphic on the cover of a cheesy self-help book that exploits her iconic status.

While Collins has every right to age without apology and write whatever she wants without apology, too, she owes Woolf a huge apology for using her name to sell this cheap work. Why? Because it reflects the sad shallowness of pop culture, not Woolf.

The website calls it “A must-have handbook for modern-day women aged 40-100.”

I say the must-have handbook for women of any age is anything by Woolf, starting with A Room of One’s Own.

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The current fiction issue of The New Yorker (June 5 & 12) includes a story by Curtis Sittenfeld, “Show Don’t Tell.” The title—familiar advice to writers—is a tipoff that this is one of those “writers-writing-about-writers” stories, in this case an MBA from a renowned writing program writing about MBA students in a renowned writing program. (“Write what you know” is another of those pearls distributed to wannabe writers.)

Ruth and Bhadveer are discussing the possible recipients of a coveted and soon-to-be-announced grant that will go to four second-year students in their program. Ruth has heard that Aisha is a likely candidate, but Bhadveer thinks not.

“Aisha is gorgeous, right?” he asks. “Great literature has never been produced by a beautiful woman.”

Ridiculous, Ruth replies, and he challenges her to name one. The text continues:

“Virginia Woolf was a babe.” Of the many foolish things I said in graduate school, this is the one that haunts me the most. But I didn’t regret it immediately.

Bhadveer shook his head. “You’re thinking of that one picture taken when she was, like nineteen. And it’s kind of sideways, right? To obscure her long face. Why the long face, Virginia?”

Bhadveer dismisses a few others that Ruth suggests. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but there tends to be an inverse relationship between how hot a woman is and how good a writer. Exhibit A is George Eliot. It’s because you need to be hungry to be a great writer, and beautiful women aren’t hungry.”

Bhadveer is one of the grant recipients—we learn this early in the story, so it’s not a spoiler. Chauvinistic blowhards sometimes prosper (as we’re well aware these days). And Virginia Woolf was a babe who wrote great literature.

 

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