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Archive for the ‘Virginia Woolf’ Category

Recently I revisited an old post about The Lost Garden, a moving homage to Virginia Woolf. I’ve read almost everything Helen Humphreys has written and was delighted with her most recent work, And a Dog Called Fig. A memoir, subtitled Solitude, Connection, the Writing Life, it weaves her life and writing with the dogs who have shared her journey, including the incumbent, a vizsla named Fig.

Lacking a college education, Humphreys relied on reading literature, starting alphabetically until “impatient with my methodical approach, I skipped ahead to W so that I could read Virginia Woolf.”

Woolf as model

Woolf became her model when she started writing: “I followed Woolf’s example of how to live a writing day—working in the morning, walking in the afternoon, writing letters or listening to music in the evenings.”

Humphreys always had dogs, and Woolf too had dogs to accompany her on her walks as well as to stimulate her work. First Grizzle, who was memorialized in her story “Gipsy, the Mongrel,” then Pinka, who graced the cover of her novel Flush.

Their respective dogs connected Humphreys more closely to Woolf:  “When I can recognize the look in Virginia Woolf’s dog’s eyes as being a look I have seen on my own dog … I can imagine her interactions with Grizzle as being similar to some of my interactions with Charlotte [Fig’s predecessor, also a vizsla].”

Writers whose dogs were prominent

Emily Bronte, Gertrude Stein, Agatha Christie, and Zora Neale Hurston are among the writers Humphreys cites whose dogs were prominent in their lives.

She thinks these bonds are significant:

“Structure in a novel, and in life, is the perfect balance of order and chaos. The structure of a day could be the four dog walks undertaken at regular intervals.” She constructed her novel Wild Dogs after “the way that a dog turns and turns before settling down to sleep … I wanted the story to turn like that, to circle back on itself and then continue again before coming to rest.”

Humphreys relates the joys and lessons she found in her lifetime with dogs, about discipline and patience, loneliness and grief, communion and communication, and ponders near the end: “Do they make us better, or do they simply return us to who we are?”

More on Woolf and dogs

For more on this topic, see our post on Shaggy Muses: The Dogs Who Inspired Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Edith Wharton and Emily Bronte.

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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’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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In her commemoration of the anniversary of Virginia Woolf’s death, Paula Maggio refers to the coverage in the New York Times. This took me back to one of my favorite novels, The Lost Garden by Helen Humphreys, which was a prominent example in my 2010 Bloomsbury Heritage Series monograph, Beyond the Icon: Virginia Woolf in Contemporary Fiction.

I’ve excerpted the section here:

“The Lost Garden, a story of a team of ‘Land Girls’, as the Women’s Land Army during World War II was known, begins at the time of Woolf’s death, but she nevertheless exerts a dominant influence. Helen Humphreys builds a connection with Woolf through Gwen Davis, a horticulturalist who is assigned to oversee wartime food production at a Devon farm. When Gwen is on the train out of London in March of 1941 to assume her duties, she sees over someone’s shoulder the announcement on the front page of The Times of Virginia Woolf’s disappearance and likely death:

I think of the letter I was writing in my head this morning to Mrs. Woolf. All the letters I write in my head. And now I’ve missed my chance to let her know how much I have loved her books, and to tell her that one evening, seven years ago, I think I followed her through the streets of London.

“Woolf is never far from Gwen’s thoughts. When viewing the estate at which she will be working, she notes that, ‘There is a river at the bottom of the hill. I think of Mrs. Woolf’. When one of her charges tells about her fiancé, who is missing in action, Gwen reflects that, ‘This makes me think of Virginia Woolf. Missing in action. That’s exactly what’s happened to her. She seems definitely to be a casualty of war at the moment. Like any other’.

“When Woolf’s death is confirmed, Gwen turns to the novel she treasures, To the Lighthouse. The final scene brings her clarity and closure:

There is Lily Briscoe on the lawn, trying to finish her painting… Her hand holds a paintbrush as a conductor holds a baton. This is the music of the moment, these words and images, and all of a sudden I know that it doesn’t matter whether or not it was Mrs. Woolf I followed through London that June evening seven years ago. I will never be closer to her than now. The book is the shared experience, the shared intimacy. The author is at one end of the experience of writing and the reader is at the other, and the book is the contract between you.

“Woolf has been an almost tangible presence, and the physical proximity of Gwen’s earlier sighting of her seems to transcend Woolf’s death and bring comfort, maintaining the ethereal connection that is enhanced by her identification with the novels. Gwen feels a bond with Woolf, a sense that in spite of obvious differences, they shared some common sensibilities, perhaps were kindred spirits. Woolf anchors Gwen in the reality of her life while at the same time enabling her to escape it.

“The Lost Garden is so infused with Woolf, deliberately invoking both the pathos of her disappearance and death and the magnitude of her impact on one reader.”

Some of the monographs in the Bloomsbury Heritage Series from Cecil Woolf Publishers.

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Bridge over the River Ouse in Sussex

Every year on this day I post something to commemorate the death of Virginia Woolf, the sad event that took place 81 years ago, on March 28, 1941, when she walked across the Sussex Downs into the River Ouse.

Past tributes have ranged from the detailed to the simple.

Today, I share New York Times coverage of her disappearance, as well as the discovery of her body. Both are from the archives.

  • “OBITUARY: Virginia Woolf Believed Dead, Special Cable to The New York Times, April 3, 1941
  • “Mrs. Woolf’s Body Found: Verdict of Suicide Is Returned in Drowning of Novelist,” The Associated Press, April 19, 1941

You can also read more NYT articles about Woolf — ranging from her influence on fashion to her times in Cornwall.

Virginia Woolf’s walking stick in the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library

 

 

 

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