Archive for June, 2008

As lovers of Virginia Woolf’s words and works, we often have a favorite novel that we read and reread. Some of us have several. But a Woolf novel that we loathe? Unimaginable. At least for me.

In the June 22 issue of The Sunday Times, however, critics and writers have named their most-loathed novels. And two of them are Woolf’s.

Here are their conflicting comments about Woolf’s work in the article “Critics Choose Their Most-Loathed Books“:

  • From Stephen Amidon, novelist, fiction reviewer, and former journalist:
    The Waves by Virginia Woolf is everything a novel should not be – and so much less. After the triumphs of Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse, and the fascinating experimentation of Orlando, Woolf decided to change tack with this “playpoem” and wound up sinking into a putrid morass of unreadability. Beloved of American academics – which ought to tell you something right there – the book fairly accurately simulates the experience of sitting next to a pretentious old windbag on a flight to Australia. “


  • From John Carey, The Sunday Times chief books critic:
    “My redmist book is Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, the acme of Bloomsburyish poppycock, a self-flattering appropriation of English literature and history, distilled from Woolf’s temporarily addled brain by the heat of her infatuation for the aristocratic Vita Sackville-West. Should be sold with a sick bag attached.

These writers would benefit from reading another article just posted to the VW Listserv, “Reviews Resonate as PR, Summary Can’t.” Written by Todd Shy, it was published in the June 22 News Observer

In it, Shy cites Woolf’s essay, “Hours in a Library,” as a model for book review writing. In her 1916 essay, Woolf describes the difficult process of writing a good review, one that sees the book, as well as what the book is seeing.

Lists such as the one printed in the June 22 Sunday Times aren’t designed to do either. Instead they seem to be the literary version of the Jerry Springer show.

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Anyone who has visited Monk’s House in Rodmell, Sussex knows that much of Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s summer home is off limits to visitors.

When I was there in June of 2004, I was particularly interested in Virginia’s writing lodge. However, I couldn’t get close enough to truly satisfy my curiosity about the small room where she wrote many of her most famous works from 1919 to 1941. All I could do was peer through the window into the space, as it was off limits to everyday visitors like me.

So imagine my excitement when a post to the VW Listserv linked us to an excellent interior photo of the writing lodge and a description of the space written by Woolf biographer Hermione Lee. The article, “Writers’ Rooms: Virginia Woolf,” appears in The Guardian with the wonderful photo.

You can read more about Woolf’s writing habitats — and the queries they generate — here.


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This just in from the VW Listserv: A restaurant in Cincinnati, the Vineyard Cafe, packages diners’ leftovers in a handy little box with a Virginia Woolf quote on the front.
The quote, “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well,” has seen other commercial uses. It appeared on white ceramic serving pieces sold a couple of years ago by Pottery Barn. Sadly, the pieces are no longer available, but I recall them creating quite a stir (no pun intended) when they first came out.
The news of the Woolf-related doggie box came from Drew Patrick Shannon, whom I met last June at the Woolf conference. It was my first such conference, and Drew became my first Woolfian friend as I stood in awe among the renowned Woolf scholars whose work I had read and re-read.

Drew is now an assistant professor of English in the Humanities Department of the College of Mount St. Joseph, where he is working on expanding his dissertation, The Deep Old Desk: The Diary of Virginia Woolf, into a book. Check out his bio on this page.

For last year’s installment on Woolf going to the dogs, click here.

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Virginia Woolf, common readers, and Julia Briggs.

That is the combination created by the Julia Briggs Memorial Prize 2009, which will be awarded to the top essay on the topic of “Virginia Woolf and the Common Reader” in a competition sponsored by the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain.

The competition is being held in memory of noted Woolf scholar Julia Briggs, who died in August. Ms. Briggs, author of Virginia Woolf: An Inner Life and Reading Virginia Woolf, also served as an executive council member for Great Britain’s Woolf society.

Who can enter

The competition is open to members and non-members of the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain, with the exception of  members of the executive council and editorial committee of the society, contest judges, and families of all three groups.

How to enter

Entries should be sent to Ruth Webb, 15 Southcote Road, London SE25 4RG. Entries must arrive by January 10, 2009.

For more information or to receive a hard copy of the entry form and confirmation slip, e-mail Sarah M. Hall at: smhall123@yahoo.co.uk

Rules of the essay competition

Writers are advised to read and follow the competition rules below, which come from the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain.

The essay, on the topic “Virginia Woolf and the Common Reader,” should be between 2,000 and 2,500 words in length. It should be the original work of the named entrant, and previously unpublished in print or any other medium. Student coursework is acceptable.

Each entry should include the official entry form, which can be obtained here. Just scroll down the page for the official form.

Entrants should supply THREE typed copies of the essay on A4 paper, printed on one side only, double-spaced (or 1.5) and in a font size no smaller than 10-point. The VWSGB regrets that no e-mailed entries will be accepted because of printing costs.

The competition will be judged by acclaimed Woolf scholars Lyndall Gordon and Maggie Humm, and VWSGB Vice-Chair and Woolf biographer Ruth Webb. The decision of the judges is final. The society reserves the right not to award the prize if, in the judges’ opinion, none of the entries attains the required standard. Otherwise the winner will be contacted in mid-March.

The winner will receive a cheque for £250, presented at the society’s annual general meeting in central London on April 4, 2009, and the winning essay will be published in the Virginia Woolf Bulletin. If the winner is unable to attend the April 2009 general meeting, the prize will be sent by secure mail.

No entry will be accepted without the signed entry form, which should be attached to the first page of the first copy of the essay. There should be no personal details on the essay pages themselves.

The society cannot return entries. Acknowledgement of receipt can only be given if the entrant supplies an SAE containing the confirmation slip. Entrants from outside the UK should e-mail Sarah M. Hall at smhall123@yahoo.co.uk for confirmation of receipt.

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