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Archive for July, 2020

A beautifully crafted staff-student book that is part of a collaborative project at the University of Reading is now available.

A Room of Our Own: The Virginia Woolf Learning Journals presents witty, inventive, and deeply felt learning journal entries from more than 20 final year students in the Department of English Literature at the University of Reading. Appropriately enough, the university was the site of the 27th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf: Virginia Woolf and the World of Books,

Content of the book

The entries are 500-word pieces of critical and creative writing responding to Woolf’s novels and essays.

The 64 contributions are organized into 10 chapters. The texts discussed in the collection are The Voyage Out, Jacob’s Room, Mrs. Dalloway, A Room of One’s Own, Three Guineas, ‘Street Haunting’, ‘Modern Novels’, ‘Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown’, ‘Professions for Women’ and ‘Memories of a Working Women’s Guild’.

Madeleine Davies’ introduction to the book explains the genesis of the project and its links to diversifying assessment practice, student engagement, and the ability of graduates to find employment.

Look of the book

Designer Katy Smith studied Woolf’s handwritten letters so she could create a hand drawn typeface in a similar style in a shade of purple, Woolf’s ink preference for her own writing. She also designed special icons representative of each chapter.

Smith worked with Davies and three student editors from the English Literature Department — Libby Bushill, Zoë Kyle and Maddie Bazin — on the project.

An award winner

The project has won two University of Reading collaborative excellence awards, has been the basis of a Times Higher Education shortlisting (2019) for Most Innovative Teaching, and is the university’s nomination for this year’s HE Advanced CATE Award.

Get a copy

A Room of One’s Own is available as an e-book and as a paperback. You can follow the project on Twitter at @RoomofOurOwnUOR.

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Last summer I studied Virginia Woolf in person in Cambridge. This summer, I’m studying her from Cambridge, but I’m at home on my laptop via Zoom.

Trudi Tate and Karina Jacubowicz are just two of the lecturers in Literature Cambridge’s online courses on Virginia Woolf and other authors via Zoom.

Last July, I flew to England to study Virginia Woolf as part of the Literature Cambridge course on Virginia Woolf’s Gardens. This year, the program cancelled its in-person courses due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Studying Woolf online and in person

So I, along with dozens of scholars and common readers from around the world, am studying Woolf remotely as part of Literature Cambridge’s sessions on Woolf through its reasonably priced Online Study Sessions. Once held in person at the University of Cambridge, they are now held online via Zoom. And I am enjoying every minute of the delightful, informative lectures, as well as the accompanying question and answer sessions.

Dadie Ryland’s room behind the second floor window shown here inspired the first chapter of Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own.

Last July, in Lit Cambridge’s course on Woolf’s Gardens, we visited Newnham College, the site where Virginia Woolf gave her October 1928 talk on women and fiction that, along with one given at Girton College, became A Room of One’s Own (1929). We toured the gardens of King’s College, saw the window of a room that was the setting for a scene in Woolf’s classic polemic, held Woolf’s manuscript of Room at the Fitzwilliam Museum, admired the flora of Cambridge Botanic Garden, and much more.

I miss those field trips but I appreciate reuniting with the lecturers and students I met at Literature Cambridge and other Woolf encounters.

So far this year, I have attended lectures by Trudi Tate and Karina Jacubowicz on A Room of One’s Own and the Great War, Mrs. Dalloway, and A Room of Own and Space. I have several more on my calendar.

Upcoming study sessions and the Virginia Woolf Season

Online Study Sessions on Woolf and other writers continue through the summer. Here is just part of the upcoming schedule, with all times in British Summer Time:

25 July, 6 p.m. Between the Acts and Gardens
1 August, 6 p.m. Orlando 1 : Property
2 August, 10 a.m. Orlando 1: Property
8 August, 6 p.m. Night and Day
15 August, 6 pm. The Voyage Out

Literature Cambridge will kick off its Virginia Woolf Season in October in which students will discuss 12 major Woolf books in order of publication. Follow its Facebook page for updates.

The Newnham College dining hall where Virginia Woolf gave her famous talk on women and fiction in 1928.

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From the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain comes these resources: links to two short videos of an exchange of letters between Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf. Both were recorded for Amnesty International and LGBTI+.

  • Vita’s letter to Virginia, read by Jodie Comer
  • Virginia letter replying to Vita, read by Nicola Coughlan

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Literature Cambridge has created a popular Virginia Woolf Podcast, a series designed to discover her impact on art, philosophy, and politics in the present day.

In each episode, Literature Cambridge interviews an artist, writer, or academic who has been influenced by Virginia Woolf.

Questions asked include:

  • Why is Woolf such an important figure to you?
  • How has Woolf affected your career?

So far, two podcasts are available online. In the first, “Woolf and Shakespeare: Varsha Panjwani,” Dr. Karina Jakubowicz talks with Dr. Varsha Panjwani about Woolf’s complicated relationship with William Shakespeare. The podcast attracted more than 800 listeners in the first few months alone.

In the second, “Caroline Zoob: Virginia Woolf’s Garden,” Jakubowicz talks with Caroline and Jonathon Zoob about the 10 years they spent looking after Monk’s House and restoring the garden in the spirit of the Woolfs.

Give them a listen.

Garden at Monk’s House, Lewes, Sussex

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In 2009 I posted a review of Stephanie Barron’s The White Garden, and a year later about discovering Virginia Woolf’s socks (on Julian Bell) in bed with infamous spy Anthony Blunt. In exploring spy connections, I’d somehow I’d overlooked—until now—the 1983 novel by Ellen Hawkes and Peter Manso, The Shadow of the Moth: A Novel of Espionage with Virginia Woolf.

It’s 1917, mid-World War I, and Woolf’s curiosity is aroused by the report of a young Belgian woman’s suicide. One thing leads to another, as Woolf and an American journalist uncover a clandestine attempt to pass English military secrets to the Germans. Spies and double agents, aristocrats and industrial magnates, MI5 and Scotland yard—all the greedy, power-hungry men; even Maynard Keynes and Clive Bell; even Leonard Woolf by his overprotectiveness of Virginia.

At the end she realizes that “The war might alter everyone’s values but her personal fight had to be on her own terms. She wouldn’t wage it by adopting men’s ways.” Back at work on her novel in progress, what would become Night and Day, she creates the character of Mary Datchet, a spirited, determined, independent woman, to balance the conventional Katharine Hilbery.

I enjoyed this portrait of a spirited, determined, and independent Virginia, but most striking was the authors’ epilogue:

“In 1937, with war once again threatening Europe, Virginia Woolf wrote Three Guineas, her indictment of masculine aggression, German fascism and incipient totalitarianism at home. Four years later, in 1941, her body was found in the river Ouse behind Monk’s House, her home in Sussex. To this day, her death is commonly believed to have been a suicide.”

Here, as in The White Garden, is the supposition that there were other possibilities. In an email exchange, I asked Stephanie Barron (real name Francine Mathews) how she came to question the cause of Woolf’s death. She said her research uncovered what for her were surprises: Leonard announcing Virginia’s death the day after she disappeared; the lack of a full-blown police investigation; Leonard’s identification of her remains alone; the swiftness of cremation; his burial of the ashes by himself.

“It all seemed highly irregular, almost furtive. It smacked of a cover-up. Probably that was due to the stigma of mental illness and suicide. But if one chooses to write speculative fiction, it’s rife with possibilities.”

Woolf scholars have accepted the seemingly incontrovertible evidence of her suicide. Still—and not to succumb to the current fetish for conspiracy theories—it’s hard not to wonder….

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