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Posts Tagged ‘Virginia Woolf’

An invaluable resource I have often consulted but have always had to borrow from the library is now available online for free.

Brenda Silver’s Virginia Woolf’s Reading Notebooks (1983), published by Princeton University Press, is now available in multiple digital formats, including PDF, Kindle and EPub, with permission from Silver.

Silver’s book describes, dates, and identifies the sources of Woolf’s 67 reading notebooks, which she kept to take notes as she read in preparation for writing reviews, essays, and other works.

The notebooks included in the volume are housed in the Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection at the New York Public Library; University of Sussex Special Collections; The Keep, Brighton; and the Bienecke Library at Yale University.

Download it from the Dartmouth Library website. You can also read it online.

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The program for Virginia Woolf, Europe and Peace: The 28th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf, which will be held June 21-24 at Woolf College at the University of Kent in Canterbury, England, is now online.

Registration is open until June 10. Download the program.

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Wednesday 9 January [1924]

At this very moment, or fifteen minutes ago to be precise, I bought the ten years lease of 52 Tavistock Sqre London W.C. 1—I like writing Tavistock. Subject of course to the lease, & to Providence, & to the unforeseen vagaries on the part of old Mrs Simons, the house is ours: & the basement, & the billard room, with the rock garden on top, & the view of the square in front & the desolated buildings behind, & Southampton Row, & the whole of London – London thou art a jewel of jewels, & jasper of jocunditie – music, talk, friendship, city views, books, publishing, something central & inexplicable, all this is now within my reach. – Virginia Woolf, Diary 2, 282-3.

The Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain held a one-day conference in London last Saturday that doubled as a general meeting for the organization, as well as a celebration of its 20th anniversary. It was coupled with the unveiling of a blue plaque in honor of Virginia and Leonard Woolf.

“Virginia Woolf and her Relatives” was the theme of the conference, and Marion Dell, Philip Carter and Maggie Humm presented papers.

After the conference, the group walked to Tavistock Square for the unveiling of a blue plaque on the exterior wall of the Tavistock Hotel to mark number 52, where Virginia and Leonard Woolf lived from 1924 to 1939. The house was destroyed in World War Two and later replaced with the hotel.

It was at 52 Tavistock Square that Woolf wrote many of her books, including Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, A Room of One’s Own, Orlando, The Waves, The Years, and Three Guineas. Her diary entries talk about her walks around the square as she thought about the novel she was working on. And her nephew, Cecil Woolf, recalls Leonard and Virginia sitting at a table in the garden and sharing a bottle of wine.

Dame Eileen Atkins, honorary president of the VWSGB, unveiled the plaque, which was funded by the society and the Tavistock Hotel. Afterwards, society members attended a reception at which Atkins read extracts from Woolf’s diaries and letters that reflected upon her life in Tavistock Square and her love of London.

Cecil sent Blogging Woolf these photos that commemorate the day.

Cecil Woolf and Jean Moorcroft Wilson at the plaque unveiling.

Dame Eileen Atkins and Maggie Humm outside the Tavistock Hotel at the plaque unveiling.

The blue plaque on the side of the Tavistock Hotel commemorating Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s tenure at 52 Tavistock Square.

 

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Zadie Smith’s novels and essays never fail to display her keen powers of observation, analysis, and expression. In Feel Free, her new essay collection, Virginia Woolf is a strong influence, never far from Smith’s mind, an “expert witness” to invoke as she regards her subjects and her craft. Five examples serve as evidence.

  1. The first essay that caught my attention was “Life-Writing.” It’s a wry account of failure, much like my own, to keep a diary during adolescence, “a banal account of fake crushes and imagined romance and I was soon disgusted with it and put it aside.” As a young adult she found inspiration in Woolf’s diaries and gave it another go. “I tried to copy the form and style of Woolf’s single-volume Writer’s Diary,” but that didn’t last either. She realized that “I don’t want any record of my days.” For better or worse, her email history is “probably the closest thing to an honest account of my life, at least in writing.”
  2. In “Dance Lessons for Writers” Smith finds applications to writing in the dancing of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, Michael Jackson and Prince, Janet Jackson, Madonna and Beyonce. Fred Astaire’s movements, she says, “are so removed from ours that he sets a limit on our own ambitions. Nobody hopes or expects to dance like Astaire, just as nobody really expects to write like Nabakov.” She introduces the Nicholas brothers, Harold and Fayard: “Writing, like dancing, is one of the arts available to people who have nothing. ‘For ten and sixpence,’ advises Virginia Woolf, ‘one can buy paper enough to write all the plays of Shakespeare.’ The only absolutely necessary equipment in dance is your own body.”
  3. “A Bird of Few Words” considers the portraits of British-Ghanaian painter Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, whose subjects appear like “a group of intensely creative people in a small community.… Early New York beatniks, maybe, or some forgotten, south London chapter of the Bloomsbury Group. Poets, writers, painters, dancers, dreamers, philosophers—and lovers of same.” Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant are evoked in the modernist palette, and a further connection is made in that Yiadom-Boakye was influenced by Walter Sickert, about whom Woolf wrote a monograph, its cover illustrated by Bell.
  4. In a review of a book about Harlem, Smith compares the author, Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, to Woolf in that both are “bookish and devoted, interested in everyday matters,” and like Woolf in A Room of One’s Own, Rhodes-Pitts employs a technique of authorial transparency.
  5. “Notes on NW” Smith speaks directly to Woolf’s influence. In her novel NW she sought to “create people in language,” to do justice to “the unruly, subjective qualities of language” and “the concrete ‘thingyness’ of people.” This was Woolf’s way of being a modernist: “she loved language and people simultaneously.”

Essences of Woolf permeate Smith’s work, overtly and indirectly: “I admire Beckett and respect Joyce. I love Woolf. Whenever the going gets tough I reread her journals and it helps me through.”

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Virginia Woolf scholar Nell Toemen was visiting St. Ives this week and sent Blogging Woolf the accompanying photo of Talland House, where local residents Chris and Angela Roberts are sprucing up the garden.

For more on visiting St. Ives, see In Her Steps.

Talland House, St. Ives, Cornwall

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The details are in for DallowayDay 2018: Woolf, Walking & Writing on Saturday 16 June at the Gower Street Waterstones, four days earlier than the official #DallowayDay of June 20.

Jean Moorcroft Wilson

‘I love walking in London,’ said Mrs. Dalloway. ‘Really it’s better than walking in the country.’

From the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain comes this news:

In one of the greatest novels of the 20th century, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, set in June 1923, Clarissa Dalloway loves walking as much as did her creator. So this year’s #DallowayDay takes as its theme ‘Woolf, Walking & Writing’.

Gower Street Waterstones and the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain invite you to celebrate #DallowayDay with us in London’s Bloomsbury on Saturday 16 June.We start with an hour’s walk (2–3 p.m.) around Bloomsbury guided by Jean Moorcroft Wilson, author of Virginia Woolf’s London, to places familiar to Virginia Woolf and her friends (please note numbers for the walk are restricted to 25).

The walk ends at Waterstones Gower Street, where we’ll have a panel discussion (3.30–4.30 p.m.) on Woolf, Walking & Writing with authors and special guests.

At 5.30 p.m. we’ll have time for a celebratory glass of wine, then at 6 p.m. Maggie Humm, author of Snapshots of Bloomsbury, will talk about Woolf and photography, illustrated with photographs taken by Woolf and her Bloomsbury friends, starting with images matching up with key moments in Mrs Dalloway.

  • All-event tickets (walk, panel and talk), £24; VWSGB members & students, £18
  • Woolf, Walking & Writing panel, 3.30–4.30 p.m., £8; VWSGB & students, £6
  • Woolf & Photography, by Maggie Humm, 5.30–7.30 p.m. includes glass of wine, £8. VWSGB & students, £6

Bookings are available online http://bit.ly/2FVk5V8 or by phone 020 7636 1577. Please note that online bookings incur an additional fee.

Please note that Wednesday, June 20, has been designated the official #DallowayDay on both sides of the pond this year. Get more details on other #DallowayDay events on the Events page.

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What Would Virginia Woolf Do? That’s the name of a Facebook group and a book. And I have to wonder what Woolf would do if she saw either one. 

Would she be flattered? Would she be horrified? Would she be angry? Would she be disgusted?

Critic Daphne Merkin, a memoirist and cultural critic who is a non-posting member of the group, told The New York Times that Woolf would be mortified.

I know I’m mortified for her. Let me explain why.

The Facebook group that misses Woolf

First came the Facebook group started by Nina Lorez Collins, a former literary agent, writer and mother of four grown children, while she was going through a self-admitted midlife crisis.

She saw the group as a safe and private space for women to talk about their problems and propose solutions with which Woolf might agree. She describes it on Facebook as:

“A closed, confidential, forum for women over 40 with a bent toward the literary, witty, and feminist. A place to discuss, support, and share things that we may not care to share with the men and children in our lives.”

According to a March 28 story in the “Style” section of the New York Times, the group has more than 7,600 followers across the country.

A Woolfian lurking among the Woolfers

Members of Collins’ Facebook group call themselves Woolfers. I became one of them this week so I could see for myself what the group was all about. I had to attest to the fact that I was over 40, submit a list of books I had recently read, and give my email address in order to submit my name for membership.

Once approved, I was able to view the group’s members — numbering 8,419 as of today — its posts, photos, videos, book lists, etc.

Only two of the posts I scrolled through mentioned Woolf and a few unidentified photos pictured her books or her home at 29 Fitzroy Square. Of the two book lists I skimmed, one included To the Lighthouse and another recommended that novel, along with A Room of One’s Own, Mrs. Dalloway and Orlando.

The posts I scanned were about sunscreen, teenagers, college tours, vaginal dryness, fasting, colonoscopies, tinted eyebrows, traveling to Hawaii, poetry, a writing contest, Mary Magdalene, furry slippers and wearing bejeweled sandals with a chipped pedicure.

Recommendations on the site included such things as restaurants, hotels, spas, shops, universities and museums, but I saw nothing connected to Woolf.

I also noticed that the instructions to group members mentioned Woolf only once: “For the Love of God, Please spell Woolf Correctly!” I would also say: For the love of Woolf, please punctuate and capitalize correctly, particularly in an admonition invoking her name.

Collins herself mentions Woolf in a couple of her posts — one noting the anniversary of her death and another including two phrases from “On Being Ill,” although she doesn’t cite the source.

Note: Within a few hours of this post going live, Collins or one of her administrators kicked me out of her Facebook group. Thank you for the honor, Ms. Collins.

The book title without a punchline

Now Collins has parlayed the private Facebook group into a book, coming out in hardcover this month, whose official title is What Would Virginia Woolf Do?: And Other Questions I Ask Myself as I Attempt to Age Without Apology.

The book, said to include personal essays, is billed as “Part memoir and part resource on everything from fashion and skincare to sex and surviving the empty nest” and “a frank and intimate conversation mixed with anecdotes and honesty, wrapped up in a literary joke.” The website describes its title as “ironic.”

But where’s the irony and what’s the joke? If it’s connected to Woolf’s suicide, I consider that an obvious cheap shot. If it’s connected to something else, that connection is not apparent or explained.

Where’s the Woolf?

The book’s title sends the message that Collins consults Woolf’s writing and life for answers to questions raised by group members. But that isn’t the case.

If the book’s content reflects the Facebook group, it will be focused on the kinds of things a frank women’s magazine for women over 40 that is supported by advertising would discuss — skincare, diet, weight loss, fashion, and relationships — all centered on aging. I don’t see Woolf in this.

The New York Times agrees. It described the book as “a sometimes wince-inducing primer on fashion, sex, marriage, divorce, money and health.” Nevertheless, the book and the group have grabbed headlines. News of both has spread to the UK and Australia.

Wince-inducing Woolfers

The NYT winced at the book, but I am wincing at more than that. The Times says some (insert wince here) “Woolfers” do more than complain and kvetch. They have also formed subgroups that focus on philanthropy, activism, business networking and writing.

That’s nice. But take a look at Collins’ website and you’ll find more to wince at. It includes the wince-inducing word “Woolfer” so frequently that I could barely continue reading, and it has a blog rife with predictable alliterative topic headings such as “Woolfer Wins” and “Woolfer Wisdom.”

There’s a “Shop” tab on the site with this sales pitch: “From t-shirts to tote bags to vibrator necklaces, we’ve got what you need to get decked out like a true Woolfer.”

The “Resources” tab on the site includes a long list of recommended books by women, but only one — To the Lighthouse — by Woolf.

Collins’ characterization of Woolf? “[A] brilliant feminist I admire, a woman who chose to end it all in her late 50s.”

Collins links us to her own published writing, including her tale of how she was arrested three times in connection with domestic abuse against her ex-husband.

Would Woolf use cheap alliteration, hawk vibrator necklaces, exploit the suicide of another writer, and abuse her husband? I think not.

Just read the real deal

Virginia Woolf was an intelligent and thoughtful writer who valued her readers, as well as the importance of language and history and literature. Her thinking, along with her writing, was brilliant and precise, groundbreaking and timeless.

There are self-help books that do a wonderful job of invoking Woolf to give advice about writing and about life. A Life of One’s Own: A Guide to Better Living Through the Work and Wisdom of Virginia Woolf by Ilana Simons and The Virginia Woolf Writers’ Workshop: Seven Lessons to Inspire Great Writing by Danell Jones, come to mind.

Collins’ book is not in the same league. Not by a long shot.

And although I am not embarrassed by vaginas — indeed, I celebrate them — it pains me to see Woolf’s name in the middle of a hot pink vagina graphic on the cover of a cheesy self-help book that exploits her iconic status.

While Collins has every right to age without apology and write whatever she wants without apology, too, she owes Woolf a huge apology for using her name to sell this cheap work. Why? Because it reflects the sad shallowness of pop culture, not Woolf.

The website calls it “A must-have handbook for modern-day women aged 40-100.”

I say the must-have handbook for women of any age is anything by Woolf, starting with A Room of One’s Own.

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