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Posts Tagged ‘A Room of One’s Own’

“Shakespeare’s Sisters” is an essay in Rachel Cusk’s 2019 collection, Coventry (and the first one I turned to, for obvious reasons). She begins by asking, “Can we, in the twenty-first century, identify something that could be called ‘women’s writing’?”

In that context she discusses The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir and Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. “Between them,” she says, “they shaped the discourse of twentieth-century women’s writing,”

War vs. feelings

Eighty years later, as Cusk sees it, “a book about war is still judged more important than a book about ‘the feelings of women.’ Most significantly, when a woman writes a book about war she is lauded: she has eschewed the vast unlit chamber and the serpentine caves; there is the sense that she has made proper use of her room and her money, her new rights of property.

The woman writer who confines herself to her female ‘reality’ is by the same token often criticized. She appears to have squandered her room, her money.”

Just another women’s novel

Men have always written about the female experience–Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina come immediately to mind, as well as a number of novels by contemporary authors. I’ve seen some of these works praised to the skies, touted as the latest incarnation of the great American novel. Yet, still, too frequently, the women creating these novels are dismissed as writing just another woman’s novel.

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The road to the ERA leads to Virginia, including Virginia Woolf. For although it was the state of Virginia that today became the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, Virginia Woolf would surely approve.

When I read that news less than an hour ago, tears came to my eyes. If I hadn’t been at work, I probably would have let them fall. But I restrained myself and took to social media and this blog instead.

What happened today has been a long time coming. The ERA has a long history. It was nearly 100 years ago that Alice Paul crafted the amendment, which was first introduced in Congress in 1923 and subsequently reintroduced in every congressional session for half a century.

And the fight is not yet over. A Facebook friend who is also an attorney explained,

Now the legal battles begin. An opposing group has already filed for an injunction to prevent presentation to Congress based on the deadline. They will also say it is just plain too late, that the whole thing must start over. Proponents argue that the deadline was arbitrary, singular and an unconstitutional part of the process, inserted separately after the body of the Amendment was passed in an effort to scuttle it, and that a different Amendment (27) was ratified after 200 years of dormancy. Several red states that voted to rescind their ratification will also challenge, but there is no mention in the Constitution of a rescission process, only reversal as happened with Prohibition, plus, wouldn’t it be too late for that, too? (There are efforts in Congress to remove the deadline retroactively but, doubtful that will happen with this Congress. ) WHEW! I hope I am around to see a successful conclusion to an issue I have worked on for so long. And maybe even a woman President.

Meanwhile, thanks to the state of Virginia, Alice Paul, and all who came after her, including Virginia Woolf, whose feminist polemic A Room of One’s Own (1928) is part of the canon that propels us forward toward full equality.

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Cecil Woolf pauses in front of Persephone Books, Lamb’s Conduit Street, London, in June 2016.

Tucked away on Lamb’s Conduit Street in Bloomsbury, Persephone Books has been my favorite London bookstore since I first visited it — twice — during my 2016 trip.

That’s not just because it is located on the same street where Jacob Flanders of Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room had his very own room. It is also because the shop reprints neglected fiction and non-fiction by mid-20th century (mostly) women writers. It is, in short, a treasure.

A stack of gray dust covers

Every time I visit, I cannot resist purchasing as many as I can carry of Persephone’s 135 books. From Marghanita Laski’s To Bed With Grand Music to Barbara Euphan Todd’s Miss Ranskill Comes Home, each is unique. And none has disappointed.

A stack of Persephone Books, each with its gray dust cover and colorful endpaper with matching bookmark, is eternally in my TBR pile, including the three I bought this year: They Were Sisters by Dorothy Whipple; Tory Heaven or Thunder on the Right, another by Laski; and Wilfred and Eileen by Jonathan Smith.

This year, though, I decided to spare myself. Having enough to carry, I had Persephone ship my books to my home in the U.S. They arrived within a week of my return, accompanied by a gracious hand-written note of thanks.

Still urgent today

And now Persephone, founded by Nicola Beauman, has printed a new edition of Virginia Woolf’s classic feminist polemic, A Room of One’s Own (1929). It is wrapped in Persephone’s classic soft gray dust cover, with the 1930 Vanessa Bell textile design “Stripe” as its endpaper and matching bookmark.

A Room of One’s Own, with its central premise that a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction, is a volume whose message has urgency and currency today, says Clara Jones, who wrote the preface.

The poetry and pragmatism of Woolf’s central claim about the room and the money have taken on renewed urgency today. The ubiquity of debt for a generation of young people who pay large university tuition fees, are charged prohibitive rents and paid low wages, combined with the fact that all but the luckiest (or best connected) with literary ambitions will begin their apprenticeship by working for free, make Woolf’s trinity of space, privacy and financial security as worth striving for as ever. – Clara Jones, Preface to Persephone edition of A Room of One’s Own

It is 90 years since Woolf wrote her iconic piece. You can read more about the Persephone edition (cost £13) on the Persephone website and in the Stratford-upon-Avon Herald.

About the founder and her store

Beauman herself is a legend in the world of book publishing — and in the world of Woolf. Along with Clara Farmer of the Hogarth and Chatto and Windus, she appeared on a panel at the 27th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf in Reading, England. Aptly enough, the conference theme was Woolf and the World of Books, with Beauman and Farmer’s panel titled “Publishers, Publishing & Bookselling.”

Beauman began Persephone 20 years ago as a mail-order publishing business with a list of 12 books. She now has 30,000 subscribers to her free magazine The Persephone Biannually. And when the shop celebrated its 20th anniversary earlier this year, a crowd of fans stopped in throughout the day and evening.

Here’s what Beauman had to say about the books she publishes in an April 14 New York Times story acknowledging her store’s 20 years in business:

The connection between them is that they were forgotten and they’re very well-written. I’m very keen on story and on page-turners. When I get to the end of a book I like to put it down and feel absolutely wrenched by what I’ve read, to be in a different world.
I can attest to the power of the books Persephone publishes. Upon finishing each of my Persephone Books, I find it difficult to make my way back into my own everyday world. I am that affected by what I have read.

Get a close look at Lamb’s Conduit Street, as well as the inside and outside of Persephone, with this YouTube video, the 2018 pilot episode of “Fran’s Book Shop.”

Inside Persephone Books with founder Nicola Beauman at work at her desk, July 2017.

A table full of “Fifty Books We Wish We Had Published” at Persephone Books in July 2017

A wall full of books in the traditional gray dust covers at Persephone Books in 2017

Persephone Books isn’t shy about making political statements. This banner hung in the shop in 2018.

A Woolf sighting at Persephone Books in June 2018

The window display at Persephone Books changes. This was the view in July.

 

 

 

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A Room of One’s Own. We have read it. We have discussed it. We have been inspired by it. But today 23 of us got an up-close view of Virginia Woolf’s original draft manuscript for the book. Now you can, too, thanks to Leonard Woolf and the Fitzwilliam Museum.

At the Fitzwilliam

Leonard Woolf donated a large piece of the manuscript to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge in 1942, after the museum’s director requested that Leonard give the institution something related to Virginia’s work. But because it was wartime, the manuscript lay neglected for nearly 50 years.

Titled “Women & Fiction,” it is the first draft of the book Woolf would eventually call A Room of One’s Own, and it has two other connections with Cambridge. The book had its origins in two talks on women and fiction that Woolf gave at Newnham and Girton Colleges in Cambridge in October 1928. And a lunch Woolf ate in Dadie Rylands’ room at King’s College inspired the luncheon scene in the first chapter of the book.

Background of the manuscript

Our visit to the Fitzwilliam to view Woolf’s manuscript was today’s outing for the Literature Cambridge course on Virginia Woolf’s Gardens. Dr. Trudi Tate, director of the course, shared some of the book’s background.

Dr. Trudi Tate

”Woolf worked incredibly quickly on this book, so fast, in fact, that she found it difficult to read her own handwriting when she had to type it up,” Tate said.

”As Beth Daugherty tells us, she wrote a huge amount of the book in two months, March and April 1929. She began to create the book in her mind when she was lying in bed, recovering from illness. She drafted it rapidly, in ‘one of my excited outbursts of composition’ (Diary 3, 218-19),” Tate explained.

Significance of the manuscript

The manuscript’s significance as the working draft for A Room of One’s Own was not recognized by scholars until the 1990s, according to the Fitzwilliam’s website.

At that time, S.P. Rosenbaum published a full transcription (1992). In his introduction, he gives details of Woolf’s lectures at the Cambridge colleges and traces the text’s evolution — from talks to magazine article to feminist polemic in book form.

The 20 pages from chapter three of the manuscript that are not part of the Fitzwilliam document are preserved separately in the Monk’s House Papers at the University of Sussex.

Creative process of the book

Tate detailed how Woolf’s writing process for Room included several stage of creation:

  1. the lectures, including the “Women & Fiction” essay and the “Women in Fiction” draft viewed at the Fitzwilliam
  2. A Room of One’s Own typescript
  3. A proof copy of the book
  4. The first published edition of the book, published by the Hogarth Press in Britain and Harcourt Brace in the U.S. in 1929.

Digitized version available online

The digitized version of the manuscript that was once on display at the Fitzwilliam as part of the museum’s past exhibition “Virginia Woolf: an exhibition inspired by her writings” is available online. View the entire manuscript on the Fitzwilliam Museum website.

A side view of Virginia Woolf’s manuscript of “Women & Fiction,” which was the first draft of “A Room of One’s Own.”

The cover of Woolf’s draft manuscript for “Women & Fiction”

Page one of the manuscript, with Woolf’s own edits. Note: This page is the same color as the others but the lighting makes it look lighter.

Page seven of the manuscript with Woolf’s edits and margin notes

Page 12 of the manuscript

Each student in the Literature Cambridge course Virginia Woolf’s Gardens was able to view the manuscript up close and take photos of it.

After learning about the manuscript and viewing it, the students in the Literature Cambridge course from countries including Japan, Italy, Germany, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, India, the UK, and the U.S., took turns reading the first chapter of “A Room of One’s Own” aloud.

Some of the 23 students in the Literature Cambridge course on Virginia Woolf’s Gardens

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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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