Archive for the ‘Woolf and writing’ Category

“Shakespeare’s Sisters” is an essay in Rachel Cusk’s 2019 collection, Coventry (and the first one I turned to, for obvious reasons). She begins by asking, “Can we, in the twenty-first century, identify something that could be called ‘women’s writing’?”

In that context she discusses The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir and Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. “Between them,” she says, “they shaped the discourse of twentieth-century women’s writing,”

War vs. feelings

Eighty years later, as Cusk sees it, “a book about war is still judged more important than a book about ‘the feelings of women.’ Most significantly, when a woman writes a book about war she is lauded: she has eschewed the vast unlit chamber and the serpentine caves; there is the sense that she has made proper use of her room and her money, her new rights of property.

The woman writer who confines herself to her female ‘reality’ is by the same token often criticized. She appears to have squandered her room, her money.”

Just another women’s novel

Men have always written about the female experience–Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina come immediately to mind, as well as a number of novels by contemporary authors. I’ve seen some of these works praised to the skies, touted as the latest incarnation of the great American novel. Yet, still, too frequently, the women creating these novels are dismissed as writing just another woman’s novel.

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Last week, I wrote about the Virginia Woolf cookie cutter. This week, I am writing about the Virginia Woolf pen. Or to be more accurate, I am embedding Matthew Holliday‘s Oct. 21 tweets about the Bloomsbury group, Virginia Woolf, and fountain pens.

A limited edition Woolf pen

But first let me mention the Writers Edition Virginia Woolf Montblanc pen set, which pays tribute to The Waves. Launched in 2006 in a limited edition, the run included 4,000 sets including a ballpoint pen, fountain pen, and mechanical pencil, as well as 16,000 fountain pens and 18,000 ballpoint pens.

Out of range

None of them are currently for sale on the Montblanc website. But you can find them on ebay at prices ranging from $499 for the ballpoint to $3,450 for the set.

We can all put the pen on our wish list. Sadly, few of us will find our wish coming true. The cookie cutter, however, is infinitely more affordable.








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I love punctuation; I’m a nut about it. I read it as carefully as I do words, measuring  flow to the lighthouseand rhythm, looking for meaning between the dots and dashes.

So a recent blog post got my attention—the author wanted to see if novels could be distinguished by their punctuation. A kindred spirit, he believes punctuation is a fundamental part of writing.

Adam J. Calhoun compares Faulkner’s Absolom, Absolom! with Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. The differences are visible and as striking as one would expect. Blood Meridian consists mostly of short, crisp sentences—seen as several consecutive periods with no intervening marks, breaks of an occasional comma, a dash here and there, more periods. The punctuation in Absalom, Absalom! looks the way Faulkner reads: he uses everything he can get his hands on, with lots of commas and far fewer periods. The author of this study calls it “statements within statements within statements.”

He adds other novels to his discussion. Surely, I thought, he’ll include Woolf! But no, he mentions Ulysses, Pride & Prejudice, A Farewell to Arms, and a few others. I couldn’t leave it there. A few years ago I wrote an essay about punctuation and drew from To the Lighthouse to demonstrate Woolf’s creative use of punctuation; I had some data to add to the picture.

To his visual comparisons of Faulkner’s and McCarthy’s textless text, I add a brief example from To the Lighthouse:

”   ,   ,   ,   ”   .   ”   ,   ”   .    ,   ,   ,   ,   ,   ,   ,   .   ,   ,

,   ,   ,   ,   ,   ,   ,   ,   ,   .   .   ,   ,   ,   ,   ,   ,   —   ,   ,

,   ,   ,   ,   ,   ,   .   ”   ,   ”  ,   ,   ”   .   ”   ,   ,   ,   ,   .

;   ,   ,   ,   ,   ,   ,   ( )   ,   .   .   .   ;   ;   ,   ,   ,   ,   ;   ;

This is just the first few paragraphs (I did several pages) but you get the idea. Woolf’s sentences skip and dance and weave with runs of commas; there are eleven of them in a 100-word sentence on the first page. You rarely see two periods (simple sentences) in a row. She peppers her prose (more evident in a more extensive sampling) with semicolons, dashes, parentheses, exclamation marks and ellipses.

Blood Meridian averages 15 words per sentence, Absalom 40, Lighthouse (in my sampling) 34, Farewell to Arms 10. Ursula LeGuin says of Hemingway: “He had many guns, several spouses, and a beard. He wrote short sentences.”

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The blogger at sub rosa plans “to spend 2012 in companion with Virginia Woolf” in an effort to become a better writer. She chose Woolf because of her brilliant writing as well as her ability to speak with wisdom about practical things.


The Woolf works included in sub rosa’s 2012 bibliography list are A Room of One’s Own, Three Guineas, To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Dalloway and Moments of Being.

This week, sub rosa posted a piece about Alexandra Harris’s biography of Woolf. The post, “Woolf & the Ramsays,” includes musings about Woolf’s relationship to her parents and to her different selves.

Of course, sub rosa is not the first to recognize Woolf’s expertise as a writing mentor and life advisor. Danell Jones wrote the book on that topic — The Virginia Woolf Writers’ Workshop: Seven Lessons to Inspire Great Writing. Read more about that here: Take a writing workshop from Virginia.

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