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Posts Tagged ‘The New Yorker’

The current fiction issue of The New Yorker (June 5 & 12) includes a story by Curtis Sittenfeld, “Show Don’t Tell.” The title—familiar advice to writers—is a tipoff that this is one of those “writers-writing-about-writers” stories, in this case an MBA from a renowned writing program writing about MBA students in a renowned writing program. (“Write what you know” is another of those pearls distributed to wannabe writers.)

Ruth and Bhadveer are discussing the possible recipients of a coveted and soon-to-be-announced grant that will go to four second-year students in their program. Ruth has heard that Aisha is a likely candidate, but Bhadveer thinks not.

“Aisha is gorgeous, right?” he asks. “Great literature has never been produced by a beautiful woman.”

Ridiculous, Ruth replies, and he challenges her to name one. The text continues:

“Virginia Woolf was a babe.” Of the many foolish things I said in graduate school, this is the one that haunts me the most. But I didn’t regret it immediately.

Bhadveer shook his head. “You’re thinking of that one picture taken when she was, like nineteen. And it’s kind of sideways, right? To obscure her long face. Why the long face, Virginia?”

Bhadveer dismisses a few others that Ruth suggests. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but there tends to be an inverse relationship between how hot a woman is and how good a writer. Exhibit A is George Eliot. It’s because you need to be hungry to be a great writer, and beautiful women aren’t hungry.”

Bhadveer is one of the grant recipients—we learn this early in the story, so it’s not a spoiler. Chauvinistic blowhards sometimes prosper (as we’re well aware these days). And Virginia Woolf was a babe who wrote great literature.

 

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I don’t read a lot of poetry, but I am partial to the work of Anne Carson and Mary Oliver (and oftencoverstory-blitt-significant-others-847x1200-1477066235 confuse the two). It’s no surprise that both have referenced Virginia Woolf in their poems, no doubt recognizing her as the poet she was even though she never wrote a line of verse as such.

Anne Carson has written very little prose, so her story in this week’s (Oct. 31) New Yorker is a lovely gift. “Back the Way You Went” is exquisite, a tiny gem, as it questions so many aspects of existence in a daughter’s reflections on her mother.

The narrator comments on a dishtowel she’s given her mother-in-law, “printed with cartoon cameos of Bloomsbury celebrities.” She’s thinking about her flawed communication with her own mother, recently deceased, their fear of breaking the silence that’s built up between them. She asks herself, “Are other families like this? I know I’m setting the bar high, but I cannot imagine it was ever the wrong time to talk in, say, Bloomsbury.” And yet Woolf may have seen it otherwise; Carson’s narrator goes on to recall a passage from “A Sketch of the Past”:

“We are sealed vessels afloat upon what is convenient to call reality; at some moments, without a reason, without an effort, the sealing matter cracks; in floods reality….”

She asks, “Was it Virginia Woolf who taught us to adore these floods of reality, without which we merely navigate a sea of convenience with other people?”

Even without Woolf, the story is stunning; with her it’s even more so, and, as always seems to be the case when Woolf is referenced in fiction, so appropriate, leading this Woolfian to think, “Well, yes, of course.”

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This all started with a series of e-mails from the VWoolf Listserv about a New Yorker cartoon.

The cartoon, pictured at left and titled “Bloomsbury Squares,” was an obvious parody of the American TV show “Hollywood Squares” and the British program “Celebrity Squares.

Information from list subscriber Sarah M. Halls told us that Robert Mankoff, the artist who created the cartoon, is also cartoon editor of The New Yorker and editor of The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker (Black Dog & Leventhal), the best-selling coffee-table book for the 2004 holiday season. It features all 68,647 cartoons ever published in The New Yorker since its 1925 début.

It seems the cartoon appeared in the book Urban Bumpkins, a softcover book published by St. Martin’s that Mankoff wrote.

Of course I had to visit The New Yorker archive. And I had to search for Bloomsbury items. That is when I discovered that the cartoon is not the only New Yorker parody of Bloomsbury. Here is what I found:

There are other items about Bloomsbury as well. Take a look and see.

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