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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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This just in: We now have an Italian Virginia Woolf Society. The society has a Facebook page, as well as a website, which society founders are working on making bilingual.

Iolanda Plescia and Valentina Mazzei outside the Antico Caffé Greco in Rome. We speculated that Woolf would have visited the popular spot for artists and intellectuals when she traveled to Rome in 1927.

Founding members are:

  • Elisa Bolchi – President
  • Nadia Fusini – Vice-president
  • Iolanda Plescia – Secretary.
  • Liliana Rampello – Counselor

I recognize one name on this list. I met Iolanda Plescia, a scholar of Woolf and Shakespeare, at my very first Woolf conference at Miami University of Ohio in 2007.

I saw her again when visiting Rome in 2010, and this time our meeting was planned. Together with sculptor Valentina Mazzei, we went on a Woolf pilgrimage of sorts. We visited the Spanish Steps as Woolf did and stopped in at the Hotel Hassler, at the top of the famous steps, where Woolf stayed during her 1927 visit to Rome. We then wandered to the Pantheon for a drink.

For more information about the society, contact info@itvws.it.

The three of us at Rome’s Hotel Hassler, at the top of the Spanish Steps. Woolf stayed there in 1927.

 

 

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Woolf Zine, a new zine focused on Virginia Woolf, produced its first issue this month and is looking for Woolf Zinesubmissions for its second — and its third.

The theme of the first issue is the “Multiple Mrs. Woolf.” It includes a review of Maggie Gee’s Virginia Woolf in Manhattan, as well as a story on Woolf tattoos and a piece by Blogging Woolf contributor Alice Lowe on her stay in Lewes, near Woolf’s Monk’s House.

The theme of the second issue is “Woolf and Others,” with “Woolf and Politics” the focus of the third.

Submissions can include illustrations, articles, arguments, creative work, narratives, poems, questions, queries, collages, short essays, stories, case studies, fan fiction and more.

Contact Woolf Zine at: woolfzine@gmail.com; follow on Twitter at @woolfzine.

 

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There’s a new Woolf zine in town. And it’s apparently called Woolf Zine.

A tweet brought the publication to Blogging Woolf’s attention and drove me to its website. There I learned that the publication “aims to inspire new thinking around Virginia Woolf, through bringing together academic, creative and non-traditional responses to her work and life.”

The zine is looking for illustrations, articles, arguments, creative work, narratives, poems, questions, queries, collages, short essays, stories, case studies, fan fiction and more to fill its first issue, due to be published Dec. 1.

The zine will be hand printed and distributed to universities across the UK and America. Those who contribute will also get a free download link so they can print one at home.

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If Virginia Woolf had a personal assistant, here’s the tale she might tell — according to comedian Gaby Dunn.

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Here is an overdue collection of Woolf sightings from around the Web:

  1. A call for papers: Legacy and the Androgynous Mind: Reading Woolf and the Romantics https://www.cfplist.com/nemla/Home/S/16225
  2. To the Lighthouse is The Wall Street Journal Book Club pick. http://on.wsj.com/29KLes3
  3. Virginia Woolf visited Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage. http://www.cumbriacrack.com/2016/07/14/wordsworths-dove-cottage-celebrates-125-years-open-public/
  4. “Typology of Women” project is an exhibition and a book that includes Virginia Woolf’s essay, “A Room of One’s Own.” http://bit.ly/29F1avz
  5. Radio Girls by Sarah-Jane Stratford, which brings in Virginia Woolf and Vita, is a hit. http://usat.ly/29z8YiC
  6. Bloomsbury in Sussex: A One-day conference https://centreformoderniststudiessussex.wordpress.com/bloomsbury-in-sussex-a-one-day-conference-marking-100-years-at-charleston/
  7. Vanessa Bell will have solo show at Dulwich Picture Gallery next year. http://bit.ly/29p4ECB
  8. An artist who promises to solve a Virginia Woolf riddle, The Waves. http://bit.ly/29noUIL
  9. More on Ethel Smyth’s music, including a video, and news of the biopic on her life, starring Cate Blanchett. http://bit.ly/29nou59
  10. Head writer for Inside Amy Schumer includes reference to Virginia Woolf in book of essays. http://nyti.ms/29p3YwL
  11. The “Virginia Monologues” inspired by Woolf. http://bit.ly/29qGhVZ
  12. On my next trip to London, I plan to visit the The Bloomsbury Club Bar. I hope they’ll comp me a drink. They have 10 of them named after Bloomsbury group members. http://bit.ly/29hNmei
  13. The Guardian on the upcoming Vita and Virginia film. http://bit.ly/29hMHtA
  14. Opera House Arts offers “Orlando.” http://bit.ly/29qFxQp
  15. Is Southern Appalachian writer Julia Franks a 21st-century Virginia Woolf? This reviewer thinks so. http://bit.ly/28SbjnW
  16. The overlooked woman from the BBC who put Virginia Woolf on the air. http://bit.ly/28MC7Yr
  17. Coverage of Virginia Woolf’s connection with Yorkshire and the Bronte Parsonage Museum, along with The International Virginia Woolf Conference 2016 in the Yorkshire Post. http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/lifestyle/books/when-virginia-woolf-met-the-relics-of-charlotte-bronte-at-haworth-1-7966226
  18. A sustained homage to Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway in AL Kennedy’s “Serious Sweet.” http://on.ft.com/1sAeJnP
  19. Penguin Books bite-sized classics for 80p–including Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway–are luring younger readers. http://bit.ly/1TPRXBi
  20. Virginia Woolf stayed at the Hotel Villa Cimbrone on the Amalfi Coast. Bella! http://bit.ly/1TPR37V
  21. The complete script of “Life in Squares,” the 3-part BBC TV series about the Bloomsbury group, is out. http://amzn.to/1XoXIZm
  22. Here’s a must-see: “A Room of Their Own: Lost Bloomsbury Interiors 1914-1930,” an exhibit June 10 – Sept. 4 in Bath https://bathnewseum.com/2016/05/20/designs-on-the-bloomsbury-group/
  23. What the Dickens does Dickens have to do with Virginia Woolf and Mrs. Dalloway? Andre Gerard explains in Berfrois. http://bit.ly/1TsMtxu

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