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Posts Tagged ‘Suzanne Bellamy’

First, there was the conference. Then came the party. In London. With the Woolfs.

On the Monday evening following days one, two, three, and four of the 27th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf, Cecil Woolf and Jean Moorcroft Wilson hosted a party in London for their visiting Woolfian friends who remained in town.

I was happy to be among them. But I was chagrined to arrive on their doorstep 20 minutes early due to lightning fast service by my Uber driver.

Cecil and Jean, however, didn’t blink when they answered my too-early knock. They ushered me in and escorted me up the stairs, past stacks of books from their Bloomsbury Heritage Series and a smattering of hats from Jean’s famous collection.

Cecil poured me a glass of wine and settled me in their persimmon-colored sitting room that is casually decorated with original Bloomsbury art by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. It was magical.

Cecil and Jean are tremendous hosts who know how to make each guest feel specially welcome, no matter when they arrive. They created a wonderful evening full of camaraderie, good food, and drink, while introducing us to their daughter Emma Woolf, author of numerous books and a regular BBC contributor.

Afterward, when thinking about the evening, a quote came to mind that perfectly captures the mood and magic of the evening.

No need to hurry. No need to sparkle. No need to be anybody but oneself. – Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own (1929)

Cecil Woolf and Jean Moorcroft Wilson hosted a post-conference party at their London home, which also houses Cecil Woolf Publishers.

This side table decorated by Duncan Grant held appetizers, as well as my little Virginia. #travelswithvirginiawoolf

Cecil Woolf and daughter Emma Woolf at the party.

Louise Higham, Suzanne Bellamy, John McCoy, and Eleanor McNees (far right) were among the party guests.

A firescreen painted by Duncan Grant.

Bloomsbury art above the fireplace, along with a piece by Suzanne Bellamy and a photo of Jean.

Judith Allen and her husband Steve.

More Bloomsbury art.

 

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There are mysteries to be solved in the world of Woolf. And Virginia Woolf scholars have their magnifying glasses out.

The 24th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf: Writing the World, held in Chicago June 5-8, was the fifth I’ve attended. And, as always, what struck me most was that, as always, there are new things to learn about Woolf and her contemporaries.

Robyn Byrd of Northern Illinois University, one of the graduate assistants who helped organize the conference.

Robyn Byrd of Northern Illinois University, one of the graduate assistants who helped organize the conference and who was on hand throughout the week.

This time, the new things were steeped in mystery, mysteries that such scholars as Suzanne Bellamy of the University of Sydney, Julie Vandivere of Bloomsburg University, Susan Wegener of Southern Connecticut State University, and Denise Ayo of the University of Notre Dame are busy uncovering.

Mystery number one: Woolf’s sentences

Suzanne Bellamy, a visual artist from Australia, kicked off the mysteries as part of a panel chaired by Judith Allen titled “Propaganda, Codebreakers, and Spies.”

Bellamy, appearing remotely via video and Skype, covered the codebreaker piece of the panel in her discussion of Edith Rickert, a Chaucer scholar who had what Bellamy called “a cypher brain.” Rickert worked as a codebreaker in both world wars. She also supervised a student thesis at the University of Chicago that has prompted Bellamy to do some further sleuthing.

The 1930 thesis, written by Elizabeth McKee and titled “A Study of the Style of Mrs Virginia Woolf with Special Emphasis on her Thought Patterns,” was the first academic piece done on Woolf, as it predates Ruth Gruber‘s 1934 work, Virginia Woolf: The Will to Create as a Woman. McKee’s thesis focused on Woolf’s sentence structure. Without computers, McKee analyzed Woolf’s sentences and worked up complicated graphs that illustrated her findings. According to McKee’s research, Woolf wrote two kinds of sentences: groping sentences searching for clarity and descriptive sentences where every word has meaning.

Suzanne Bellamy via Skype with Judith Allen and Patrizia Muscogiuri

Suzanne Bellamy via Skype with Judith Allen and Patrizia Muscogiuri

Once Bellamy discovered McKee’s work, she was intrigued by the connections it helped her make between code breaking, sentence structure and modernism. But she remains mystified by the lack of available information about what McKee did after she graduated from the University of Chicago in 1930.

Bellamy continues to investigate that mystery so she can flesh out McKee’s story for her doctoral work on early textual readings of Woolf. In it, she focuses on McKee’s work and the work of three other early Woolf scholars, two Americans and two Australians.

Mystery number two: Pepita’s origins

I can’t even brush the surface of the complicated story of paternity, deception, inheritance and intrigue that Julie Vandivere presented in a panel on “Vita, Pepita and Orlando.” Vandivere took on Pepita de Oliva, grandmother of Vita Sackville-West and the subject of Vita’s book, Pepita.

In her research, Vandivere works to uncover the marital history of Pepita and the true heir to Knole House and the Sackville fortune. Along the way, documents turned up missing — destroyed or stolen by Pepita or the Sackville-Wests — no one knows, or at least, I don’t. As a result, the true story is missing as well. But Vandivere, using her language skills as a comparative literature specialist, continues working to track them down.

Mystery number three: Woolf’s anti-Semitism

Banuta Rubess of the University of Toronto presents "You're Invited: Performing 'Mrs. Dalloway'."

Banuta Rubess of the University of Toronto presents “You’re Invited: Performing ‘Mrs. Dalloway’.”

In her private writings, Woolf revealed her anti-Semitic feelings. But were her anti-Semitic scenes in The Years more of the same? Or did she purposefully create them to make her readers aware of their own biases at a time when fascism and tyranny were abroad and at home?

Susan Wegener worked to unravel that mystery in her paper, “Processing Prejudice: Writing Woolf’s Jewish World.” By doing a close reading of key scenes in The Years  traditionally seen as anti-Semitic, Wegeman argued that Woolf  created those scenes to reveal stereotypical anti-Semitism.

By the time the novel was published in 1938, Wegener maintained, Woolf was already defining herself by her husband Leaonard’s Jewishness. As a result, she said, “Woolf was aware of her racial biases and processed them in her text.”

Mystery number four: Woolf’s edits

Denise Ayo teased out a mystery with a similar feel in her paper, “Staging (Self-)Censorship: Virginia Woolf’s `Women Must Weep.'” In it, she compared the chopped-up version of Three Guineas that appeared in the May and June 1938 issues of the Atlantic Monthly under the title “Women Must Weep — Or Unite Against War” to the actual text from which they derived.

Denise Ayo

Denise Ayo

She noted that the Atlantic Monthly version is not just an excerpt of Three Guineas. Nor is it a condensation or summary of sorts. Instead, it leaves out material without using ellipsis and includes text that is not in the published version. Its prose is fragmented, leaving words and thoughts hanging.  It contains contradictory meanings. And its organizational structure is disjointed.

So was Woolf temporarily off her mark when she sent her piece to the Atlantic? Did she wearily submit to a bad edit job? Or, once again, was the hash that is “Women Must Weep” done for a purpose?

Ayo argued for the latter. In Three Guineas Woolf complained that journalism was a “mincing machine,” so in her Atlantic piece she did the mincing herself to make a point, Ayo maintained.

According to her, “Woolf meant to communicate to Atlantic Monthly readers that the integrity of her message had been corrupted” by periodical culture that cannot accept a feminist pacifist approach to the world.

No mystery about the depth, breadth of the conference

The conference, sponsored by Loyola and Northern Illinois universities, and attended by more than 200 common readers, students, faculty and independent scholars from around the world, boasted about 63 sessions.

Conference organizers and their graduate assistants: Sarah Polen, Diana Swanson, Pamela Caughie and Katie Dyson.

Conference organizers and their graduate assistants: Sarah Polen, Diana Swanson, Pamela Caughie and Katie Dyson.

That doesn’t include special events — such as a performance of Sara Ruhl’s Orlando pulled off by students after just three weeks of rehearsals — or “Performing Woolf: ‘A Mark on the Wall'” by Adrianne Krstansky of Brandeis and Abigail Killeen of Bowdoin College.

The conference also included a thought-provoking keynote roundtable discussion on Woolf and violence with Mark Hussey of Pace, Ashley Foster of CUNY, Sarah Cole of Columbia, Christine Froula of Northwestern, and Jean Mills of John Jay College and keynotes by Maud Ellman of the University of Chicago and Tuzyline Allan of Baruch College.

The Virginia Woolf Players line up to read Woolf.

The Virginia Woolf Players line up to read Woolf.

The social finale for most conference participants was the Saturday night banquet, preceded by drinks and appetizers in the Mundelein Hall Courtyard and topped off by the traditional readings of favorite Woolf passages by the Virginia Woolf Players.

Stalwarts stayed on for Saturday morning sessions before packing up and heading out to home countries ranging from the UK to Japan.

More conference links

 

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Editor’s Note: This commentary and photo were contributed by Suzanne Bellamy who exhibited her painting, “Woolf and the Chaucer Horse,” at the 21st Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf.

"Woolf and the Chaucer Horse" by Suzanne Bellamy

The research

Researching illuminated manuscripts and Psalters opened the vision of the written page to the visual world that has always been there for me in Woolf as a reader. The page drips with image and interaction with other form, and as a writer of that tradition she embodies that now invisible world. Woolf says in ANON that the printing press ultimately took that rich layered other dimension away, but she is still soaked in it in her visual invocations, in her synaesthesic imagination.

The painting

I started working on the painting as I was reading the scholarship around Between The Acts, the late 1930s and Woolf’s last writings. Seeing her riding on Chaucer’s horse, as the Chaucer of her times, came visually first, then all else flowed from that. The Chaucerian trope of the stories wrapped within the journey infuses all Woolf’s work, as also in the essayistic form itself, street haunting being an expression of the pilgrim’s way.

The painting is as much an illuminated manuscript as a map… as a collage of layered memory, where everything happens and all at the same time, as in the novel. In harmony with the 1930s’ rural revivalism and sensitivity to possible loss of cultural heritage, the spirit of continuity is challenged by the threat from the planes and the coming war. But the land itself holds the dream of a common culture which is soaked in Nature and wild forms, animals birds, structures and sounds.

Some images swirled around in my head for weeks but never made it onto the canvas much as I tried to force the issue. The old wall and the ladder, the horse with the green tail, Sohrab the dog, the greenhouse, Mrs. Swithin’s hammer, and also Mrs. Swithin’s criss-cross letter (a term from ancient manuscripts), imps, elves, demons and mirrors, all the flowers, cars, the barn, the pub, the megaphone, Giles feeling chained to a rock, the white lady — those never made it but are in there somehow.

But the stegasaurus and the mammoth made it, and the fossils, the Roman roads, the planes, the pond, the house (taken from Vita Sackville-West’s book on English Country Houses), the cows, the Ouse and the map of the Sussex coast, and then the Celtic maze which held it all together. The maze, the Chaucerian horse, and the lines of the Prologue were the moments that gave it all a structure. The idea that words came from hearing birdsong drawn from the core of the maze holds the centre.

There are several examples of doubling and tripling images, as for example with the Uffington White Horse, the Guernica Horse and the Chaucer Horse. Also with the Circle of Birds and the formation of Lancaster Bombers over the English Channel, as contrary formations. The South Downs, the coastline, the map of Sussex, Lewes and Rodmell, the River Ouse and tributaries, prehistory, mastodons, cars and Roman roads, images improvised from medieval illuminated manuscripts. I used the Oxford Ellesmere text for the five lines of the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales. Copying those five lines straight onto the canvas from the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, from the online Oxford site of the Ellesmere text, was a deep thrill.

The exhibit

The painting, which measures two by four metres, was planned to act as a set canvas behind the pageant performance, but that proved to be technically impossible. In the end it hung in the Bute Hall below the stained glass windows, close to the window of Chaucer. The light streamed through the image of Woolf on her horse, the Chaucer of her times, and all was well.

More coverage of the 21st Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf on Blogging Woolf:

  

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Marina Warner and Jane Goldman, conference organizer

Jean Moorcroft Wilson

Vara Neverow and Patrizia Muscogiuri, who provided Blogging Woolf with these photos. More are posted on Flickr. See the Flickr feed in the right sidebar.

At left, Gill Lowe in the pageant skit written by Suzanne Bellamy, pictured at right

Derek Ryan, who played William in the pageant skit, was also one of the conference organizers.
Catherine Hollis, Lois Gilmore and Barbara Lonnquist

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