Archive for February, 2022

Virginia Woolf published Jacob’s Room 100 years ago. And since then, many readers have wandered down Lamb’s Conduit Street in London, speculating about where Jacob lived and what he would have seen.

Pillar box at the corner of Lamb’s Conduit Street and Great Ormond Street, outside Ryman Stationery in London.

I, myself, have done just that, taking particular notice — and photos — of the classic red pillar box on the corner and stopping at The Lamb pub, which existed in Jacob’s time, for a meal.

Woolf puts London at the novel’s heart

In a piece posted on the London Fictions website, Robert Todd, member of the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain, explores, in detail, the way Woolf puts London at the heart of her novel after Jacob reaches the age of 22 in 1909.

Woolf’s eight chapters that cover the years from 1909 on “display, amongst so much else, a vivid picture of London and Jacob’s relation to it,” according to Todd.

The London of Jacob’s Room was a young man’s world of hopes, dreams and pleasure, before responsibility is assumed.  It was also a young woman’s world, Virginia Woolf’s, after she moved to Bloomsbury in 1904.  – Robert Todd

Walking with Jacob Flanders

For that reason, Todd’s March 2020 article includes a Jacob’s Room walk, beginning with Jacob’s lodging-house on Lamb’s Conduit Street in Bloomsbury.

Persephone Books at 59 Lamb’s Conduit Street, London, in 2019. The shop moved to Bath in 2021.

He puts the location of Jacob’s two-room first floor flat at #59, the former site of Persephone Books, known for reprinting neglected fiction and non-fiction by mid-20th century (mostly) women writers.

With a sitting room that overlooked the street, Jacob had a view of a confectioner’s shop and the famous letter-box pictured above.

Todd’s journeys with Jacob take us beyond Bloomsbury, however. With him, we travel to Covent Garden, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Piccadilly, Hyde Park, and Parliament Hill Fields.

Woolf herself lived nearby

Plaque at 38 Brunswick Square

Todd goes on to share how Woolf’s experiences while living nearby at 38 Brunswick Square influenced the sights and the action in Jacob’s Room. The University of London School of Pharmacy has stood on the site of that address since around 1936, according to Jean Moorcroft Wilson in Virginia Woolf: Life and London (1987, 2011).

Todd also speculates about how Woolf’s visits to the two rooms of friend Saxon Sydney-Turner may have influenced her descriptions of Jacob’s rooms.

A protest against war in her own voice

Jacob’s Room, of course, is not just a novel about location. As Julia Briggs notes in her biography Virginia Woolf: An Inner Life (2005), Woolf’s third novel was a protest against World War I and the “shocking impersonality of its killing machine” (84).

Jacob was just one of the nearly one million British and Commonwealth soldiers who perished in that conflict. But the enormity of that loss prompted Woolf to focus on the fate of just one individual in order to make some sense of the tragic conflict, according to Briggs.

Already a pacifist, in a Jan. 23, 1916, letter to Margaret Llewelyn Davis, Woolf claimed she had become “steadily more feminist'” due to “the preposterous masculine fiction” of wartime propaganda in mainstream media (L2, 76).

Three months before the novel was published, Woolf wrote in a July 26, 1922, diary entry that she had “found out how to begin (at 40) to say something in my own voice” (D2, 186).

Publishing record and reviews

Jacob’s Room was published on Oct. 27, 1922, in an edition of 1,200 copies. Wrapped in a dust jacket designed by Vanessa Bell, it sold for seven shillings and sixpence.

An additional 1,000 copies were printed soon thereafter, but by the end of 1923, fewer than 1,500 copies had been sold. The novel did, however, turn a small profit.

Woolf’s novel received mixed reviews. It was described as experimental, impressionist, and adventurous. It was criticized for its form and its lack of realism. It was also compared to the work of James Joyce and Dorothy Richardson.

In a diary entry dated Nov. 12, 1922, Woolf herself described it as “the starting point for fresh adventures” (D2, 214).

In good company

It’s no wonder that the work was compared to James Joyce’s, for Woolf’s 1922 novel was in the good company of that work and others.

James Joyce’s Ulysses, was published the same year, along with T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland, and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and Damned.

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View of the front right corner of Talland House (2004)

Never underestimate the power of a Virginia Woolf scholar who has a Virginia Woolf society behind her.

Thanks to the efforts of Maggie Humm, a member of the executive council of the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain, a plaque commemorating the time Virginia Woolf spent in St. Ives, Cornwall, will be installed at Talland House.

Humm, author of the novel Talland House,was a major force behind the effort. She advocated for the move by providing St. Ives Town Council with useful and persuasive information about the summers Woolf spent at Talland House until the age of 12.

We first reported news about this effort last October. But now, we have more details and photos to share, as tweeted by @MaggieHumm1.

Timeline of the effort and fundraising

According to a story in the Jan. 28, 2022, issue of The St Ives Times & Echo, the British society first submitted a proposal for such a plaque in October of 2020. However, the Town Council did not support it due to lack of funding.

Cornwall Council and local MP Derek Thomas supported later requests from the VWSGB, which resulted in the St. Ives Town Council reversing its stand. Last month, the Council learned that the owner of Talland House also supported the move and the Council approved it by an unanimous vote.

The plaque, which will be black, will be hand-fired in Cornwall. It will be installed on the right-hand side of the east elevation on the second story of the house.

Funding details have yet to be established, but St. Ives Town Council, in partnership with the VWSGB, has launched a fundraising effort on Spacehive.

Part of a heritage trail?

Woolf’s plaque may be part of a larger effort in St. Ives, one that would use the plaques to recognize other notable people that are part of the town’s heritage.

If the heritage tied up in this remarkable property had been fully understood at an early time it may well have become the town’s main ‘heritage asset’. – “Virginia Woolf to finally be celebrated on a plaque at Talland House,” The St Ives Times & Echo, Jan. 28, 2022.

Front page of the Jan. 28, 2022, issue of the St Ives Times & Echo

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Scholar Elisa Kay Sparks is known for her interest in flowers. Specifically, Virginia Woolf and flowers. She can usually be counted on to present a paper on that topic at annual Woolf conferences. And she has an amazing blog dedicated to the topic.

A Virginia Woolf Herbarium by Elisa Kay Sparks

Flowers from one to 99

A Virginia Woolf Herbarium describes itself as “a collection of essays on flowers in the work of Virginia Woolf: fiction, essays, and life-writing.” Each of the site’s 99 essays includes photos of the flower it discusses.

Each flower discussed on the site is referred to at least once in Woolf’s fiction and/or essays. They range from the almond blossom, mentioned only twice in Woolf’s fiction, to red-hot pokers, which appear 13 times.

Counting, researching, and accounting for the flowers

Pale pink roses in the garden of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London. Similar roses frame the doorway of Virginia’s bedroom at Monk’s House.

In fact, Sparks, always meticulous in her research, includes a Flower Count that lists the flowers alphabetically and names the number of times Woolf included it in her writing. For example, Woolf mentions roses more often than any other flower — 250 times, with 162 of those occurring in her fiction.

Sparks breaks the count down into four categories: fiction, essays, diaries and letters, and digital hits.

The chart also includes flower purchases Leonard Woolf mentions in his garden account book. From 1919 to 1950, he kept an exact account of all monies spent on and earned by the garden. From 1920 to 1927, he also kept a separate garden diary. These two small green cloth books with red bindings can be found in the Leonard Woolf Papers in the University of Sussex Library.

In the process of researching Woolf’s use of flowers in her writing, Sparks collected:

  • information on the literary, medicinal, and mythological meanings of flowers;
  • research on the history of gardens and gardening; and
  • research on the social assumptions and practices involving flowers and gardening.

Eventually, she plans to distill all of the information she has collected into a book.

More about Woolf and gardens

Virginia Woolf’s Garden: The Story of the Garden at Monk’s House by Caroline Zoob (2013)

The site also includes pages for Works Cited and an annotated list of the reference works Sparks consulted while doing her work on Woolf and flowers, work I would describe as both comprehensive and ground-breaking.

Caroline Zoob’s book, Virginia Woolf’s Garden: The Story of the Garden at Monk’s House, published in 2013, gives an up-close view of the Woolf’s garden. Cecil Woolf, Leonard’s late nephew, wrote the book’s Foreward.

Literature Cambridge also ran a one-week course on Virginia Woolf’s Gardens in July 2019. Blogging Woolf attended and published daily posts.

Garden at Monk’s House, Sussex home of Virginia and Leonard Woolf

Garden at Charleston, Sussex home of Woolf’s sister Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, and Clive Bell.


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Two recent novels that have garnered rave reviews are touted as being influenced by Mrs. DallowayBoth are written by Black women, and both tackle the unholy trinity of race, class, and gender.

The Days of Afrekete by Asali Solomon

The New York Times review was titled “This Novel Nods to Virginia Woolf While Staring Down Modern Class Lines.” Inspired as well by Toni Morrison’s Sula and Audre Lorde’s Zami, Asali Solomon’s salute to Woolf is evident in the novel’s single-day-with-flashbacks structure and the culminating dinner party.

Liselle, a Black woman married to a white man, is giving a party for her husband’s associates. Her preparations, anticipation, and the dinner itself are the backdrop as she questions her life and dissatisfaction while moving in and out of the past, recalling earlier times and her college friend and lover, Selena.

Liselle isn’t heading out to buy the flowers herself; nor is she reveling in a lovely June day. It begins:

“Late one April afternoon, Liselle stood at the large kitchen window rubbing her hands together for warmth. She acknowledged that early spring was her least favorite time of year.”

A direct reference to Woolf is Liselle’s description of one of the guests: “Her face, its Virginia Woolf hollows….”

And the ending, which I won’t disclose, also pays homage to Mrs. Dalloway.

Assembly by Natasha Brown

The Guardian called Assembly “A modern Mrs. Dalloway … a short sharp shock of a novel … Assembly fulfils, with exquisite precision, Virginia Woolf’s exhortation to “record the atoms as they fall upon the mind in the order in which they fall.”

Another reviewer saw it is “Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway meets Citizen by Claudia Rankine.

The nameless narrator is a young Black woman achieving success in the world of finance, while her grudging colleagues write her off as the company’s face of diversity. She isn’t giving a party; rather she’s preparing to attend one, hosted by her white boyfriend’s old-money family, who tolerate her on the assumption that she’s a passing phase, much as Clarissa Dalloway worried about but dismissed her daughter’s infatuation with Doris Kilman.

A first-person narration from an interior perspective, she questions her identity and her place in the world. Like Clarissa, unseen and unknown: “not even Clarissa any more; this being Mrs. Richard Dalloway.”

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Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth

When Virginia Woolf visited the Brontë home and Brontë Museum in Haworth on Nov. 24, 1904, she wrote about it.

That piece was her first accepted for publication and just the second to appear in print. The Guardian published it unsigned on Dec. 21, 1904. 

In it, Woolf wrote of Charlotte:

Her shoes and her thin muslin dress have outlived her.

Woolf describes those items as “touching” and mentions those objects, along with Emily’s “little oak stool,” as those that gave her “a thrill.”

In the Yorkshire Post, Ann Dinsdale, principal curator at the Brontë Parsonage Museum, describes Woolf as being “brought up short by the sight of Charlotte’s dress – because it made her realise that apart from being a great literary mind, she was a real woman.”

Defying Expectations exhibit

Dinsdale’s remark is part of a discussion of “Defying Expectations,” the museum’s current exhibit featuring Charlotte Brontë’s wardrobe. One goal of the exhibit is to show that Charlotte was interested in fashion, color, style and trends, as it highlights some of the more colorful and exotic accessories in Charlotte’s wardrobe.

Woolf herself justified her visit to the Brontë parsonage this way:

The curiosity is only legitimate when the house of a great writer or the country in which it is set adds something to our understanding of his books. This justification you have for a pilgrimage to the home and country of Charlotte Brontë and her sisters.

Guestbook and Giggleswick

When I toured the Brontë parsonage in 2016, I was thrilled to view — and hold in my hands — the guestbook that Woolf signed using her maiden name of Virginia Stephen, when she visited in 1904.

She was the first of only two visitors that day. The other was her companion Margaret Vaughan, wife of her cousin Will, headmaster of Giggleswick School.

Woolf stayed with the couple in the headmaster’s home when she made her 1904 trip to the Brontë Parsonage.

Page in the Brontë Parsonage and Museum guestbook signed by Virginia Woolf in 1904.

Behind-the-scenes room at the Brontë Parsonage Museum where the guestbook signed by Virginia Woolf is stored, along with other materials by and about the Brontës.

Headmaster’s home at Giggleswick School

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