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Posts Tagged ‘Virginia Woolf’

The two Lilys have been on my mind for a while, and after rereading To the Lighthouse and House of Mirth, I’ve begun a trail of comparisons and contrasts to which I plan to add some personal reflections and who knows what else for a future essay.

Virginia Woolf reviewed House of Mirth and regarded Lily Bart with sympathy, as having “many of the faults of her surroundings” but also “a capacity for better things which is never to be exercised.” I also found a paper by a Wharton scholar that compares Lily Bart and Clarissa Dalloway, but I don’t think the Lilys have been broached together.

Just to be sure, I googled and found just one reference, to a passage that unites them in a 1990 novel by Roberta Silman, Beginning the World Again: A Novel of Los Alamos. I got the book right away, of course, and soon found myself embroiled in a well-researched account, based on actual events and real as well as fictional characters, of the secret mission to build the atomic bomb in the New Mexico hills during World War II.                

The protagonist is Lily Failka, the wife of a nuclear physicist on the team. This is her story about her time there, her marriage, the families, the project, the secrecy. Before accompanying her new husband to Los Alamos, Lily had been a graduate student in literature and was writing a thesis on Melville. Classic novels come up frequently in her thinking and in analogies she makes. When she has an affair with one of the other scientists, she introduces him to literature. Years later, looking back:

There were often months, then years when I scarcely thought about Jacob, and when I did, I was so detached that I was another person, another Lily—“Lily Bart, Lily Briscoe, Joyce’s Lily in ‘The Dead,’ Lily of the Field?” I could hear Jacob’s low voice asking me. All those Lilys I had told him about. No, none of those, but someone still within me whom I scarcely knew anymore.

I sought out and had an email exchange with Roberta Silman, who proudly claims Grace Paley as her mentor and friend. Her context for the reference was Lily Failka’s introducing her physicist lover to her favorite literature, but Roberta noted characteristics that perhaps all the Lilys share, providing food for thought for my own project. Roberta also took pleasure in casting her Lily in the company of the memorable Lily Bart and Lily Briscoe.

 

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Literature Cambridge is offering a Reading Bloomsbury summer course, 23-28 July 2017, in Cambridge, England

This one-week immersion in the art of Vanessa Bell alongside Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, the sexual politics of Lytton Strachey and E.M. Forster, and the political ideas of J.M. Keynes, Leonard Woolf, Clive Bell, and others. The course takes an exciting new look at these interesting thinkers and their work.

Lecturers include Frances Spalding, Alison Hennegan, Claire Nicholson, Claudia Tobin and Peter Jones.

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Here is a Virginia Woolf event set for May 21 in Goshen, Mass.

This event is wheelchair accessible. For more information, contact

Paris Press 413-628-0051, info@parispress.org.

Books will be available to purchase.

Sponsored by the Massachusetts Cultural Council
and the Schocken Family Foundation.

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In the video posted here, Fiona Shaw does a masterful reading of “Shakespeare’s Sister” from Virginia Woolf’s feminist polemic,  A Room of One’s Own (1929), which was based on a series of lectures Woolf gave at Cambridge University in October 1928.

Woolf’s speech is one of several featured in the digital project Figures of Speech,” presented by the Almeida Theatre in London.

The project places history’s greatest speeches centre stage through a series of films read by well-known actors speaking the words of important historical figures and moments, to explore how they resonate in 2017.

Besides Woolf’s speech, the project also includes talks by:

  • Labour Party Politician Neil Kinnock spoken by Ashley Walters
  • American politician Harvey Milk spoken by Ian McKellen
  • Nelson Mandela spoken by Lucian Msamati
  • AIDS activist Elizabeth Glaser spoken by Nicola Walker

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This podcast on the Times Literary Supplement website includes a discussion of Virginia Woolf’s April 29, 1937, BBC broadcast of her eight-minute talk, “Craftsmanship.”

In it, American Woolf scholar Emily Kopley fills us in on the context and background of Woolf’s third BBC radio talk. Fast forward to 35:30 to hear Kopley put the talk in context, which the moderator describes as “rather loaded.”

You can also read Kopley’s commentary on the topic, “At the Service of Words,” which was posted on April 27 and is no longer behind the paywall.

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Editor’s Note: This essay, written in March of this year, was contributed by Mine Özyurt Kılıç, a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at the Department of Comparative Literature at Harvard University and co-organizer of Harvard’s May 10 event, A Press of One’s Own: Celebrating 100 Years of Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s Hogarth Press. At Harvard, she currently investigates the connection between the ethical and aesthetic components of short fiction. Her research mostly focuses on contemporary British fiction with special interest in women’s writing. She is the author of the first book-length study on Maggie Gee’s fictionMaggie Gee: Writing the Condition-of-England Novel (Bloomsbury 2013). This academic celebration brings her back to her master’s thesis on the theme of failure in love in T. S. Eliot’s poetry as well as to her lectures on British Modernism.

The snail is a seal of the Hogarth Press, a signature of its focus on nature and the natural against the industrialized literary marketplace! Like this snail with its home on its back, The Hogarth married private and public life with a letterpress machine on a dining table. And that has made all the difference!

The snail that makes its appearance on the first publication of the Hogarth Press, “The Mark on the Wall” (1917), is the very emblem of the Woolfs’ mission. Like Schumacher’s claim for the economy “Small is Beautiful”, the Woolfs suggest that in “express[ing] the rapidity of life, the perpetual waste and repair”: Slow is beautiful!

This first Woolf story they publish can also be read as a fictional manifestation of Woolf’s ars poetica. The narrator first situates herself in the world understanding one truth about it– “what an airless, shallow, bald, prominent world it becomes! A world not to be lived in” — then discerns her calling in it:

I want to think quietly, calmly, spaciously, never to be interrupted, never to have to rise from my chair, to slip easily from one thing to another, without any sense of hostility, or obstacle. I want to sink deeper and deeper, away from the surface, with its hard separate facts.

This quiet, calm, spacious, and uninterrupted mode of deep thinking is the very engine behind Woolf’s Modernist texts that require a different mode of reading, a deliberately slow and effortful one that is like the movements of a crawling snail. The central motif in the story, also visually reproduced in Dora Carrington’s woodcut print to accompany the text, the snail is one of the many lives that the narrator feels committed to describe in detail.

[…] there are a million patient, watchful lives still for a tree, all over the world, in bedrooms, in ships, on the pavement, lining rooms, where men and women sit after tea, smoking cigarettes. It is full of peaceful thoughts, happy thoughts, this tree. I should like to take each one separately.

In a later Woolf story “Kew Gardens” (1919), the snail now becomes one of the central consciousnesses. A single figure among those visitors coming from different walks of life, it makes its way around the flowerbed, thinking whether it is better to move or not, drawing the reader’s attention to the minutiae of everyday life, to a moment of being, from a major to a minor key. As such, it becomes a sign of a special state of consciousness slow enough to attend to details, to the cotton wool of daily life, to moments of being, to epiphanies, to fragments shored against ruins, to marks on walls, flowers, images and smells that memory brings from distant times and places.

In the idiom of Woolf’s snail, the early Hogarth draws its readers’ attention to an eccentric, marginal and extraordinary vision that necessitates a reading slow enough to digest and savor millions of surrounding lives.

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A Press of One’s Own: Celebrating 100 Years of Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s Hogarth Press,  a one-time event celebrating the centennial of the Hogarth Press, will be held on Wednesday, May 10, at Harvard University.

The multi-disciplinary and interactive celebration includes an exhibition of the original early Hogarth books and a round-table discussion at Houghton Library, as well as a hands-on letterpress workshop at the Harvard-related Bow & Arrow Press in Cambridge.

The exhibition will be followed by a seminar with three speakers who will talk about the different aspects of the Hogarth venture and its publications. The final stage is the printing workshop, during which a passage from “The Mark on the Wall,” the first product of the Hogarth (July 1917) will be reprinted.

Organizers hope that the event will raise questions not only about the historic venture of the Woolfs and their circle, but also about the role of independent publishing today.

Nowhere else could we have started the Hogarth Press, whose very awkward beginning had rise in this very room […] Here that strange offspring grew & throve; it ousted us from the dining room […] & crept all over the house. And people have been here, thousands of them it seems to me” – Virginia Woolf’s Diary, 9 January 1924

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