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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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The New York Times is calling Virginia Woolf a fashion muse. Why? Three reasons.

Reason 1: She inspired the Met’s Costume Institute exhibit

She is the inspiration for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s coming Costume Institute blockbuster and gala, “About Time: Fashion and Duration.” The May 7 – Sept. 7 exhibit explores how clothes generate temporal associations that conflate past, present, and future, with Woolf serving as the “ghost narrator” of the exhibition, according to the Met’s website. It will feature 160 pieces of women’s fashion from the last 150 years, and beyond.

Reason 2: She inspired an opera

Her novel Orlando is the basis of a new production at the Vienna State Opera that premiered Dec. 8, 2019, with costumes by Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons. Fittingly, its the first opera commissioned by a woman composer in the 150-year history of the company. As Kawakubo said in The New York Times, “And also I have always been interested in Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury circle and “Orlando” in particular because of its central concept of ignoring time and gender.”

Reason 3: She inspired a Givenchy couture show

Her garden at Monk’s House, her relationship with Vita Sackville-West, and Orlando were the inspiration for Clare Waight Keller’s Givenchy couture show this week in Paris.

Woolf and contemporary fashion

Woolf’s connection to the fashion world is nothing new. Over the years she has inspired designers on both sides of the pond. Here are a few worth noting:

Woolf’s relationship to fashion

Woolf herself had a complicated relationship with clothing and fashion, one that has been much discussed in academic settings and online.

Catherine Gregg explores this theme in her Bloomsbury Heritage monograph Virginia Woolf and ‘Dress Mania’: ‘the eternal & insoluble question of clothes’ (2010). In it, she discusses Woolf’s “delight in clothes and interest in conceptions of fashion and femininity” as well as her sense of being an outsider when it came to fashion, as well as her loathing for its artifice (7).

More on Woolf and fashion

Since we started looking, we have noticed numerous references that connect to the topic of Woolf and fashion. Some are documented in the following posts:

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Lots of Woolf on the Web these days. Here are a few important sightings gleaned via Twitter links shared by Jane deGay and Maggie Humm.

  • Sentencing Orlando: Virginia Woolf and the Morphology of the Modernist Sentence, edited by Elsa Högberg and Amy Bromley, is a collection of 16 original essays offers fresh perspectives on Orlando through a unique attention to Woolf’s sentences.
  • Six Ways Virginia Woolf Pre-Empted Spring’s Key Looks,” by Kaye Fearon in British Vogue, Feb. 21, 2018.
  • Bonnie Greer on Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group, a podcast discussing the friendships, work and designs behind the artists, coordinated with the Virginia Woolf exhibition at Tate St Ives, 10 February – 29 April 2018. Then view her art walk below.

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Due to the high level of interest in the inaugural issue of Feminist Modernist Studies (1:1-2), Routledge has provided free access to the entire first issue for the month of January, according to Editor Cassandra Laity of the University of Tennessee.

Short essays in the volume examine the state of and future of feminist modernist studies in global women writers, “intermodernism,” African-American and queer studies.

Longer essays explore transgender and Vita Sackville West; refugees in Olive Moore; feminist modernism in the worlds of fashion, WWII union organizing, psychoanalysis, sculpture, dance, Afro-Caribbean crossings, and much more.

Get full free access.

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Virginia Woolf had a complicated relationship with clothing and fashion, one that has been much discussed in academic settings and online.Bloomsbury Heritage monographs

Monographs on Woolf and fashion

Catherine Gregg explores this theme in her Bloomsbury Heritage monograph Virginia Woolf and ‘Dress Mania’: ‘the eternal & insoluble question of clothes’ (2010). She discusses Woolf’s “delight in clothes and interest in conceptions of fashion and femininity” as well as her sense of being an outsider when it came to fashion, as well as her loathing for its artifice (7).

I edited a monograph for Cecil Woolf Publishers, Virginia Woolf’s Likes & Dislikes (2012), that collects conflicting quotes from Woolf’s diaries and letters and categorizes them, including those that relate to clothing. In them she mentions her dislike of buying hats, her love for her fur slippers and her desire for a pair of rubber soled boots to wear on country walks (43).

Magazine offers shopping advice from Woolf

Today’s post on the AnOther magazine website takes Woolf’s “clothes complex” or “dress mania,” as she called it and as Gregg notes, and transforms it into shopping advice. Titled “Virginia Woolf’s Shopping Tips,” the article aims to “take advice from the modernist author on personal style, battling the sales, and the key to surviving the chaos of Oxford Street.” The magazine shared the post via a tweet.

In a nutshell, they are:

  1. Be brave
  2. Enjoy the process
  3. Ponder before you purchase
  4. Quality not quantity
  5. Be open to all possibilities

I think Woolf applied that same advice to her writing.

How to order monographs from Cecil Woolf Publishers

All of the books published by Cecil Woolf Publishers are available directly from:

Cecil Woolf Publishing, 1 Mornington Place, London NW1 7RP, England, Tel: 020 7387 2394 (or +44 (0)20 7387 2394 from outside the UK). Prices range from £4.50 to £10. For more information, contact cecilwoolf@gmail.com.

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