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Posts Tagged ‘women writers’

Female friends are special. I often wonder what I would do without them. So I like to take note of stories about longtime women friends.

This was particularly true during the past week. Knowing that today I was on the blog tour schedule to publish a review of A Secret Sisterhood: The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf, by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney, stories of women’s friendships kept popping out at me.

I’ll share just two of them before adding the promised review.

Akron Beacon Journal article featuring the lifelong friendship of two women, now 94 and 100.

Women friends on a local level

Yesterday, the front page of my local newspaper featured such a close friendship.  It told the story of two women — one black, one white — who led a Girl Scout troop in an all-white community back in 1954 and became fast friends, as did their daughters.

Women friends on a national level

Last week, a lecture I attended by Rebecca Traister, author of All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation (2016) spoke of the importance of women’s friendships throughout U.S. history. She also emphasized how those intimate friendships sustained and supported women when their marriage relationships, often entered into solely for financial reasons, did not.

Women’s literary friendships

Women writers had sustaining friendships with female friends, too. But as  Margaret Atwood says in her foreward to A Secret Sisterhood, female literary friendships have often been overlooked.

Midorikawa and Sweeney bring them into the limelight in their 2017 book, A Secret Sisterhood. Now out in paperback in the UK, it explores the “secret sisterhoods” entered into by Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot and Virginia Woolf. My focus will be on the book’s final section, whose three chapters explore the ambivalent friendship between Woolf and Katherine Mansfield.

Woolf and Mansfield: friends or foes, cat or mouse?

Anyone who studies Woolf knows that there is much discussion of the love-hate relationship between Woolf and Mansfield. In Secret Sisters, Midorikawa and Sweeney bring it into clear focus.

They are careful to describe the complicated relationship between the two, showing us how and why Woolf considered Mansfield both her “bitter opponent and beloved friend — unrivaled by any other” (260). They use excerpts from letters, diaries and more to compile a detailed timeline that clarifies the relationship without oversimplifying its nuances.

The authors follow the relationship between the two writers from its spring 1917 beginnings in Mansfield’s humble Chelsea flat, where Woolf offered Mansfield the opportunity to have her work published with the newly formed Hogarth Press, to the news, delivered by Woolf’s maid Nellie Boxall in January 1923, that Mansfield had died.

In between, Midorikawa and Sweeney document the ups and downs of their professional alliance, as well as their personal relationship. Among them are Garsington gossip, the rivalry between the two to use the Garsington garden as the setting for a short story, and the ways they supported each other’s literary careers while engaging in creative competition.

We also get an inside view of Mansfield’s ill health and financial challenges, Woolf’s mixed feelings about Mansfield’s work, and the insecurities each woman had about the other as both a trusted friend and literary sounding board.

A Secret Sisterhood lays out the intimate inner workings of the friendship and competition between Woolf and Mansfield, setting theories and rumors to rest and illuminating a relationship characterized by a “rare sense of communion” (250) that has interested their readers for decades.

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For the month of March only, Literature Cambridge is offering a special discount price for its summer courses “Virginia Woolf and Politics” and “Women Writers: Emily Brontë to Elizabeth Bowens.”

Full price is £1600, but during the month of March, members of recognized Virginia Woolf societies can book at the special price of £1500 for  summer courses. On April 1, the price returns to £1550.

Register here.

Who takes the courses?

Students include academics, graduate students, and teachers, as well as the intelligent ‘common readers’ that Woolf herself so valued.

What do fees include?

Course fee includes six nights bed and breakfast (ensuite), course materials, lectures, supervisions, excursions, talks, some evening meals, and a traditional Cambridge afternoon tea.

For more information, email: info@literaturecambridge.co.uk

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Summer courses in Cambridge 2018

Virginia Woolf and Politics
1-6 July 2018, Wolfson College, Cambridge

Immerse yourself for a week in the books and ideas of Virginia Woolf. In 2018, we will learn more about Woolf’s interest in the politics of her time: the First World War, the education of women, the rise of the Labour Party. We will also explore her interest in pacifism and human rights, and her thoughts on gender and on families.

To be studied: A Room of One’s Own, Three Guineas, Orlando, The Years and selected essays.

No prior knowledge is assumed; just an interest in Woolf and a love of reading. Whether you know the politics of Woolf’s period well, or are coming to it for the first time, this course will deepen your understanding of Woolf’s wonderful writing.

Women Writers: Emily Bronte to Elizabeth Bowen
8-13 July 2018, Homerton College, Cambridge

This is a rare opportunity to study five great women who were writing in Britain in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries:

  • Bronte, Wuthering Heights
  • George Eliot, Mill on the Floss
  • Woolf, To the Lighthouse
  • Katherine Mansfield, “The Garden Party” and other stories
  • Elizabeth Bowen, To the North

Both courses are taught by leading scholars, with lectures, seminars, supervisions, readings, walks and the chance to go punting. Live like a Cambridge student for a week of intensive, exciting study.

Teachers include: Gillian Beer, Clare Walker Gore, Trudi Tate, Claire Nicholson, Claire Davison, Frances Spalding, Peter Jones, Aiofe Byrne, Nadine Tschacksch, Jeremy Thurlow, and others.

Discount for early bookings by 22 December 2017.

After 22 December, a discount for students and members of recognized Woolf societies (and other relevant societies such as the George Eliot Fellowship and the Katherine Mansfield Society), are available, subject to enrollment.

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Bookings are now open for Literature Cambridge summer courses in Cambridge during July 2018 — and both include Virginia Woolf.

Virginia Woolf and Politics

Dates: July 1-6, 2018
A week’s immersion in Woolf’s political concerns, focusing on the 1920s and 1930s. A Room of One’s Own, Orlando, Three Guineas and The Years, plus some essays.

Women Writers Emily Bronte to Elizabeth Bowen

Dates: July 8-13, 2018
A week’s intensive study of five women writers, including George Eliot, Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf.

Discount for early bird bookings made before Dec. 22, and for members of recognized Virginia Woolf Societies.

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women writers at workI love to read writers talking about their lives, their work, their influences.

A 1989 Paris Review collection, Women Writers at Work, includes interviews from the 1960s to the mid-1980s with Isak Dineson, Lillian Hellman, Dorothy Parker, Nadine Gordimer, Joan Didion, and others. Not surprisingly, Virginia Woolf pops up a few times.

Katherine Anne Porter (1890-1980) cites three “almost perfect novels:” A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes, A Passage to India by E.M. Forster and To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. “Every one of them begins with an apparently insoluble problem, and every one of them works out of confusion into order. The material is all used so that you are going toward a goal. And that goal is the clearing up of disorder and confusion and wrong, to a logical and human end.”

Eudora Welty (1909-2001) says of Woolf: “She was the one who opened the door. When I read To the Lighthouse, I felt, Heavens, what is this? I was so excited by the experience I couldn’t sleep or eat. I’ve read it many times since, though more often these days I go back to her diary. Any day you open it to will be tragic, and yet all the marvelous things she says about her work, about working, leave you filled with joy that’s stronger than your misery for her.”

Several interviews discuss the troublesome label of “woman writer.” The always acerbic Mary McCarthy (1912-1989) names Woolf, Katherine Mansfield and Elizabeth Bowen as what she calls “a certain kind of woman writer who’s a capital W, capital W.” These signify “sensibility,” whereas she advocates for “sense,” represented by Katherine Anne Porter, George Eliot and possibly Eudora Welty.

Katherine Anne Porter, by the way, calls McCarthy “one of the wittiest and most acute and in some ways the worst-tempered woman in American letters.”

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