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Charleston, a treasure trove of Bloomsbury art and culture, is in dire need. Can you help?

Charleston

The longtime home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant and the country refuge for the Bloomsbury group, along with its garden, galleries, shop and café, are temporarily closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

That means the charity that receives no public funding is bereft of income from visitor admissions, as well as its main fundraising event. The Charleston Festival, scheduled for May, is cancelled.

As a result, Charleston has issued an emergency appeal for donations from those who appreciate this unique venue, no matter what side of the pond they live on.

You can find out more, including how to make a donation — whether you are a UK citizen or not — here.

Charleston as seen from the farm track to the home. The gravel, the lawn, bushes, and the facade of the house are the same as in the time of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant.

The Charleston garden

The Famous Women Dinner Service painted by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant between 1932 and 1934 has been on display in the Outer Studio at Charleston.

The New York Times reports that about half the world is in lockdown, due to COVID-19. So is now the time to read Proust? Some say yes. Others say no.

Drew Shannon’s Modern Library set of Proust

One naysayer is Suzanne Moore of The Guardian. She writes, “I never managed Proust in pre-virus days, so don’t saddle me with him now, for God’s sake.”

Others say yes. In fact, a Facebook group formed by Elisa Kay Sparks and dubbed “The Woolf Pack Reads Proust” has taken on Proust as a pandemic reading project. It has 29 members from around the globe.

Woolf on Proust

Woolf herself read Proust. Here’s what she had to say about him:

Last night I started on Vol 2 [Jeunes Filles en Fleurs] of him (the novel) and propose to sink myself in it all day. [. . . ] But Proust so titillates my own desire for expression that I can hardly set out the sentence. Oh if I could write like that! I cry. And at the moment such is the astonishing vibration and saturation and intensification that he procures?theres something sexual in it?that I feel I can write like that, and seize my pen and then I can’t write like that. Scarcely anyone so stimulates the nerves of language in me: it becomes an obsession. But I must return to Swann” – Letter to Roger Fry, 6 May 1922 (Letters II 525)

My great adventure is really Proust. Well–what remains to be written after that? I’m only in the first volume, and there are, I suppose, faults to be found, but I am in a state of amazement; as if a miracle were being done before my eyes. How, at last, has someone solidified what has always escaped–and made it too into this beautiful and perfectly enduring substance?  One has to put the book down and gasp. The pleasure becomes physical–like sun and wine and grapes and perfect serenity and intense vitality combined. Far otherwise is it with Ulysses. – Letter to Roger Fry, 3 October 1922 (Letters II 565-6)

Resources for reading Proust

Founding member Benjamin Hagen, who is also heading up the 30th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf: Profession and Performance, which has been postponed until 2021, has added a number of resources to the group page.

They include:

Hagen, assistant professor of 20th-Century British and Anglophone literature at the University of South Dakota, also posted this drawing and comment to the group page on April 6. He is also blogging about his experience.

Me [Ben Hagen] trying (with not too much success) to map out connections between topics / themes from last week’s reading.

Focusing — or not — on Proust

Hagen has made much more progress than I have, bless him. I must confess that the farthest I have gotten with reading Proust is locating the first volume on my bookshelf and dropping it on my desk. There it sits, unopened and unread.

The inability to focus on the task at hand is common at this time, no matter what we are doing. Here’s a quote shared to the group Facebook page by Gill Lowe, who said of her own reading of Proust: “I started. But I just can’t concentrate…”.

Proust on illness

It is illness that makes us recognise that we do not live in isolation but are chained to a being from a different realm, worlds apart from us and by whom it is impossible to make ourselves understood: our body. – The Guermantes Way by Marcel Proust

Virginia Woolf readers and scholars around the globe are coming up with creative ways to fill the time as they shelter at home during the current coronavirus pandemic.

  • A Norwegian typesetter is setting a sentence a day from On Being Ill.
  • Members and followers of the Italian Virginia Woolf Society are posting photos of themselves reading Woolf and reading her letters aloud via video.
  • And now, the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain is sending its members 100 questions about Virginia Woolf and Bloomsbury — a few at a time. “There’s no prize, just a sense of satisfaction, perhaps even smugness, if you get them all right,” states the society’s email.

The first five brain teasers from the Big VW Quiz

Play along by answering these questions:

1) When was Virginia’s play Freshwater first performed?

(a) April 1933

(b) November 1934

(c) January 1935

d) December 1936

2) Where was it performed?

3) What year did Virginia first meet Vita Sackville-West?

4) What was Virginia’s first piece of published shorter fiction (as defined by Susan Dick in “Complete Shorter Fiction”)?

5) In which years were the first and second Post Impressionist exhibitions?

Join up

If you’d like to join the society to get the remaining 95 questions, you can find out more on the VWSGB website’s membership page.

If you’re not following and reading the posts on the Italian Virginia Woolf Society Facebook page during this time of staying at home to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, you are missing out. I know I was.

Virginia Woolf reading at home

I had let many intriguing posts from friend Elisa Bolchi — and former society president — slip through my Facebook feed. So I finally clicked over to her page and on to the Italian Society’s page. There I found some comfort and some inspiration from those whose country is one of the hardest hit during the current pandemic.

Inspiration from Italy

On its page, the society, formed in 2017, has posted inspirational messages from its president, Nadia Fusini, along with those from its founding partners, and another from beloved bookseller Raffaella Musicò.

It has also shared a video of Federica Leuci reading aloud letters from Woolf to various friends like Vita Sackville-West and Clive Bell.

In addition, the society has issued a photo challenge we can meet while staying at home and reading Woolf.

The #Woolfincasa #Woolfathome photo challenge

The challenge posted on Facebook reads: “At this time the right thing to do is stay in the house. What better opportunity to (re)-read a Virginia Woolf book? Take a picture of yourself reading a Woolf book on the couch, the chair, table, bed… wherever you want, as long as you’re home! Then post it and tag us and add the hashtag #Woolfincasa and #Woolfathome, we’ll create the album “The Rooms of Woolf” with all your photos. Good morning 💜 #iorestoacasa #sharingbeauty

A number of followers posted photos of themselves reading Woolf.  A few are shown in the screenshot below of the Italian Virginia Woolf Society’s Facebook page. You might want to post yours on social media as well.

I took mine today when I just happened to be wearing the “Italia” sweatshirt I bought from a street vendor in Rome five years ago. Elisa Bolchi was kind enough to post it for me.

#Woolfincasa and #Woolfathome with Blogging Woolf in Ohio

Ane Thon Knutsen in her home printshop

Editor’s Note: Today marks the 79th anniversary of Virginia Woolf’s death, and as this post shows, she and her work continue to inspire artists and writers across the globe.

Virginia Woolf’s numerous experiences with illness led her to write the essay On Being Ill, published in 1930 by the Hogarth Press. Inspired by this work and the current coronavirus, Norwegian typesetter Ane Thon Knutsen, who has two projects focused on Woolf under her belt — A Printing Press of One’s Own and The Mark on the Wall — has now begun a third.

Woolf’s exploration of the consequences of illness

“Due to Covid-19 I have cast my eyes upon On Being Ill,” Knutsen explained. “This felt like something to get me through.

“The essay is about the consequence of illness; loneliness, isolation and vulnerability. But when we are forced to stop and slow down, we may notice the beauty in the small details of the world around us, and that our everyday, ordinary life is what we miss the most,” she said.

Working from home under quarantine in a printshop of her own

Ane Thon Knutsen’s letterpress

Knutsen, mother of a four-year-old, says her project allows her to combine motherhood with work under Norway’s self-imposed quarantine. The country made the move, which is in place at least until Easter, to stop the rapid spread of the coronavirus.

“I like being alone working, and I am blessed with a workshop at home. So I contemplated a Quarantine project that works with the circumstances,” she said.

Her project: using her printing press to print one sentence on one sheet of paper every day from On Being Ill “until we can go back to normal. I hope I will not make it through, as we’re counting about 140 sentences, and the paper is restricted to leftovers from my stock,” Knutsen explained.

Published on Instagram

Five days ago, she began posting a photo of each page on her Instagram account, @anethonknutsen. As of today, she is on sentence number six. The project, she says, “will present a very slow reading of the story.

“In the end (when that will be, who knows), I will make a box with all the sheets — like a calendar of sorts. Hopefully I will exhibit it as a wall piece in the future,” she said.

The project is set in 10-point Goudy Old Style. For the ink, Knutsen has “mixed a rich gray ink… inspired by the dust jacket by Vanessa Bell, and the colour of the lead type. It softens the appearance of the words on the page,” she explained on Instagram.

She hopes to print 20 copies, in a 208 mm x 135 mm format, the same as Woolf’s 1930 edition.

Sentence two from Virginia Woolf’s “On Being Ill”

Sentence one from Virginia Woolf’s “On Being Ill”

A tray filled with type set for Ane Thon Knutsen’s letterpress

Today, no matter where we live in the world, we are feeling the effects of the coronavirus Viral Modernismpandemic. Events are cancelled or postponed and travel is curtailed. We are told to stay home and only go out when necessary, maintaining physical distancing when we venture outside to buy groceries or medicine or get some much-needed exercise.

Virginia and Leonard Woolf lived through the pandemic of their time, the Spanish flu, which raged worldwide from 1918-1919, while the couple were living in Richmond.

Estimated to have killed 100 million people around the globe and more than 250,000 in Britain alone, the Spanish flu also affected people close to the Woolfs. In July 1918 diary entries, Virginia notes that their London neighbor has influenza, later reporting that she has succumbed to the disease.

Virginia and influenza

Virginia herself contracted influenza at the end of 1919, confining her to her bed, and that episode is thought to be part of the pandemic strain. It was not her first bout with the flu; nor would it be her last. She suffered from it in 1916, in the early months of 1918 before the Spanish flu had reached Britain, and again in 1922, 1923, and 1925.

On Oct. 20 of 1918, Woolf’s diary entry includes this report:

Pain is abhorrent to all Stracheys, but making all allowances for the exaggerations and terrors of the poor creature, Lytton has had a sufficient dose of horror, I imagine, and the doctor privately warns Carrington that shingles may last months. However, Lytton, is probably… avoiding London, because of the influenza (we are, by the way, in the midst of a plague unmatched since The Black Death, according to the Times, who seem to tremble lest it may seize upon Lord Northcliffe & thus precipitate us into peace.)

Illness in the essay

Virginia’s experiences with illness led her to write the essay On Being Ill, published in 1930 by the Hogarth Press. And now that our own pandemic has taken center stage worldwide, some scholars are writing about how past epidemics have been described in literature, film, and the arts.

One such piece by Laura Cernat centers on Woolf’s essay. And Ane Thon Knutsen, a Norwegian typesetter and Woolf scholar, is in the midst of an art project focused on the work. But more on that later.

Illness in the novel

The 1918 pandemic also made its way into one of Virginia’s most famous novels — Mrs. Dalloway (1925) — but that fact often attracts minimal notice. When it comes to debilitating health conditions in that novel, the shell shock of Septimus Smith gets most of the attention from critics and readers. However, in Viral Modernism, the Influenza Pandemic and Interwar Literature, Elizabeth Outka argues that Woolf has centered the novel on influenza and presents Clarissa Dalloway as a pandemic survivor.

A post on the British Library website takes a similar tack and includes a quote from the novel.

“Clarissa is almost certainly a victim of the influenza pandemic of 1918–20, but she is also to be one of the novel’s lingering wraiths: ‘Since her illness she had turned almost white’ (31).

The temperature was 34 degrees and a light dusting of snow covered the ground when my copy of London in Bloom by Georgianna Lane arrived in my Ohio mailbox several weeks ago.

With its cover photo depicting pale pink roses draping a doorway, arching over a window, and filling the basket of a matching pink bicycle parked out front, the book introduced a welcome breath of spring into my life that day. We need that even more now.

Turning from fear to beauty

The coronavirus has infected our globe, and many of us are sheltering at home, attempting to stave off the ugliness of anxiety. So there is no better time to open a book full of the floral beauty of London, Virginia Woolf’s favorite city.

London in Bloom is the third and final book in Lane’s Cities in Bloom series, published by Abrams. To capture the images that fill it, she spent many early morning hours photographing the floral beauty and architectural detail of England’s capitol before residents and tourists clogged the streets, sidewalks, and parks. I daresay she would find that task easier now.

On “Tea and Tattle”

I first heard of the book on episode 27 of Francesca Wade’s “Tea and Tattle” podcast. Wade describes it as “most beautiful guide to the city’s parks, gardens, florists and hotels and should be on any London-lover’s shelf!”

Much like Woolf, a lover of gardens who incorporated them into her life and into her work, the author shares her affection for London’s gardens in her Introduction to the book:

Perhaps not surprisingly, my most memorable London experiences have been inextricably interwoven with gardens… the open spaces of London have seeped into my consciousness, awakened my imagination, and become part of me” (7).

From parks and gardens to floral displays

London in Bloom is divided into four sections:

  • parks and gardens
  • floral boutiques
  • market flowers and
  • floral displays.

Each is introduced by a page or two of text that shares Lane’s thoughts and experiences, then filled with gorgeous photos of flowers and architectural details — brickwork, tile-work, doorways — that enhance them.

Whimsical touches are also introduced in the form of light cotton floral print dresses in a shop window, teacups and cake on a tea table, and London’s trademark red phone booth and double decker buses.

Beauty and practicality

Despite some touches of red, the theme throughout is pastel — from flowers to buildings to cover pages. But the book includes the practical, as well as the beautiful.

The back section gives us instructions on creating our own London-style bouquet, a field guide to London’s spring blooming trees and shrubs, and an introductory guide to springtime blooms throughout the city.

London in Bloom provides delectable refreshment for the eye and the soul in our troubled times, whether you are a lover of flowers, a fan of London, or just in need of a bit of balm.

 

 

 

 

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