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Archive for the ‘Woolf sightings’ Category

Woolf sightings are frequent, both online and in person, testifying to the fact that Virginia Woolf has long been an icon.

Here’s one put together by Lois Gilmore, professor of language and literature at Bucks County Community College in Newton, Pa.

She set up the display of Woolf items in the campus library in conjunction with an honors composition class focused on Woolf that she is teaching this fall.

It includes books by and about Woolf, a doll, note cards, jewelry, the T-shirt from the 2009 Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf: Woolf and the City, and the program from the 28th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf: Woolf, Europe and Peace.

Fittingly enough, Lois included Virginia Woolf Icon (1999) by Brenda R. Silver among the books she selected.

Do you have a Woolf sighting or display to share? If so, please add a link in the comments section below.

The Virginia Woolf display at the Bucks County Community College library.

A Virginia Woolf-shaped note card, along with the famous Woolf in Raybans T-shirt, are included in the display.

A copy of Kew Gardens with cover design by Vanessa Bell, along with a quote from A Room of One’s Own and a necklace featuring a Bell portrait of Woolf knitting are part of the display.

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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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From the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain come several Woolf sightings. Read on for details.

Julia Jackson, as photographed by Julia Margaret Cameron

  • “Britain in Focus: A Photographic History,” BBC4 TV: Julia Margaret Cameron, Virginia Woolf’s great-aunt, is discussed at about 45 mins. Watch it.
  • “Virginia Woolf: ‘Madness’, War and Trauma,” a free talk, will be held Feb. 3, 2018, 2:15-3:30 p.m. at the Bethlem Museum of the Mind in Beckenham, Kent. Get details and reserve your free tickets.
  • A section on Garsington and D. H. Lawrence in “Andrew Marr’s The Making of Modern Britain,” episode 4. Watch it.

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Every day Blogging Woolf monitors Google and Twitter for references to Virginia Woolf on the Web. Here are some recent sightings shared via the blog’s Facebook page:

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Literary Hub is a clearing house for all things literary—book reviews and reading lists, highlights from all over the web on pop culture and politics from a literary perspective, in addition to their own featured stories, essays, and craft pieces. They put out a daily or weekly LitHub bulletin with an overview and links to the latest content.

A recent feature was an essay by one of LitHub’s staff writers, Gabrielle Bellot: “How Much of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity is in the Writing of Virginia Woolf?” It starts with Woolf’s 1934 diary entry that one “can’t unriddle the universe at tea,” and goes on to explore Woolf’s attempts to unriddle aspects of the universe in her reading and writing.

Woolf appears frequently in LitHub—no surprise to Woolfians that her work is an endless and timeless resource—so I went back to see what’s come across my screen this past month:

August 3 – “Rereading Mrs. Dalloway at the Same Age as Mrs. Dalloway”

July 31 – The Most Anthologized Essays in the Past 25 Years – Woolf ranked third (after Joan Didion and Annie Dillard)

July 21 – “9 Classic Country Songs and the Books They Pair With” – “Whoever’s in New England” by Reba McIntire with Mrs. Dalloway

July 14 – “A night with VirginiaWoolf suite at America’s strangest literary hotel”

July 10 – “8 Famous Writers Writing About Not Writing”

and lots more at this excellent resource.

 

 

 

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Where I live, we are lucky to have Nightlight Cinema, a small locally-owned theatre that shows independent films ignored by the big theater complexes that feature blockbusters.

Drawn in by a preview of A Ghost Story, I attended Nightlight’s last showing of the film on Thursday. I was glad I did. Why? Two reasons. It was intriguing. And it pays tribute to Virginia Woolf.

The film, which has received rave reviews, includes the first line of Woolf’s short story “A Haunted House” in the opening credits. It is shown for a few moments on a dark background.

Whatever hour you woke there was a door shutting.

Filmmaker David Lowery’s use of the quote was a clue to what I didn’t know but soon learned — that Woolf is one of his favorite authors and her 1921 story helped inspire his film.

My investigation also uncovered the fact that when the ghost knocks several books off a shelf, the open book upon which the camera focuses includes important lines from “A Haunted House,” lines about treasure, buried treasure, “the light in the heart.”

Woolf as guiding light

Orlando is one of my favourite novels,” Lowery told the Irish Times. “I love her letters too. She’s my guiding light. The way she uses time fascinates me. Especially in To the Lighthouse and Orlando. They play with time in this dynamic and fun way. I love the idea of a character existing outside of time in the way that Orlando does.

“So that was certainly on my mind when I was writing the screenplay. And I wanted to pay homage to her in some small regard. And I wondered if she had ever written about ghosts. So I did a Google search. And found A Haunted House. I couldn’t believe that I had never read it before.

“The first sentence begins: ‘Whatever hour you woke there was a door shunting’. [sic] I couldn’t resist extending that to the film. I hope that it encourages somebody somewhere to pick up her work. Because I owe a lot to her.”

Playing with time as Woolf does

The film is a story of a house and its haunting, much like Woolf’s story. And it kept me thinking about its meaning and the message of the film long after I exited the theater, just as Woolf’s writing does long after I finish one of her novels or stories.

What’s more, Lowery plays with time in the film, much as Woolf does. As he noted in an interview with Huffington Post: “Virginia Woolf’s literature really transformed my own ideas about how to formally represent the passage of time and how time affects us. Specifically, the benchmarks are Mrs. DallowayTo the Lighthouse and Orlando, all of which have time as a central conceit.”

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