Posts Tagged ‘Virginia Woolf’

London Transport in the 1920sSome time ago, the VWoolf Listserv entertained a discussion of the meaning behind the omnibus on which Elizabeth Dalloway travels in Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs. Dalloway (1925). I recently came across some notes from that discussion, and here they are:

  • An essay largely on omnibus travel in Woolf’s works is included in Woolf and the City: Selected Papers of the Nineteenth Annual Conference on Virginia Woolf, ed. Elizabeth F. Evans & Sarah E. Cornish (Clemson UP, 2010), Pg. 31-39.
  • The London Transport Museum has London transport maps from the dates of Woolf’s novels.
  • In “Moments of Being,” Woolf remembered her mother, who “did all her immense rounds shopping, calling, visiting hospitals and work houses in omnibuses.  She was an omnibus expert.  She would nip from the red to the blue, from the blue to the yellow, and make them somehow connect and convey her all over London.  Sometimes she would come home very tired, owning that she had missed her bus or the bus had been full up, or she had got beyond the radius of her favourite buses.”
  • The most famous bus route in London is the no. 11.  The savvy (and economical) tourist choses that bus rather than a tour bus, as the no. 11 goes past so many famous sights, inc. St Paul’s, on its way to Liverpool St Station.
  • Background: In the first half of the 1920s in the centre of London, almost all buses were double-decker with open tops and open staircases.  (There were single-deckers farther out, but they had roofs; otherwise, I suppose they would have been like charabancs.)  The driver was in the open air and had no protection from the elements, not even a windscreen. While there was quite a variety of vehicles (see earlier email), the majority fell into two types:
    • The B: downstairs passengers sat lengthways with their backs to the windows. 
    • The K (also the S-type): downstairs passengers sat on ?transverse seats, two by two either side of the central gangway … the layout with which we are familiar today? (Baker, p. 57).
  • By the 1920s the main company was the London Transport General Company, and its livery was red, which is why London buses are red today.
  • The reference to a pirate bus is yet one more post-war reference in the novel. Some young men, having acquired skills in a war which was described as the first truly mechanical one, bought a war-surplus bus or lorry and set up business.  A small down payment was all that was necessary. The Metropolitan Police had to approve the roadworthiness of the vehicle, but, that done, it could operate wherever its owner chose. At the beginning of 1920 the demand for buses far outstripped the number available, and there was plenty of scope for those who were prepared to take up the challenge. Very few of these enterprises were long lived. (See London Transport in the 1920s (Hersham, Surrey: Ian Allan Publishing, 2009) pp. 7-8).
  • One additional reflection on the middle-class people on the omnibus. B.S. Rowntree’s Poverty, A Study of Town Life, observed that poor people who were living at “merely physical efficiency” must never spend a penny on railway fare or omnibus?  that nearly 30% of Edwardians lived in poverty.


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Today is the first day of spring as well as the day that the solar eclipse will be visible in the UK and Scandinavia. Here’s what Virginia Woolf had to say about both.

Virginia Woolf on spring:

I enjoy the spring more than the autumn now. One does, I think, as one gets older. — Jacob’s Room

Virginia Woolf on the solar eclipse in 1927, which she traveled to Yorkshire to view:

very very quickly, all the colours faded; it became darker and darker as at the beginning of a violent storm; the light sank and sank; suddenly the light went out. There was no colour. The earth was dead.

The partial eclipse in the UK today will see 85 percent of the sun blocked out in southern England and 98 percent in the Hebrides.

Only one or two eclipses per century are visible from anywhere in the UK. The last solar eclipse in the UK was in 1999. The next one will occur in August 2026.

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Composer Brian Mark has set Virginia Woolf’s essay, “Craftsmanship,” to music. The piece was  broadcast on 29 April 1937 as part of BBC Radio’s “Words Fail Me” series.

With “A Eulogy to Words,” he has fulfilled an eight-year ambition to create a piece for chamber orchestra and electronics. It is written for London’s Royal Academy of Music and conducted by Michael Alexander Young.

Maria Popova of Brainpickings.org called it “the best thing since the Solar System set to Bach and Carl Sagan adapted as a three-movement choral suite.”

Have a listen and tell us what you think of the piece, which runs nearly 10 minutes, in the comments section below.

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Andre Gerard‘s three-part essay on Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse is nowto the lighthouse on Berfrois, the UK literary-intellectual online magazine. Here are the links:

  1. Names, Texts and WWI in To the Lighthouse
  2. The Odyssey, The Times and Howard’s End in To the Lighthouse
  3. Virgil, Tolstoy and War in To the Lighthouse

Also on the site is another essay by Gerard, publisher of Patremoir Press: Virginia’s Whipping Boy: The Strange Case of Virginia Woolf and Edmund Gosse

Ultimately, what I want to do is to think about To the Lighthouse as an antiwar novel, and to make the case that it is one of the greatest books ever written about the causes and consequences of war. – Gerard in “Names, Texts and WWI in To the Lighthouse

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woolf_callforentriesNow is the time to get creative with paper, paint, scissors and ephemera. This year, a juried exhibition of small works on paper will be part of the 25th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf, and the deadline for entries is April 20.

Works on paper (15” x 11” or smaller) in all traditional and experimental visual arts media, including photography, will be considered for the international exhibition, titled “Mark on the Wall,” which announces the opening of the Greenly Art Gallery at Bloomsburg University. Awards will be presented at the opening reception for the conference, which will be held June 4-7 at Bloomsburg University in Bloomsburg, Pa.

Details are available online, along with the exhibition Call for Entries as a PDF.


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Florence GordonI just read Brian Morton’s latest novel, Florence Gordon, and loved his protagonist, a 75-year-old New York curmudgeon and intellectual, an activist and celebrated feminist author. A Woolf sighting was almost a foregone conclusion.

Florence’s granddaughter, Emily, visits from Seattle and takes a summer literature class at Barnard: “It’s gonna be great. Jane Austen. George Eliot. Virginia Woolf. What could be bad about that?”

Emily assists Florence with research for her memoir and becomes fascinated with her grandmother’s accomplishments. “A few weeks ago she’d read an article that Florence had written about Virginia Woolf. Woolf had said that the task of a woman writer was to kill off the ‘Angel in the House’: the part of oneself that was trained to put the needs of others, in every situation, before one’s own.” Emily later has occasion to reflect on this in a difficult situation of her own and in a personal challenge to her grandmother: “If a woman needs help but she doesn’t ask for it, isn’t she just playing the part of the Angel in the House?”

Morton has invoked Woolf in earlier novels. She appears to have a prominent place in his literary pantheon, as touchstones for his characters. In Starting Out in the Evening, grad student Heather Wolfe (!) wants to write her thesis on fictional author Leonard Schiller. Her advisor ranks Schiller as seventh-rate. “In Bonner’s scale of literary merit, Shakespeare and Tolstoy were first-rate; Dostoevsky and George Eliot and Proust were second-rate; Melville was third-rate; Henry James fourth-rate; Virginia Woolf fifth-rate. To be called seventh-rate was high praise.”

Heather is disappointed to find Schiller’s later work stale and is prepared to dismiss it to his age until she considers: “Certain writers managed to stay fresh, even in old age. Yeats and George Eliot she felt got better, stronger. “D.H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf may not have gotten better, but they continued to experiment restlessly as long as they lived.”

Virginia Woolf in old age? The implications are frightening, but I guess 59 is old to a 24-year-old grad student…..

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Today is March 8, International Women’s Day,  and three collections of inspiring quotes from mirror-on-facenotable women ranging from Coco Chanel to Gloria Steinem include a quote from Virginia Woolf — the same quote. Here it is:

Women have served all these centuries as looking glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of a man at twice its natural size.

Woolf on the day

The fact that International Women’s Day, was first celebrated in 1911, during Woolf’s time, led me to wonder: What did she think of the day? I did a quick scan of her published diaries, but could not find specific mention of it.

In her diary entry of March 8, 1918, one of only four entries I could locate for the actual date, Woolf was preoccupied with World War I, and she notes that she and Leonard had to take refuge underneath their kitchen table after guns and air raid whistles went off late the previous night (D1, 123-4).

There were two entries on March 8 in the 1930s. A two-line entry on March 8, 1932, mentions the fatigue that makes it impossible for her to finish edits of her 1928 article on Dorothy Osborne’s letters that will be included in The Common Reader: Second Series (D4, 80). On March 8, 1937, she was working on her feminist anti-war polemic Three Guineas (1938), but her diary entry for that date includes her observations about the people she spotted while on a walk and her dislike of private areas that forced her to walk along the road, beset by motor traffic, on a cold, damp day (D5, 66).

And Woolf’s diary entry for March 8, 1941, mentions that they are just back from Brighton, where Leonard Woolf has given a speech to the Workers’ Education Association, or WEA, on “Common Sense in History.” Virginia describes the place as being “Like a foreign town: the first spring day. Women sitting on seats. A pretty hat in a teashop–how fashion revives the eye!” (D5, 357).

International Women’s Day has a strong British connection. It uses the color purple as a nod to the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) of Great Britain’s adoption of the color scheme of purple, white and green to symbolize the plight of the Suffragettes.

More on the day

For 14 more inspiring quotes, read International Women’s Day 2015: Top 15 inspirational quotes on women empowerment. For 36 more, go here. Then get another batch.

This year’s theme for the day is “Make It Happen.” Share your empowering quotes, news or stories on social media using the hashtag #IWD2015 or MakeItHappen.


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