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Posts Tagged ‘Maggie Gee’

VW in ManhattanI’m skeptical of so-called biofiction, novels that fictionalize real people, put words into their mouths, recreate scenes from their lives, sometimes inaccurately—its fiction, so literary license runs rampant. They leave readers, at least this reader, wondering what’s true and what’s been exaggerated or made up.

With novels about Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsberries, there’s also that tendency among Woolfians to be protective of “our” Virginia. We read them because we have to know what’s out there in case we’re called upon to defend her.

When Virginia Woolf in Manhattan came out last year, my interest was tweaked. Clearly it wasn’t going to be the same old rehashed and reimagined life and times. I put it on my list but hadn’t gotten to it in June when I went to the Woolf conference in Pennsylvania.

Maggie Gee reads a passage from "Virginia Woolf in Manhattan" at the 25th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf: Virginia Woolf and Her Female Contemporaries at Bloomsburg University.

Maggie Gee reads a passage from “Virginia Woolf in Manhattan” at the 25th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf: Virginia Woolf and Her Female Contemporaries, held in June at Bloomsburg University.

Maggie Gee, the author, was there and read a key scene from early in the novel. I was fascinated by her protagonist, Angela Lamb, a novelist and sometimes scholar who goes to New York to do research in the New York Public Library’s Berg Collection for a paper she will be presenting at a Woolf conference in Turkey. She’s in the throes of the place’s aura when she senses a presence behind her. It’s Virginia Woolf, in the flesh, and just as shocked and confused to be there as Angela is to see her.

In 1990, when I was discovering Woolf and traipsing the streets of Bloomsbury for the first time, I had a story idea. I’m in a tea shop in Gordon Square, standing in line at the counter. I hear a cultured female voice behind me. It’s Virginia Woolf, and she’s talking as if she knows me. We have tea together and … that’s as far as I got. I never wrote the story, never will, but I’ve recalled it from time to time. I suppose many of us have imagined a similar scene, but Maggie Gee has acted on it with glee.

I bought and read the book as soon as I got home. It took me a while to relax my inhibitions and drop into it. You have to suspend disbelief—this is pure fun, lively and loony. “What a lark,” Virginia might say were she to read it. There’s no halo around this Virginia—we see her as a flesh and blood person, back from the dead and dropped into a strange time and place. Gee relates Woolf’s disorientation believably. Angela takes charge of her, and their relationship is a prickly one. Woolf is at times demanding, difficult and bitchy. And funny and charming. So is Angela. They do Manhattan and then they go to Istanbul where adventures abound, some pretty far-fetched.

Virginia Woolf in Manhattan has been out for more than a year (and in paperback since this summer), and it’s received its share of press. The Telegraph called it “A writer’s sparkling fictional love letter to her literary heroine,” and The Independent ran an interesting interview with Maggie Gee. The Guardian raked it over the coals, and the U.S. press pretty much ignored it.

So this isn’t a review, just a reminder that there are a lot of laughs (and a few smirks, groans and eyerolls) to be had from Virginia Woolf in Manhattan. Summer’s over, but a good “beach read” is always in order.

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25th annual conferenceIf you are still sitting on the fence about attending the 25th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf, now is the time to jump off that fence, block off June 4-7 on your calendar, and get ready to travel to Bloomsburg, Pa.

The conference, held at Bloomsburg University, is on the theme Virginia Woolf and Her Contemporaries and will feature some real excitement. Here are some highlights now available on the conference website.

More updates will follow, and registration will open soon.

Cecil and Jean are coming to town

Cecil Woolf and Jean Moorcroft Wilson

Cecil Woolf and Jean Moorcroft Wilson

Most exciting of all will be Cecil Woolf as the featured speaker at the Saturday evening  banquet — and the attendance of acclaimed author Jean Moorcroft Wilson. The couple head up Cecil Woolf Publishers of London. Cecil is the nephew of Leonard and Virginia Woolf, and Jean is a well-respected critic and biographer of the World War I poets and the leading authority on Siegfried Sassoon.

Cecil and Jean have not attended a Woolf conference since 2010, so their participation in this year’s event is a long overdue treat, both for young scholars who have never had the opportunity to meet this notable couple and for Woolfians who have been befriended by the pair at previous events. As is customary at Cecil’s talks, he will share stories of his experiences with Virginia and Leonard.

Septimus, Clarissa and Mrs. Dalloway’s Party

Mary Gordon, Rachel Dickstein and Ellen Mclaughlin at a performance of "Septimus and Clarissa" in New York City in October 2011.

Mary Gordon, Rachel Dickstein and Ellen Mclaughlin at a performance of “Septimus and Clarissa” in New York City in October 2011.

A theatrical reading of Septimus and Clarissa with award-winning playwright and author Ellen McClaughlin and the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble is on the schedule. The reading will be followed by Mrs. Dalloway’s Party, giving everyone the opportunity to dress up — or not — in their own duds or the ensemble’s costume collection of hats and scarves.

Poetry and comic fiction readings

Poetry and fiction readings are on the program, with Cynthia Hogue, who has published eight collections of poetry, and Maggie Gee, author of the comic novel that places Woolf in the 21st century, Virginia Woolf in ManhattanVirginia Woolf in Manhattan

From papers to art with a Mark on the Wall

Conference organizers Julie Vandivere and Erica Delsandro have issued a call for papers, and those proposals are due Jan. 24. But a new and exciting twist this year is the call for entries in a juried exhibition of small works on paper that is fittingly titled Mark on the Wall. The entry deadline for those is April 20.

Community members unafraid of Woolf

The conference is also involving local community of all ages. The community is encouraged to form reading groups to read and discuss Woolf novels in advance of the conference.

Organizers are also providing print and multi-media resources to local high school teachers on two of Woolf’s most famous works — A Room of One’s Own (1929) and Mrs. Dalloway (1925) in an effort to get high school students to attend conference presentations and present their own papers. Conference organizers will produce a journal of the best high school and undergraduate papers, and all high school students who present will be able to submit their papers for publication.

Even on a budget

Conference organizers have gone out of their way to make this year’s conference affordable. Registration rates take employment and student status into account, and the registration fee for the four-day event includes six meals. Reasonably woolf_callforentriespriced recently renovated residence hall rooms near the conference site are available, along with other accommodations within the town.

Support the conference

The Bloomsburg conference has several sponsors, including individuals who have donated funds to the Bloomsburg University Foundation to help bring noted speakers to campus and provide travel grants to needy participants. If you would like to make a contribution, you can do so online by donating to the Bloomsburg University Foundation. Just be sure to select “Other” from the designation dropdown menu, and specify “Woolf 2015″ in the field provided.

 

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Here are several Woolf sightings worth a read. And the second one is generating some heat on theVWoolf Listserv.

1. Maggie Gee explains how she came to write Virginia Woolf in Manhattan in The Guardian, Sept. 19, Virginia Woolf in Manhattan2014.

2. “Virginia Woolf, Edith Wharton, and a Case of Anxiety of Influence” in the New Yorker, Sept. 19, 2014.

This essay is generating lively discussion on the VWoolf Listserv, with writers questioning author John Colapinto’s assertion that Woolf’s lighthouse imagery in To the Lighthouse was borrowed from Wharton.  As Linda Camarasana put it, “Makes me want to tell him to read ‘Reminiscences’ and ‘A Sketch of the Past.’ Surely he should at least acknowledge Woolf’s youth, trips to St. Ives, the haunting sounds of the waves, Julia’s death, and Stella’s death as the most obvious influences on To the Lighthouse.”

Another dispute is prompted by this line of Colapinto’s: “Though I can find no record of Woolf having read The Age of Innocence, it seems unlikely that she would have failed to read Wharton’s most famous and celebrated book, if for no other reason than she would have been curious about the first novel by a woman to win the Pulitzer.”

According to Stuart N. Clarke, Woolf acknowledged  receipt of a copy of The Age of Innocence in an uncollected letter to publishers Messrs Appleton & Co. on 18 Nov 1920. The letter was published in the January 2011 edition of the Virginia Woolf Bulletin. In that issue’s accompanying note, Stephen Barkway discusses Woolf’s published comments on Wharton  and Wharton’s irritation.

3. Review of Arctic Summer by Damon Galgut, a fictional biography of E.M. Forster in the Washington Post, Sept. 18, 2014, that includes “lightly fictionalized” accounts of meetings with Virginia and Leonard Woolf.

4. London photos: Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway book bench on the Flickfilosopher blog, Sept. 18, 2014. For more, see Close-up views of the Mrs. Dalloway bench and This summer, take a seat on the Mrs. Dalloway bench

5. Professor’s new book explores theories of place in the Bowdoin Orient, Sept. 12, 2014. The People, Place, and Space Reader, a new anthology dedicated to scholars writing about the ways in which people inhabit the space around them, includes an excerpt from A Room of One’s Own.

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Maggie Gee

Maggie Gee

Here’s something to look forward to: Virginia Woolf in Manhattan by Maggie Gee. Telegram Books will publish the novel in September.

It imagines what might happen if Woolf came back to life today and appeared to a British writer researching Woolf’s manuscripts at the Berg Collection in the New York Public Library. Woolf scams Manhattan bookstores with “rare signed editions” and the two travel to Turkey, where Woolf crashes an international conference on herself.

Virginia Woolf in Manhattan is a sparkling and profound novel about female friendship and rivalry, and how, amid the madness of modernity, we can begin to make sense of our lives,” says the blurb on the publisher’s website.

Gee is the author of eleven acclaimed novels, including The White Family (shortlisted for the orange and imPac prizes), My Cleaner and My Driver, and a memoir, My Animal Life. she is a Fellow and vice-president of the Royal Society of Literature and Professor of creative writing at Bath Spa University.

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