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Archive for the ‘memoir’ Category

Virginia Woolf scholar Gillian Beer will do an online reading and discussion of her short memoir covering her experiences of being evacuated as a child during WWII. Titled Stations without Signs, the memoir was published this year by Hazel Press.

The one-hour reading via Literature Cambridge will begin at 6 p.m. BT Dec. 5. The cost is £5 and registration is available online.

Gillian Beer lecturing on Virginia Woolf’s The Waves in April as part of Literature Cambridge’s online offerings.

 

 

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Congratulations to Kristin Czarnecki, current president of the International Virginia Woolf Society, on the publication of her memoir—The First Kristin: The Story of a Naming. While the book focuses on Kristin’s unique story, the fact that Virginia Woolf is an important part of Kristin’s life makes Woolf germane to her personal narrative as well.

Her parents named their firstborn Kristin for the fictional Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset. The child died tragically at age three. Eight years later, after having another daughter and a son, they had a daughter whom they named Kristin.

Her mother told her they loved the name: “We didn’t name you after her.” But the fact of it and the need to understand and adapt to this unusual circumstance have weighed heavily on Kristin throughout her life.

Of bonds and memories

The word necronym refers to a name shared with a dead sibling. A not uncommon occurrence during times of high infant mortality, it’s unusual now, and some believe the second bearer of the name might be haunted by it. Kristin establishes her groundwork early: “Have I been haunted? By the thought of my parents’ grief, yes. By having the name, no.” She adds that she and the first Kristin have shared “a very close conspiracy,” citing Virginia Woolf’s description of her bond with her sister Vanessa.

Kristin explores her motivations and actions and how they relate to the first Kristin. Her speculations—“Who can pinpoint why we are the way we are. And who’s to say our memories bear any relation to the way things actually were?”—recall Woolf in “A Sketch of the Past” when she questions the reliability and volatility of memory.

Woolf writes in “Sketch” of her childhood days at St. Ives: “If life has a base that it stands upon; if it is a bowl that one fills and fills and fills—then my bowl without a doubt stands upon this memory.” Kristin in turn recalls happy childhood summers in Rockport, Massachusetts: “In the impact upon us of summers by the sea, Virginia Woolf and I are kindred spirits.”

Laying things to rest

We read memoirs to learn about others’ lives and to reflect on our own. Two things impressed me from reading this book. One, at a personal level, the question of how I or anyone would have felt in Kristin’s circumstances. The other is my interest in the construction of memoirs.

Conjuring Woolf’s “I now and I then” Kristin has managed to draw from two aspects of herself, the child who grew up under this considerable weight and the curious scholar who explores every nuance. She distances herself when she consults and absorbs the relevant literature, piecing it into the fabric of the story.

Just as Woolf claimed to have laid her parents to rest after writing To the Lighthouse, so Kristin considers her memoir in a similar way. It was something she needed to do, and the process opened up valuable channels of communication with her parents and siblings. She’ll never forget the first Kristin, but now, perhaps, she can move on.

Where to order it

Kristin’s memoir is available from Main Street Rag.

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The Bloomsbury Group’s Memoir Club met around 60 times over the course of 45 years. During that time, 9781137360366_largethe group read about 125 memoirs, and around 80 of those have survived, a quarter of them unpublished. The Bloomsbury Group Memoir Club by the late S.P. Rosenbaum shares these details and sketches a history of the club, along with its impact on the work of its participants.

Rosenbaum, a leading scholar of Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group,  left more than five completed chapters of the volume before he died in the spring of 2012. In them, he explains the origins of the club, details its original members and their contributions, and explores the impact of club meetings on the members’ individual work. He also links the authors and their writing with the politics and history of the early 20th century.

Chapter one in the volume introduces the Memoir Club, talks about its meeting schedule, and discusses the meaning of the term “memoir.” More significantly, it explores the significance of World War I on its members and their work, even though no one in the club was a combatant. Rosenbaum details the war-related writing of members that were relevant to their later memoirs — from Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians to Maynard Keynes’ The Economic Consequences of the Peace.

In chapter two, Rosenbaum explains the literary and discursive traditions that shaped the formation of the club after the Great War had dispersed the Bloomsbury friends. These range from the life-writing of their English tradition, such as Ruskin and Gosse to the life-writing of family members, such as Leslie Stephen and Edward Fry.

Membership in the club was exclusive and began with a personal invitation, according to chapter three, titled “Beginnings.” All 25 members were either related in some way or were undergraduate friends of the Cambridge Apostles. Membership changed over time, from Old Bloomsbury before World War I to Later Bloomsbury from the 1920s through the 1930s. This chapter also details the memoirs shared by its members, describes the reactions of listeners, and ties them to the members’ work.

Chapter four, “Private and Public Affairs: 1921-1922,” covers Clive Bell’s, Maynard Keynes’,  E.M. Forster’s and Strachey’s memoirs, which dealt with the recent present and moved from impersonal childhood memories to “intimately private or controversially public affairs.” This chapter summarizes the memoirs and describes the reaction of club members to them. It also discusses the readings done by Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell, which Leonard Woolf described as “‘a fantastic narrative of a labyrinthine domestic crisis’.”

The last complete chapter written by Rosenbaum documents the club’s hiatus — from 1922 to 1927 — during which time The Charleston Bulletin was published. The family newspaper founded by Woolf’s nephews, Quentin and Julian Bell, included memoir writing of its own — a life of Vanessa Bell written by Woolf, anecdotes about Duncan Grant, the life of Clive Bell, and the life and adventures of the Keynes.

Rosenbaum’s work, published by Palgrave Macmillan this month, stops just before Woolf’s reading of “Old Bloomsbury,” meaning that some of Woolf’s and other members’ most significant work was yet to come. As editor James M. Haule notes in his Introduction, the task of finishing the volume “now falls on us.”

Read a review in The Independent.

 

 

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