Archive for February, 2009

trenchFor the second time in recent months, I have found an online connection between Virginia Woolf and the modern day fashion world.

These connections always surprise me because of Woolf’s lack of confidence about her appearance and her sense of style. She often agonized about what to wear, then later regretted her choices.

This, even though she was advised about fashion by friends and fashion writers Dorothy Todd and Madge Garland, according to Anne Pender in her 2007 article “‘Modernist Madonnas’:  Dorothy Todd, Madge Garland and Virginia Woolf.”

Nevertheless, British designer Christopher Bailey said he wanted his new fall collection for Burberry Prorsum to be “very poetic and inspiring,” a celebration of “great British icons” such as Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf. Fittingly enough, the collection includes practical Burberry trench coats that one might imagine Virginia wearing on one of her long treks around London. (For more about Woolf and walking, read Anne’s post.)

Late last year, a Telegraph article about French fashion designer Nicole Farhi speculated that Woolf would wear her designs. You can be the judge by clicking here.

These are not the first times Woolf has inspired the fashion world. Back in 1994, Australian designer Richard Tyler said the Bloomsbury group, including Woolf, was the inspiration for his fall collection. Tyler explained that Woolf’s set helped to inspire his Norfolk jackets, fancy vests, hand-beaded borders and muted tweeds that year. 

Tyler was a bit ahead of the 1996 revival of 1920s fashion that Brenda Silver discusses in Virginia Woolf Icon. In that book, Silver dissects the meaning behind Woolf’s connection to the changing  world of fashion. According to Silver, when the fashion industry connects its products to Woolf, it promises more than intelligent, sophisticated designs. It promises strength, independence, and fearlessness as well.

That’s a tall order for any garment.

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platform-of-timeThis week in one of the women’s studies classes I teach, our discussion centered around Marxist-socialist feminist theory. After class, I wondered: What would Virginia say?

The answer — at least one of them — was close at hand. In her introductory letter to Life as We Have Known It (1931), Woolf writes of her “benevolent spectator” status at the 1913 meeting of the Women’s Co-operative Guild. 

As the working class women at the meeting talk about their demands for higher wages and a shorter workday, Woolf realizes that, as a privileged upper middle class woman, these issues don’t really affect her. Instead, she says, they ”leave me, in my own blood and bones, untouched.” She admits that, “If every reform they [working class women] demand was granted this very instant it would not touch one hair of my comfortable capitalistic head.”

I am struck by the empathy that Woolf expresses in this piece. She talks about the working class women “who worked, who bore children, who scrubbed and cooked and bargained” and contrasts them with women like herself who sit in comfy chairs reading books and taking exotic trips to picturesque places.

Middle class women may express sympathy for women of the working class, but their sympathy is “fictitious,” Woolf argues. For women of privilege have no idea what it is like to heat bath water for a husband who works as a miner and scrub his blackened clothes by hand, she says. They don’t know what it’s like to be sent out to work in the fields at the age of eight or be comforted by a glimpse of the sun through a factory window. They don’t know what it’s like to rely on old magazines for their only reading material.

One myth about Woolf is that she was an apolitical effete snob who had no awareness of issues regarding class. I think this essay, written to introduce this volume of autobiographical sketches by Co-operative Guildswomen, proves otherwise.

Roy Johnson has posted a review of the Hesperus Press book in which this essay appears, The Platform of Time: Memoirs of Family and Friends on the Mantex Web site. You can read his review here.

The Platform of Time, published in 2007, also contains Woolf’s account of the infamous Dreadnought Hoax, and for the first time in book form, her complete memoir of her nephew Julian Bell.

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top_mla_logoThe International Virginia Woolf Society traditionally sponsors two panels at the MLA Convention each year. Proposals for the MLA’s 125th annual convention, which will be held in Philadelphia Dec. 27 to 30 this year, are due March 15.

Abstracts for the following Woolf panels are being accepted:

  • Twenty-First-Century Woolf. A panel discussing Woolf’s continued relevance in and for the new century. According to conference organizers, topics might include transnationalism, new feminisms, the current wars, emerging commercial strategies, blogs and the common reader and more. Abstracts should total 300-500-words and be sent to Elizabeth Outka, panel chair, at eoutka@richmond.edu by March 15.
  • The Uses of Illness: Woolf and Medical Narratives. Illness is a dominant theme in Woolf’s work. This panel explores her narrative strategies writing illness, including the physical, psychological, social and ethical. Abstracts of 500 words are due by March 15 to David Eberly, panel chair, at david.eberly@chtrust .org. Use the subject line “Woolf MLA Panel.”

For more details on the MLA Calls for Papers, click here.

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Orlando DVD

Orlando is once again on stage, this time as a one-woman show in Taiwan.

Beijing opera diva Wei Hai-min is the star who has the challenging dramatic task of playing the roles of Orlando and the other characters who wander through 400 years of English history.

The two-hour play, which opens the Taiwan International Festival, is directed by Robert Wilson. Said to be an entirely new dramatic version of Virginia Woolf’s novel,  it features a stark set and highly abstract architectural sets.

Wilson’s production attempts to present the text as spoken by the body independently of the voice, according to the Tapei Times. Wilson calls it “listening to the pictures.” Wei said her operatic training gives her a considerable advantage in fulfilling Wilson’s goal for the play.

Wilson is the American choreographer and director who has staged the monologue, which was adapted from Woolf’s Orlando by Darryl Pinckney, in both German (1989) and French (1993) versions, according to Mark Hussey in Virginia Woolf A to Z (206).

Orlando is on stage through Feb. 28 at Tapei’s National Theater. Read the full story here and a review titled “Diva gives unique take on Orlando” here. Then find out more about Wei.

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essaysofvirginiawoolf12The long-awaited fifth volume of The Essays of Virginia Woolf, which includes 59 of Woolf’s essays — three of them for the first time — is now out in the U.K.

Edited by Stuart N. Clarke, founding member of the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain and editor of its journal, The Virginia Woolf Bulletin, Volume Five includes essays Woolf wrote from 1929 to 1932. Twenty-six are from The Common Reader: Second Series.

You can read one of the essays, about the love of reading, on The Guardian Web site.You can also read 95 pages of the newly published 700-page volume, here. Included in the online excerpt is Clarke’s Introduction to the volume.

Clarke was interviewed by RTÊ 1 Radio’s “The Arts Show,” and you can listen to that interview here.

The Essays of Virginia Woolf was published Jan. 15 by the Hogarth Press, a member of the Random House Group. To order a copy, click here.

Read a blurb about the book here.

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