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Archive for November 12th, 2019

This is the second in a new series of posts that will offer a global perspective on Woolf studies, as proposed by Stefano Rozzoni at the 29th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf. If you would like to contribute to this series, please contact Blogging Woolf at bloggingwoolf@yahoo.com.

Veronika Geyerová presenting at the 29th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf at Mount St. Joseph University

When I saw Stefano Rozzoni’s idea about sharing our experience concerning the 29th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf, I thought that it might be a good way to express my feelings and gratefulness for the great and enriching moments I experienced at Mount St. Joseph University. I would also like to share a few facts about Woolf studies in the Czech Republic as it may sound ”exotic” to some people that Woolf is studied even there.

On the Woolf trail

I started to be a Woolf enthusiast early at grammar school and I decided to pursue my passion for literature at the University of South Bohemia in Budweis where I studied English philology and French philology. I wrote my BA and MA thesis on Woolf and her conception of time and because my longing for knowledge had not been satisfied by then, I decided to continue as a PhD student at Charles University in Prague.

I have just finished the second year of my study in which I again focus on Woolf. In particular, my dissertation deals with material objects and reality in her fiction from the non-dualist perspective of process philosophy.

Unfortunately, I was too scared to submit an abstract for last year’s conference but this year I decided to summon up courage and bingo – my paper was accepted!

As a Woolf conference newbie

Understandably, I arrived at Mount St. Joseph and the Woolf conference pretty nervous because it was my first time in the US and also my premiere in front of the Woolf community. For that reason I really appreciated Drew Shannon’s introductory talk on the first day when he was saying that he felt he was a complete ”misfit” during his first contact with the community – so did I!

However, my worries and nervousness dissolved as soon as I got to know a few people and I understood that the community is incredibly openhearted and welcoming in the Whiteheadian sense – “the many become one and are increased by one.” Moreover, I started to feel like “a fish in water” (as we say in Czech) because I finally met people who are sincerely passionate about the same subject like me.

After I had given my talk, I felt even more relaxed and was able to enjoy the lively atmosphere of the conference. To be honest, I was astonished at the range of topics related to Woolf that were presented at the conference. In addition, It was so refreshing to hear people draw parallels between Woolf and current issues like racism, LGBT community rights, the rising wave of populism all over the world (really, our Czech prezident Zeman and the Prime Minister are not much better than Trump), etc.

Meeting of the minds

Most of all, I wish to thank the organizers of the conference for a really smooth and extremely well-prepared event and for the given opportunity to present my work in front of the people whose feedback is invaluable for me. Thanks to the conference, I have met a lot of wonderful scholars whom I had wanted to meet in person and whose papers and books I read and I highly respect (I do not want to name anyone).

I am also really pleased with a positive feedback on my current research from those who take pleasure in reading literature through the philosophical lens. Indeed, I am more motivated to continue in my research than before the conference because I can see that it is worth being a part or such an inspiring and extraordinary community.

Woolf and Modernism in the Czech Republic

As I have promised, I would also like to provide an insight into Woolf studies in the Czech Republic. Woolf is, of course, a part of obligatory reading at high schools and particularly at English Literature departments at most Czech universities. She is often the author whom BA and MA students choose for their theses.

I was lucky because I studied under an excellent and (not only) modernist scholar Martin Hilský who has written many essays and even one monograph on modernism. His wife Kateřina Hilská is a prominent Czech translator and she is the author of most Czech translantions of Woolf’s novels, diaries and short stories. Thanks to her magnificent translations, Woolf is quite popular with Czech readers. Nevertheless, this modernist author remains one of those artists who are either adored or rejected (from my own experience, even my university colleagues call her a “hyper-sensitive woman” or “suicidal bitch”). 

Woolf in translation — or not

Obviously, Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse are Woolf’s most known novels in the Czech Republic. However, some novels, for example Night and Day or The Years, have not been translated into Czech yet. On the contrary, my favourite novel The Waves has been translated into Czech, although it is extremely difficult for both the translator and for the reader.

Quite interestingly (a note for my conference colleague Natalia), the Czech edition of Orlando and Three Guineas do not include photos. Unfortunately, there is no official Woolf society in the Czech Republic, which is a pity and something that should be improved in the future. As a result, I have joined the International Virginia Woolf Society last month.

I would like to end my post with personal experience from entrance exams to one of Czech PhD English Literature programmes. At the entrance interview I was introducing my dissertation proposal on Woolf and material reality in her fiction and although I had great recommendation from the previous study and excellent study results,

I was rejected on the basis of choosing Woolf for my research. The committee basically told me that she is a kind of “exploited” author, they asked me about the novelty of my research and recommended opting for another author and apply again the following year. I guess that you can imagine my disappointment after I had been told that I could not study the only author that I really want to study in depth.

Why I read Woolf

I cannot resist saying that Woolf is someone very dear and special to me because she sometimes speaks from the depths of my heart. I strongly believe that this is also the only prerequisite for a successful and lasting academic work. Although Woolf has been discussed by a great number of scholars and from countless points of view, I reckon that every individual response to Woolf is unique and contributes to the vast already existing scholarship.

In my opinion, the talks and presentations given at the conference just prove it and moreover, they justify Woolf’s stable and relevant position among contemporary writers (who are often given preference because they guarantee “novelty” and “originality”).

For this reason, I would like to express my gratefulness to my supervisor Ladislav Nagy, who has always encouraged me in studying Woolf, for giving me the ideas about the philosophical background of my research and for letting me explore the themes that I am interested in without imposing any limitations.

Struggle of the humanities

The sad incident described above undeniably stems from the humanities’ struggle for money and the government’s urge to turn them into ”hard science” (especially in the Czech Republic there is a general tendency to debase the humanities in favour of natural science and technology studies). Hopefully, literary scholarship will survive and flourish thanks to the passionate group of scholars such as Woolf’s community whose motto might be Woolf’s quote from A Room of One’s Own:

Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.

 

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