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A roundtable on “Biography, Biofiction and Ethics” was a highlight for me at the June 9-12 Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf. The panelists, all knowledgeable on the topic, included two authors of Woolf biofiction who defended the genre.

Two views of Keynes

Susan Sellers, author of the 2008 Vanessa and Virginia and the recently released Firebird: A Bloomsbury Love Story (about Maynard Keynes and Lydia Lopokova), pronounced fiction as “the ideal medium for exploring the tangle of personal history” and “an ethical arena in which to speculate and imagine in the gaps of what the historical record can tell us.”

Emma Barnes also chose Maynard Keynes as the subject of her 2020 novel, Mr. Keynes’ Revolution. She said: “Fiction is a lie, by definition. But it’s also a lie in pursuit of some essential truths, or should be. If we recognize the practical and aesthetic constraints imposed on us as writers, we can try to write fiction about real people with integrity.”

The devil’s advocate on the panel was Mark Hussey, Woolf scholar extraordinaire and author of the recent biography, Clive Bell and the Making of Modernism. For Mark, a novelist’s changing facts raises an ethical red flag: “The shift of emphasis from the biographical subject of a biofiction to the writer of that biofiction’s own ‘vision of life and the world’ strikes me as a bit of rhetorical sleight of hand.”

A view from the fence and more

As a selective and skeptical reader of biofiction, I’m on the fence. What’s fact and what’s fiction? Should I care? (I do.) Can and should a novelist distort the facts to embellish the fiction?

For the reader, perhaps it’s a case of caveat emptor: she knows she’s reading fiction and she can enjoy it as such, consult factual sources to verify facts. I’ve read biofiction that the author appends with a list of references and comments about her fictionalizations. That works for me.

In addition to those mentioned above, other biofiction novels mentioned or referenced include:

The Hours by Michael Cunningham, 1998

Mitz: The Marmoset of Bloomsbury by Sigrid Nunez, 1998

But Nobody Lives in Bloomsbury, Gillian Freeman, 2006

Vanessa and Her Sister, Priya Parmar, 2014

Virginia Woolf in Manhattan, Maggie Gee, 2014

Adeline: A Novel of Virginia Woolf, Norah Vincent, 2015

 

A print from Suzanne Bellamy’s “Virginia Woolf Series”

Tributes to Suzanne Bellamy, artist, writer, scholar, Australian feminist pioneer, and quintessential free spirit, are flooding social media and email inboxes since she passed away early on June 20 in her native Australia.

Conferences and art

I didn’t know Suzanne well, though many Virginia Woolf scholars did. I met her in 2007 at the 17th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf at Miami University of Ohio. I was a newbie to Woolf studies, and it was my first conference.

Suzanne had a table of her artwork at that event, as she often did, and that year she was right across the aisle from Cecil Woolf, whom I had just met for the first time. I must have said something that indicated I was a Woolf novice, because in her own inimitable fashion, Suzanne made sure that I knew exactly to whom I was speaking — THE Cecil Woolf!

Suzanne had a generous spirit. In 2011, she wrote a post for this blog that explained her painting “Woolf and the Chaucer Horse,” which she created for the 21st Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf. Over the years, she gave me many prints of her art that featured Woolf. One of them, that I framed and hung in my home, is pictured above. I plan to frame more.

Scholar, artist, feminist, and more

Suzanne was a published scholar of both Woolf and Gertrude Stein. But she was much more than that. She was an essayist. She worked in visual music and abstraction and lesbian modernism. Her work also included word jazz and ecology and water, according to her website.

Her first large solo U.S. show was at the Northampton Center for the Arts in Massachusetts in May/June 2003, and she was artist in residence at Smith College during the 2003 International Virginia Woolf Conference.

In London at the 2004 conference, she was a featured presenter with a jazz visual text improvisation called “Am I Blue?.” This was her scat word and visual painting interpretation of three Woolf experimental short fictions about war with large canvas paintings as set.

In 1969, Suzanne was also part of the first group of Women’s Liberation in Sydney. She taught Women’s Studies and Politics at Macquarie University from 1974 to 1980, a period she called “the great feminist years.” She was National Convenor of the First Women and Labour Conference in 1978 and she worked on all three Australian Women’s Commissions.

Below is just one of the many tributes to Suzanne that has been shared. This one was sent by Benjamin Hagen, president of the International Virginia Woolf Society. It is based on information shared by Suzanne’s dear friend, collaborator, and fellow Woolf scholar Elisa Kay Sparks.

Tribute from Ben Hagen, president of IVWS

I write now, however, with the sad news that Suzanne Bellamy, a friend and spiritual traveling companion to so many in the international Woolf community, passed away peacefully a little after midnight, this past Monday morning, Australian time.

Suzanne was particularly delighted that she had been able to participate in a panel at this year’s Woolf conference with Elisa Kay Sparks, Davi Pinho, and Maria Oliveira. Those of us who attended that virtual panel were struck by the power of the work she shared with us that day.

Though very ill, she was able to stay at home until last Wednesday. She was “completely present,” a friend reports, until Saturday, discussing lists of people to notify and what to do about artwork, etc. before she slipped into a quiet coma from which she did not wake up.

Suzanne was born 22 September 1948. Her friends in Australia are making sure that her property is secured and her artwork taken care of, fulfilling the requests in her will. They will gather together for a major celebration of Suzanne’s life in September, around her birthday and the solstice. As some of you know, much of Suzanne’s work—journals, artworks, and films about the Australian women’s movement—have already been sorted and placed in the Australian National Archives.

On behalf of the IVWS, I send condolences to all members who knew Suzanne, treasured her friendship and guidance, and benefited from the light she brought with her wherever she traveled. To those who did not know Suzanne, I hope you will have a chance in the coming weeks and months and years to learn about her artwork, her Woolf scholarship, her political activism, her goodness, her power, and her love.

Tribute from Claire Nicholson, chair, Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain

On behalf of all members of the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain, I’d like to extend our deep condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Suzanne Bellamy. An inspiring artist and scholar, Suzanne was an unforgettable presence at  International Virginia Woolf Conferences. Her artistic vision, wide-ranging knowledge and warm sense of humour livened up many conference proceedings and she was held in real affection by Woolfians from all over the world. She will be much missed indeed, but leaves a wonderful legacy of her work which will be enjoyed for many years to come. Rest in peace, Suzanne.

“Woolf and the Chaucer Horse” by Suzanne Bellamy

 

Woolfians around the globe celebrated Dalloway Day last week, a day commemorating Clarissa Dalloway’s walk to “buy the flowers herself” in preparation for her party that evening.

The official date, as established in 2018 by both the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain and the International Virginia Woolf Society, is the third Wednesday in June, which this year fell on June 15. But events celebrating Virginia Woolf’s 1925 novel Mrs. Dalloway are not usually restricted to one day, and this year was no exception.

Here is a rundown of some of the events that took place this year, along with a few notable #DallowayDay tweets, some of which share interesting resources.

 

Inspiring. Insightful. Intimate. Those are three words I could use to describe the four days of Virginia Woolf and Ethics, the 31st Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf, which ran from June 9-12.

Held remotely on Zoom for the second year in a row and hosted by Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, with Amy Smith as organizer, the conference brought together around 270 Woolf scholars from around the globe, including Brazil, the Netherlands, Norway, Candada, the UK, and the US.

Links to share

I took lots of notes. Sadly, I don’t have the time or the energy to share them all. Instead, I’ll list just a few online resources that some of the presenters and participants shared with us. Readers, feel free to add yours in the comments section below.

Here goes.

Favorite quote and rave reviews

And here is one of my favorite quotes from the conference. There were many more, but this is the only one I managed to get down on paper verbatim.

It comes from Ane Thon Knutsen, of the Oslo National Academy of the Arts in Norway, who presented “On Being Ill – A letterpress printed Covid-19 diary.”

You have no control over what happens when you read books. And it’s magical. – Ane Thon Knutsen

Ane, along with many other presenters, got rave reviews. One was Beth Rigel Daugherty, whose brilliant and heartfelt final plenary, “On the Ethics of Teaching: Virginia Woolf’s Essays,” awed participants and brought them to tears.

Below is just one of the many information-rich PowerPoint slides Beth shared in her talk. It lists some of the Woolf essays that informed her 36 years of teaching at Otterbein University and warned her against preaching to her students, a caveat she took to heart.

Recently retired, Beth’s latest project is a book for Edinburgh University Press — Virginia Woolf’s Apprenticeship: Becoming an Essayist (2022).

Virginia Woolf reading at home

If you are an undergraduate with an interest in Virginia Woolf’s work, consider entering the International Virginia Woolf Society’s annual undergraduate essay competition. Winner of the 2022 Angelica Garnett Undergraduate Essay Prize will receive a cash prize and their essay will be published in the society’s newsletter.

The essay competition is held annually in honor of Virginia Woolf and in memory of Angelica Garnett, writer, artist, and daughter of Woolf’s sister, Vanessa Bell.

Essay requirements

  • Undergraduate essays can be on any topic pertaining to the Woolf’s writing.
  • Essays should be between 2,000 and 2,500 words, including notes and works cited, with an original title of the entrant’s choosing.

Essays will be judged by the society’s officers: Benjamin Hagen, president; Amanda Golden, vice-president; Susan Wegener, secretary-treasurer); and Catherine Hollis, historian-bibliographer.

Past prize winning essays can be read online.

The winnings

The winner will receive $200 and have the essay published in a future issue of the Virginia Woolf Miscellany.

To submit an essay, fill out the entry form and send your essay to Benjamin D. Hagen at Benjamin.Hagen@usd.edu.

All entries must be received by June 30, 2022.

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