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If you can get to Cambridge or London this month or next, you are in luck. You have two chances to learn more about the relationship between Maynard Keynes and ballerina Lydia Lopokova, straight from Susan Sellers, author of Firebird: A Bloomsbury Love Story, which explores the couple’s love story.

Maggie Humm, whose recent novel Talland House explores the life of Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse heroine, Lily Briscoe, joins Sellers for both conversations, the first in Cambridge and the second in London.

Here are the details for both events.

A Bloomsbury Love Story

When: Sunday 24 April 2022, 10-11 a.m. BST
Where: The Cambridge Union Society, 9a Bridge Street, Cambridge CB2 1UB
Why: Part of the Cambridge Literary Festival
Cost: Tickets £12. Book here.

Susan Sellers and Maggie Humm, two world-leading experts talk about the women of Bloomsbury, and what a lifetime of reading, researching, teaching and writing about Virginia Woolf has taught them.

An Evening in Bloomsbury with Susan Sellers and Maggie Humm

When: Thursday 5 May 2022, 6.30 p.m. BST
Where: Hatchards, 187 Piccadilly, London W1J 9LE
Cost: Tickets £10 Book here.

Join Susan Sellers discussing the lives of Bloomsbury’s most unlikely lovers, Maynard Keynes and Lydia Lopokova, with Maggie Humm.

It is the winter of 1921 and Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes launch a flamboyant new production at London’s Alhambra Theatre. Maynard Keynes is in the audience, though he expects little from the evening. Despite Lydia’s many triumphs, including the title role in Stravinsky’s Firebird, Maynard’s mind is made up – he considers her ‘a rotten dancer’. Besides, Lydia has at least one husband in tow and Maynard has only ever loved men.

Tonight, however, as Susan Sellers relates, that is all about to change and while The Firebird is a fictional re-imagining, life is often stranger and more surprising. Especially, perhaps, when it comes to the lives of theBloomsbury Group.

About the speakers

Susan Sellers

Susan Sellers is professor of English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of St. Andrews. Her first Bloomsbury-inspired novel, Vanessa and Virginia, was an editor’s pick for The New York Times and has been translated into 16 languages.

Maggie Humm

Maggie Humm is an Emeritus Professor, international Woolf scholar and novelist. She has written many books on feminism, art and Virginia Woolf, and in 2020 published her debut novel Talland House, a gripping historical romance/detective fiction set in picturesque Cornwall and London during World War I. Shortlisted for several prizes including Eyelands and Impress, Talland House was chosen by the Washington Independent Review of Books as one of its ’51 Favorite Books’ of 2020.

 

When the don met the dancer – this is the story of how Maynard Keynes, the great economist, fell for Lydia Lopokova, celebrity ballerina and Russian émigrée. And it is also a story of resistances, when a different kind of woman stepped into the settled world of Virginia, Vanessa, and all the rest of their English entourage. – In Firebird, Susan Sellers restages the bright Bloomsbury years of the early 1920s as they have never been seen before. – Rachel Bowlby

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What happens when a novelist and a scholar get together to discuss Virginia Woolf? Interesting things, as you will see below. But first the back story

The back story

Last week, a Zoom call for members of the International Virginia Woolf Society introduced us to the The Oxford Companion of Virginia Woolf (2021), edited by Anne Fernald and published by the Oxford University Press.

On that call, we met many of the prominent international scholars who contributed the 39 original essays that appear in the volume. They include Urmila Seshagiri, Elsa Högberg, Vara Neverow, Elizabeth Outka, and Roxana Robinson, whose novel Sparta (2013) I used in a class I taught on women and war.

The YouTube video

During the discussion about the handbook, Fernald mentioned an April 5 discussion she had with Robinson about Virginia Woolf, which is now posted on YouTube.

In it they talk about many things, including how they first met Virginia Woolf, what she has to say to us today, and Fernald’s vision for the essays she included in The Oxford Companion of Virginia Woolf.

As she puts it, “I wanted to make a new pattern for what we know about Woolf’s life.”

Fernald is a professor of English and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Issues at Fordham University, editor of the Cambridge University Press edition of Mrs. Dalloway (2014) and author of Virginia Woolf: Feminism and the Reader (2006).

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What’s new — and old — in the world of Virginia Woolf and books? A couple of things.

A graphic biography

First, the new. In the summer of 2024, Weidenfeld & Nicolson will publish Virginia Woolf: A Graphic Biography,  Ella Bucknall’s “fascinating, engaged and deeply scholarly” graphic biography of Virginia Woolf.

The publisher says: “From Woolf’s earliest memoirs of the sound of the sea in St. Ives to her final submersion in the River Ouse, Bucknall tells the story of Woolf’s life, recalling deaths and marriages, friendships and rivalries, creative droughts and floods of inspiration.

“Combining her distinctive and intricate illustrations, with a scholar’s intellect and understanding of Woolf’s life and works, Bucknall’s is a completely original approach to this most beloved author, and a pioneering contribution to the biography genre.”

This is the first book for Bucknall, a writer and illustrator currently studying for a Ph.D. in creative writing at King’s College London.

Woolf tells all in Literary Confessions

Now the old. The book Really and Truly: A Book of Literary Confessions, was expected to sell for between £4,000 – £6,000 at Dominic Winter Auctioneers in Gloucestershire in January. Instead, it fetched £21,000.

In it, Woolf, along with Rose Macaulay, Rebecca West, Hilaire Belloc, Stella Benson and Margaret Kennedy, shares her thoughts on the best and worst writers in the literary world.

Woolf completed her questionnaire on May 6, 1924, answering all 39 questions and signing it using her trademark purple ink. The questions ranged from “who is the greatest prose writer that ever lived” to who was the “worst living English playwright”. The ten sets of handwritten answers were dated between 1923 and 1927.

Woolf named T.S. Eliot and Clive Bell as “the best living critic of literature.” She answered that Jane Austen was “the best deceased English novelist.” And when asked to name the deceased men of letters whose character she most disliked, she wrote: “I hate all dead men of letters.”

Margaret Kennedy’s grandson William Mackesy found the book while sorting through his late grandmother’s effects.

In under 100 handwritten words, in her distinctive purple ink, Virginia Woolf tells us so much about her literary passions and aversions. One could read whole biographies to seek out such snippets and here all is set out pithily on two pages. – Chris Albury, auctioneer

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I don’t have many positive things to say about the pandemic, but I am glad of one thing. It increased the number of online programs offered by the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain. And they make membership in the society even more worthwhile, no matter which side of the pond you are on.

The Bloomsbury Ballerina

The most recent online program was “Lydia Lopokova and Bloomsbury,” a March 16 conversation between author Susan Sellers and Virginia Woolf scholar Maggie Humm about the fascinating Russian dancer Lydia Lopokova and her complicated relationship with Bloomsbury.

Sellers, who wrote the novel Vanessa and Her Sister (2014) has a new novel coming out. Titled Firebird: A Bloomsbury Love Story, it tells the surprising story of two of Bloomsbury’s most unlikely lovers – John Maynard Keynes, the distinguished economist, and the extrovert Russian dancer Lydia Lopokova. Weaving biography and fiction, Firebird explores the tangle of Bloomsbury’s bohemian relationships as lifestyles are challenged and allegiances shift following Lydia’s explosive arrival.

Humm’s many publications on Bloomsbury include her acclaimed novel Talland House (2020), inspired by Woolf’s To the Lighthouse.

I missed the March 16 conversation, but because I am a member of the society, I can access it online as a YouTube video, via a link sent to members only.

Join up

Membership to the society for UK residents is £20, or £10 for full-time students. There are also memberships for those of us outside the UK. It is well worth it. Membership includes the following:

  • FREE Virginia Woolf Bulletin three times a year, containing articles, reviews and previously unpublished material by Woolf herself (normally £5 each)
  • Discount on Birthday Lecture: annual talk by a Woolf scholar or author, held on the Saturday nearest to 25 January
  • FREE Regular email updates, with information and news of upcoming Woolf events
  • Discount on member events: e.g. day conferences; study weekends, talks, visits; guided walks in an area connected with Woolf
  • FREE online talks and events: live and recorded events accessed by web link (members only)

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Today is the 25th World Book Day. And although it is a day targeted to developing a reading habit in children, adults can celebrate as well. What better author to celebrate with than Virginia Woolf?

To that end, I have two resources for you.

Virginia Woolf Starter Pack

The first is a Virginia Woolf Starter Pack. Offered by Much Ado Books, it includes four Woolf classics.

They are gift wrapped and embellished with a Woolf bookmark and a couple of tea bags ready for brewing as you settle in to read the four paperbacks in the set:

  • A Room of One’s Own (1929)
  • Mrs. Dalloway (1925)
  • To the Lighthouse (1927)
  • Orlando (1928)

Guide on where to start with Woolf

The second comes from the New York Public Library. All four of the volumes included in the starter pack, along with The Waves (1931), are included in the guide on “Where to Start With Virginia Woolf” provided by the NYPL.

The library includes a brief synopsis of each novel and recommends reading them in this order:

  1. Mrs. Dalloway
  2. A Room of One’s Own
  3. To the Lighthouse
  4. The Waves
  5. Orlando

A book list of her own

Meanwhile, Woolf scholar Maggie Humm’s Twitter post today included a list of the books Woolf liked and disliked most in 1924, 98 years ago.

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