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The Charleston Festival is back — in person — beginning yesterday and running through May 29 at Charleston in Firle, Sussex.

The festival is the main fundraising event for the longtime home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant and the country refuge for the Bloomsbury group.

Of particular interest to Bloomsbury scholars is Sunday’s program with Alex Jennings and Jonathon Pryce. At 5:30 p.m., the actors will do a live reading of “The Love Lives of Lytton Strachey,” revealing “a playful and uncensored portrait of a queer universe, shared in glorious candid detail with trusted friends,” according to the website.

Woolf and Woof

Recently I revisited an old post about The Lost Garden, a moving homage to Virginia Woolf. I’ve read almost everything Helen Humphreys has written and was delighted with her most recent work, And a Dog Called Fig. A memoir, subtitled Solitude, Connection, the Writing Life, it weaves her life and writing with the dogs who have shared her journey, including the incumbent, a vizsla named Fig.

Lacking a college education, Humphreys relied on reading literature, starting alphabetically until “impatient with my methodical approach, I skipped ahead to W so that I could read Virginia Woolf.”

Woolf as model

Woolf became her model when she started writing: “I followed Woolf’s example of how to live a writing day—working in the morning, walking in the afternoon, writing letters or listening to music in the evenings.”

Humphreys always had dogs, and Woolf too had dogs to accompany her on her walks as well as to stimulate her work. First Grizzle, who was memorialized in her story “Gipsy, the Mongrel,” then Pinka, who graced the cover of her novel Flush.

Their respective dogs connected Humphreys more closely to Woolf:  “When I can recognize the look in Virginia Woolf’s dog’s eyes as being a look I have seen on my own dog … I can imagine her interactions with Grizzle as being similar to some of my interactions with Charlotte [Fig’s predecessor, also a vizsla].”

Writers whose dogs were prominent

Emily Bronte, Gertrude Stein, Agatha Christie, and Zora Neale Hurston are among the writers Humphreys cites whose dogs were prominent in their lives.

She thinks these bonds are significant:

“Structure in a novel, and in life, is the perfect balance of order and chaos. The structure of a day could be the four dog walks undertaken at regular intervals.” She constructed her novel Wild Dogs after “the way that a dog turns and turns before settling down to sleep … I wanted the story to turn like that, to circle back on itself and then continue again before coming to rest.”

Humphreys relates the joys and lessons she found in her lifetime with dogs, about discipline and patience, loneliness and grief, communion and communication, and ponders near the end: “Do they make us better, or do they simply return us to who we are?”

More on Woolf and dogs

For more on this topic, see our post on Shaggy Muses: The Dogs Who Inspired Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Edith Wharton and Emily Bronte.

Got time for a short broadcast with a Virginia Woolf connection? Yesterday’s BBC Radio 4 Short Works fits the bill and is available online.

“Dance of the Wild,” a story by Amanthi Harris, is set in contemporary Alpujarras in Spain. That’s where Gerald Brenan spent his summers and where Virginia Woolf visited him. The story focuses on a young woman who “sees” and “hears” Woolf talking to herself about creating Mrs. Dalloway.

They seem very real here, don’t they? – “Dance of the Wild”

The Woolf character’s words are based on Woolf’s diary and the manuscripts of the novel held in the British Library and the New York Public Library.

This news comes from the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain. The 14-minute reading, which will be available online for more than one year, can be found on BBC Sounds.

If you can get to Cambridge or London this month or next, you are in luck. You have two chances to learn more about the relationship between Maynard Keynes and ballerina Lydia Lopokova, straight from Susan Sellers, author of Firebird: A Bloomsbury Love Story, which explores the couple’s love story.

Maggie Humm, whose recent novel Talland House explores the life of Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse heroine, Lily Briscoe, joins Sellers for both conversations, the first in Cambridge and the second in London.

Here are the details for both events.

A Bloomsbury Love Story

When: Sunday 24 April 2022, 10-11 a.m. BST
Where: The Cambridge Union Society, 9a Bridge Street, Cambridge CB2 1UB
Why: Part of the Cambridge Literary Festival
Cost: Tickets £12. Book here.

Susan Sellers and Maggie Humm, two world-leading experts talk about the women of Bloomsbury, and what a lifetime of reading, researching, teaching and writing about Virginia Woolf has taught them.

An Evening in Bloomsbury with Susan Sellers and Maggie Humm

When: Thursday 5 May 2022, 6.30 p.m. BST
Where: Hatchards, 187 Piccadilly, London W1J 9LE
Cost: Tickets £10 Book here.

Join Susan Sellers discussing the lives of Bloomsbury’s most unlikely lovers, Maynard Keynes and Lydia Lopokova, with Maggie Humm.

It is the winter of 1921 and Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes launch a flamboyant new production at London’s Alhambra Theatre. Maynard Keynes is in the audience, though he expects little from the evening. Despite Lydia’s many triumphs, including the title role in Stravinsky’s Firebird, Maynard’s mind is made up – he considers her ‘a rotten dancer’. Besides, Lydia has at least one husband in tow and Maynard has only ever loved men.

Tonight, however, as Susan Sellers relates, that is all about to change and while The Firebird is a fictional re-imagining, life is often stranger and more surprising. Especially, perhaps, when it comes to the lives of theBloomsbury Group.

About the speakers

Susan Sellers

Susan Sellers is professor of English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of St. Andrews. Her first Bloomsbury-inspired novel, Vanessa and Virginia, was an editor’s pick for The New York Times and has been translated into 16 languages.

Maggie Humm

Maggie Humm is an Emeritus Professor, international Woolf scholar and novelist. She has written many books on feminism, art and Virginia Woolf, and in 2020 published her debut novel Talland House, a gripping historical romance/detective fiction set in picturesque Cornwall and London during World War I. Shortlisted for several prizes including Eyelands and Impress, Talland House was chosen by the Washington Independent Review of Books as one of its ’51 Favorite Books’ of 2020.

 

When the don met the dancer – this is the story of how Maynard Keynes, the great economist, fell for Lydia Lopokova, celebrity ballerina and Russian émigrée. And it is also a story of resistances, when a different kind of woman stepped into the settled world of Virginia, Vanessa, and all the rest of their English entourage. – In Firebird, Susan Sellers restages the bright Bloomsbury years of the early 1920s as they have never been seen before. – Rachel Bowlby

What happens when a novelist and a scholar get together to discuss Virginia Woolf? Interesting things, as you will see below. But first the back story

The back story

Last week, a Zoom call for members of the International Virginia Woolf Society introduced us to the The Oxford Companion of Virginia Woolf (2021), edited by Anne Fernald and published by the Oxford University Press.

On that call, we met many of the prominent international scholars who contributed the 39 original essays that appear in the volume. They include Urmila Seshagiri, Elsa Högberg, Vara Neverow, Elizabeth Outka, and Roxana Robinson, whose novel Sparta (2013) I used in a class I taught on women and war.

The YouTube video

During the discussion about the handbook, Fernald mentioned an April 5 discussion she had with Robinson about Virginia Woolf, which is now posted on YouTube.

In it they talk about many things, including how they first met Virginia Woolf, what she has to say to us today, and Fernald’s vision for the essays she included in The Oxford Companion of Virginia Woolf.

As she puts it, “I wanted to make a new pattern for what we know about Woolf’s life.”

Fernald is a professor of English and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Issues at Fordham University, editor of the Cambridge University Press edition of Mrs. Dalloway (2014) and author of Virginia Woolf: Feminism and the Reader (2006).

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