Archive for the ‘essays’ Category

You have nearly two weeks to get ready for Woolf Salon No. 17: Woolf, Beauvoir& Phenomenology, so check out the details below. But if your schedule doesn’t allow for any prep time, don’t worry. You can always log on to just listen.

Virginia Woolf reading at home


Hosts: Marie Allègre and Luca Pinelli of The Woolf Salon Project
Day: Friday, March 25
Time: 2 p.m.–4 p.m. ET
Please note that the U.S. will have entered Daylight Saving Time by this date, so the time conversion might be a bit different for those outside the U.S.
How to join: Anyone can join the group, which meets on one Friday of each month via Zoom and focuses on a single topic or text. Just contact woolfsalonproject@gmail.com to sign up for the email list and receive the Zoom link, as well as a PDF of the second reading listed below.

What to read

Woolf’s short essay can also be found in Essays Vol. 6 (pp. 453–56). It is also included in the collection The Death of the Moth.

What to consider

The hosts advise the following in preparation for the Salon, and they assure us that no prior knowledge of either Beauvoir or phenomenology will be necessary to participate in the discussion:

  • Think about the ways in which the self is represented in all its forms in these texts
  • Feel free to refer to other texts by either Beauvoir or Woolf regarding any of the themes that emerge in” “Evening Over Sussex” or “What Can Literature Do?”

At the event, the hosts will also be drawing participants’ attention to critical texts that make connections between Woolf and Beauvoir and will share a PDF of a recent book chapter by artist and Woolf scholar Suzanne Bellamy.

Attendees have loved salons that simply focus on one or two short texts. These events provide opportunities to share ideas that emerge from discussion of old favorites and discoveries of new ones. – The Woolf Salon Project

Background on the Salon

The Salon Conspirators — Hagen, Shilo McGiff, Amy Smith, and Drew Shannon — began the Woolf Salon Project in July 2020 to provide opportunities for conversation and conviviality among Woolf-interested scholars, students, and common readers during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

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With Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine 13 days old, I can’t get Virginia Woolf’s August 1940 essay “Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid” out of my mind.

In it, she writes:

Unless we can think peace into existence we — not this one body in this one bed but millions of bodies yet to be born — will lie in the same darkness and hear the same death rattle overhead (173).

As I write this, the Ukrainian people are lying in that same darkness. They are hearing that same death rattle.

One Kyiv woman’s story

This week, I read of a 74-year-old woman who emerged from the basement of her home after 10 days to find everything in sight destroyed and dead bodies lying in the street.

For most of that time, Katerina Oleksiivna had survived without heat, electricity, or water. She had existed on canned vegetables and stale bread while listening to explosions overhead and feeling their reverberations beneath the ground.

A bomb drops. All the windows rattle. The anti-aircraft guns are getting active. Up there on the hill under a net tagged with strips of green and brown stuff to imitate the hues of autumn leaves guns are concealed. Now they all fire at once.

Echoes of Woolf

That could have been Katerina Oleksiivna’s description of her ordeal. But it is not.

Instead, those are some of Woolf’s words written 82 years ago in “Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid.” They recall the fear she experienced during the Second World War as she heard German planes fly over the Sussex countryside. One plane flew so close that she and Leonard were forced to shelter under a tree in their garden at Monk’s House.

It was not Woolf’s first go-round at war. She had already lived through four years of the Great War, listening to bombing from across the English Channel and hiding under a basement kitchen table in Richmond during air raids (D1, 123-4). From 1939 until March 28, 1941, when she committed suicide by walking into the River Ouse, she lived through the trauma and deprivations of a second.

Is the war everywhere? – Katarina Oleksiivna, 74, of Kyiv, Ukraine

Repeating history

As the brave Ukrainian people defend themselves against the Russians, my heart aches. It aches at the memory of my maternal grandparents, who emigrated to the U.S. from Ukraine in 1923, bringing their Ukrainian culture with them and sharing it with me. It aches at the repetition of some of our modern world’s bleakest history. It aches at our failure to spend the last 82 years thinking — and acting — peace into existence, as Woolf wished. And it aches at the thought that we may never do so.

A display at the “People Power Fighting for Peace” exhibit at the Imperial War Museum in London in July 2017.

For as Woolf says, war perpetuates itself, rippling infinitely outwards in time and space, unless we stop it by turning our minds and our energy towards creating universal peace.

Thinking peace into existence

For Woolf, that means thinking peace into existence by thinking against the current, by thinking against the nationalism that dictators and autocrats like Adolf Hitler and Vladimir Putin promote through propaganda and force.

And in “Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid,” Woolf maintains that the primary requirement for fostering peace among all peoples of our world is the act of artistic creation. It is, she maintains, the antithesis to war’s destruction.

For her, “the creative power at once brings the whole universe to order.” Artistic creation helps to make sense of the world, a world that in the midst of war makes little sense at all.

Woolf certainly did her part to think — and write — peace into existence. May each of us do ours as well. #StandWithUkraine

Post-It notes written by visitors became part of the peace symbol display pictured above at the “People Power Fighting for Peace” exhibit at the Imperial War Museum in London in July 2017.

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Editor’s Note: Emma Morris, the author of this post, is a digital copywriter from Johannesburg, South Africa. She is also a self-proclaimed logophile and loves Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group. Emma spends her days writing engaging marketing copy for brands and her evenings immersed in literature and literature blogs. 

On Nov. 5, cultures and creators came together in Amsterdam and online to celebrate the publication of an anthology of essays, letters and poems which resonate with Virginia Woolf’s essay On Being Ill.

There was a diverse range of speakers at the hybrid event organized by the Perdu Literary Foundation. Both in-person and on Zoom, they spoke to the complexity of the theme. Speakers included Elte Rauch, Marielle O’Neill, Nadia de Vries, Lucia Osborne-Crowley, Deryn Rees-Jones, Sophie Collins and Mieke van Zonneveld, as well as superb live music from Ekster.

Pandemic allows identification

The timing of the publication date could not be more perfect. As the world limps out of isolation, we can most certainly identify with Woolf’s essay on illness itself and the resulting isolation, loneliness and vulnerability that comes with it.

The anthology examines the way illness and literature are dialectically connected to each other, and how the process from conceptualization to the publication of the anthology mirrors the stages of illness.

Connecting as writers

Elte Rauch from HetMoet

As Elte stated in her opening address at the launch, the people involved in this anthology didn’t know each other, but each of them was able to connect at varying points in the process.

This idea that connection can never be lost is pivotal, she said, explaining that while writing is a solitary action, publishing is done together. It is the time when writers, illustrators and musicians all come together.

In an evening that celebrates the relevancy of Virginia Woolf, and especially her “revolutionary act of empowerment,” as Marielle O’Neill stated in her essay, that by openly embracing such a taboo subject as mental health – especially at a time in our history when illness itself is a taboo subject, the anthology as well as the original essay by Woolf will resonate with post-lockdown readers.

When everyday moments become special

As Marielle stated in her essay, small everyday moments, like Mrs. Dalloway buying flowers, become special moments. For example, coffee with a friend becomes a special occasion.

Writer Nadia de Vries with Marielle O’Neill from the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain

This anthology shows us, as readers, how beautiful it can be to write about a subject that is, in all honesty, not beautiful.

As Woolf so describes in her essay, when adults are ill, it inevitably makes us feel like children again. Illness is not beautiful. It’s messy, it’s raw and it leaves us vulnerable. In some ways, being ill mirrors the act of writing and creating itself.

How often do we as artists, writers and musicians share some of the most secret parts of our souls when we put pen to paper or paint to canvas?

Literature and anthologies bring us together

As I close this blog piece, I will leave you with something that was repeated during the evening, and certainly echoes in the anthology itself. Just as literature succeeds in bringing people together, this anthology brought writers, creators, scholars, and musicians together for an evening. It even brought you and I together for an evening.

It helped us put aside the loneliness of lockdown, illness and a global pandemic and allowed us to just enjoy each other’s company and inner most thoughts and feelings.

When we talk about illness, we lay bare how naturally afraid of illness and the finality of death we are – almost on a primitive level. But one thing is certain, when we do discuss our vulnerabilities and share our fears, magic is created.

How to get it

The anthology is available now in Holland in English and Dutch editions, with a UK book launch planned for January 2022. For more information contact Elte Rauch at info@uitgeverijhetmoet.nl.

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It’s nearly time for Woolf Salon No. 13, so read one or more (or none!) of Virginia Woolf’s six short essays included in The London Scene and plan to join Woolf scholars and common readers around the globe for the Sept. 24 Woolf Salon on Zoom.


Hosts: Salon Conspirators
Day: Friday, 24 September 2021
Time: 3 p.m.–5 p.m. ET / Noon –2 p.m  PT / 4 p.m. – 6 p.m. Brasilia / 8 p.m. – 10 p.m. BST / 9 p.m. – 11 p.m. CEST

Anyone can join the group, which meets on the third or fourth Friday of each month via Zoom and focuses on a single topic or text. Just contact woolfsalonproject@gmail.com to sign up for the email list and receive the Zoom link.

About The London Scene

Originally published bi-monthly in Good Housekeeping between December 1931 and December 1932, the six essays in The London Scene provide Virginia Woolf’s musings on the street hauntings of which she was most found.

These essays include:

  1. The Docks of London
  2. Oxford Street Tide
  3. Great Men’s Houses
  4. Abbeys and Cathedrals
  5. “This is the House of Commons”
  6. Portrait of a Londoner

Where to find them and how much to read

The essays are available as freestanding collections, published in 2004, 2005, and 2013. They can also instantly be instantly accessed as an e-book. They also appear in Volume 5 of The Essays of Virginia Woolf, edited by Stuart Clarke.

“If you can’t get through all six essays, no problem! Just read what you’re able and join us anyway. It might be best, actually, if folks spend their time focusing on just one or two of the pieces,” said Salon co-organizer Benjamin Hagen, who also serves as president of the International Virginia Woolf Society.

Background on the Salon

The Salon Conspirators — Hagen, Shilo McGiff, Amy Smith, and Drew Shannon — began the Woolf Salon Project in July 2020 to provide opportunities for conversation and conviviality among Woolf-interested scholars, students, and common readers during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Have we killed the self-sacrificing Angel in the House? If an exhibit by photographer Lanie McNulty is to be believed, the answer is no.

Virginia Woolf advocated for such a death. In “Professions for Women” read to the Women’s Service League in 1931 and published posthumously in The Death of the Moth and Other Essays (1942), she wrote that “Killing the Angel in the House was part of the occupation of a woman writer.”

A woman writer, she believed, had to kill off the respectable Victorian “angel,” popularized by Coventry Patmore in his 1858 poem. The angel, an ideal woman who lives to serve others, particularly males, neglects her own personal needs and certainly never considers herself to have any professional aspirations.

Pandemic forces women into angel roles

McNulty, a New York based photographer and social activist, was inspired by the current pandemic to turn her lens on domestic interiors. In doing so, she produced stunning photographs that depict women at home alone and with children, husbands, parents, and friends.

Created in collaboration with her subjects, McNulty’s photographs starkly expose what the pandemic year has made clearer than ever — that women play an outsized role trying to keep it all together. Her photos make up the exhibit “The Angel in the House.”

McNulty is not the first to make a play on the death of the angel for an artistic purpose. A literary journal titled Killing the Angel (pictured above) launched in 2013 but now appears to be defunct.

Exhibit and book

Now on display at New York’s Planthouse, The Angel in the House opened today and runs through Oct. 23 by appointment.

If you can’t make it to the exhibit, you can buy the book.

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