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Sigrid Nunez is most known to Woolfians for Mitz: The Marmoset of Bloomsbury, her 1998 (and reissued in 2019) fictional portrait of the Woolfs’ pet monkey, inspired by Flush, Virginia Woolf’s similar treatment of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s dog.

Bloomsbury makes a brief appearance in her new novel, What Are You Going Through, a series of musings, meetings and memories. The nameless narrator follows some anecdotes about the divisions between women and men by reflecting that while she doesn’t like romance fiction, she’s fascinated by stories of unconventional or hopeless love. She imagines a collection of these tales, called Women in Strange Love.

She considers Dora Carrington’s unrequited love and devotion to Lytton Strachey, her marriage to Ralph Partridge and their lopsided ménage à trois to accommodate Lytton’s passion for Ralph. She recaps Carrington’s suicide two months after Lytton’s death. Virginia Woolf visited Carrington the day before and recounted that she said, “There is nothing left for me to do; I did everything for Lytton.” Woolf’s parting impression of Carrington was “Like some small animal left.”

“Women’s stories are often sad stories,” observes the narrator.

Nunez novel reflects on women’s lives—friendship, aging and death—in the context of the narrator’s response to a friend with terminal cancer. The title is a translation from Simone Weil, who said that love of one’s neighbor is being able to ask the question, Que lest ton tourment?

 

 

 

 

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Dogs and Virginia Woolf is the subject of a newly published long-form essay by Mireille Duchene, author of After Virginia Woolf, An Unpublished Notebook (1907-1909). Published in French, Entre chiens et Woolf, une affaire de femmes (EUD, Essais) (Between Dogs and Woolf: A Women’s Affair) is in the form of a revisited biography.

In this 146-page essay, Duchene investigates the issues of animals in literature and gender and identity.

Woolf, women and dogs

She also explores the unique relationship between Woolf and her dogs and the place they hold in her daily life and imagination. Duchene discusses the dog Woolf had in childhood, as well as the dogs of her powerful female friends, Violet Dickinson, Vita Sackville-West, and Ethel Smyth, mistresses of a chow-chow, a greyhound and sheepdogs. And Duchene also covers Shag, Woolf’s faithful terrier companion, of whom Woolf wrote a funny and touching obituary for The Guardian, which is reprinted in French in Entre chiens et Woolf, une affaire de femmes.

More on Woolf and dogs

An earlier work discussing this topic is Shaggy Muses: The Dogs Who Inspired Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Edith Wharton and Emily Bronte.

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Online art exhibit

Louisa Amelia Albani, whose pamphlet and companion exhibit on Virginia Woolf we featured in July, is currently holding an online art exhibition inspired by Woolf’s essay “Oxford Street Tide.” Take a look.

Online reading group

Starting Monday, Jan. 11, and running through Monday, April 12, 2021, Anne Fernald will lead a Zoom reading group dubbed “All Woolf” at the Center for Fiction, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit dedicated to fiction writing. The fee is $120 for four sessions, with an additional fee charged for books. Meetings begin at 6 p.m. EST.

Online view of The Bloomsbury Look

View “The Bloomsbury Look,” Saturday, Nov. 28, at 2 p.m. via a free virtual event with author Wendy Hitchmough as she speaks live from the Charleston studio to art historian Frances Spalding. The event will include the opportunity to submit questions live, and signed copies of The Bloomsbury Look are available to purchase through the Charleston online shop. However, the link to the event is not up right now, and unfortunately the book is out of stock.

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In All the Lives We Ever Lived: Seeking Solace in Virginia Woolf, Katharine Smyth links her own story with Woolf’s To the Lighthouse.

Published last year, Smyth’s memoir tells the story of her own family, of discovering her parents as people, and of her father’s alcoholism and death. She does it all while weaving in literary criticism of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse.

By doing so, critics say she creates the perfect medium for reflecting on grief, loss, and marriage, on the way family morphs as you age, on memory and the difficulties of trying to understand who your parents are, and who they once were. Wow. That’s an armload to take on in one book.

The memoir’s title comes from the poem “Luriana Lurilee” by Charles Elton that Woolf references in To the Lighthouse.

That Gordon ties Woolf’s semi-autobiographical novel to her memoir is quite fitting, as Woolf focused her work on her own parents in the roles of Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay.

This is a transcendent book, not a simple meditation on one woman’s loss, but a reflection on all of our losses, on loss itself, on how to remember and commemorate our dead. –  Charlotte Gordon, The Washington Post

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When I first heard that renowned Virginia Woolf scholar Maggie Humm was writing a novel featuring Lily Briscoe and based on Woolf’s semi-autobiographical novel To the Lighthouse (1927), I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy.

The opportunity came in March, when I saw on Facebook that Maggie had advance reader’s copies in her grasp. After meeting Maggie at many Woolf conferences, I consider her a friend. So I contacted her and asked for a copy. She immediately promised to send one.

Pandemic realities on both sides of the pond

A few hours later, pandemic reality hit her. Recalling that the coronavirus had pretty much grounded all international flights, thereby shutting down international mail delivery, Maggie realized that a copy mailed from England would be unlikely to reach me. She put me in touch with her U.S. publicist to obtain a copy stateside instead.

The book arrived quickly, and I expected to jump right in. But my pandemic reality meant I had difficulty focusing on Maggie’s book — or any book — until recently. That made me late finishing the novel and late posting about it here as well. But since it is now available on Amazon, better late than never. So here goes.

Talland House fills in and illuminates

Maggie, emeritus professor of cultural studies at the University of East London, is the author or editor of 14 books, with the last three focused on Woolf and the arts. So it is only natural that in her first novel, Talland House, Maggie focuses on artist Lily Briscoe from To the Lighthouse.

To that end, Talland House fills in Lily’s back story — the death of her mother, her art studies in Paris and St. Ives, her work as a nurse during the Great War, and her involvement in the suffrage movement. Set between 1900 and 1918 in both Cornwall and London, it also provides a prequel to Woolf’s novel and reimagines that work from Lily’s perspective.

That reimagining includes Mrs. Ramsay’s demise. Her death, mentioned briefly and parenthetically in Woolf’s novel, is “discovered” or explained in Maggie’s novel. But I will include no spoilers here.

While conducting research to write the novel, Maggie pored over old photos of St. Ives, as well as Cornish newspapers, artists’ memoirs, and art journals to get a feel for the seaside town and its art community during the years the novel covers.

St. Ives Bay, June 2004

The extent of her research shows in her luminous prose that paints a compelling and colorful picture of St. Ives and its charms, the location of all of Woolf’s novel and much of Talland House. The picture is so complete — from the view of the lighthouse from Talland House to the fishing boats in the harbor — that one is transported back in time to the cobblestone streets of the Cornish town.

References slipped into a must-read

Woolf scholars and readers will delight in catching the specific references to Woolf’s work that Maggie slips into this historical novel.

Lily makes note of Mr. Ramsay’s boots and his recitation of Tennyson’s poems. She recalls moving the salt cellar at dinner and describes the animal skull on the nursery wall and the tapping sound of the window blind’s acorn on the nursery floor. And in a fresh take-off on Woolf’s famous line in “Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid” (1940), “Thinking is my fighting,” Lily proclaims that painting is hers.

If you are a fan of Woolf, this is a must-read. If you are not, it will make you want to become one, just so you can connect this enchanting novel to Woolf’s works.

More on the novel

Talland House was shortlisted for the Impress and Fresher Fiction prizes in 2017 (as Who Killed Mrs. Ramsay?) and the Retreat West and Eyelands prizes in 2018.

Read more about Talland House:

Maggie Humm has brilliantly filled in the edges beyond Woolf’s canvas; she has a deep, awe-inspiring understanding of the role of the visual in Woolf’s work, and here she reveals that she also has a novelist’s gift to create something new, that has its own imaginative life, from that understanding. -Lauren Elkin, author of the award-winning Flaneuse

Maggie Humm talking about Virginia Woolf and her photo albums at Waterstone’s Gower Street during Dalloway Day celebrations in London in 2018.

 

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