Archive for the ‘Woolf in Contemporary Fiction’ Category

In his full-color graphic novella, Athos in America, Norwegian cartoonist Jason include the story “The Brain That Wouldn’t Virginia Woolf,” a mash-up of The Brain That Wouldn’t Die and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, told in reverse chronological order.

Described as the volume’s “most heartbreaking tale” and as the peak of the artist’s “love of classic cinema and genre-bending,” the story may be a disappointment as a Woolf sighting. That is because it connects with the film made from Edward Albee’s play rather than Woolf herself, either as an author or a person.

The 2012 volume also includes five other stories, with the  title story providing a prequel to Jason’s 2008 graphic novel,  The Last Musketeer.

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I first read Kat Meads in a literary journal a few years ago, wowed by her essay on Sylvia Plath’s and Flannery O’Connor’s mothers. When I learned that this piece, along with ones on Virginia Woolf, Mary McCarthy and others, would be in her new essay collection, I ordered my copy and have been rewarded by everything about it, including the striking cover.

“Things Woolfian” is the opening act in These Particular Women. Meads recalls writing a term paper on Woolf’s novels for an honors class in 1973 when the Quentin Bell biography was the only secondary source. It’s the plethora of biographies and essays and analyses that have emerged over the past fifty years—and the turf wars over varying interpretations about Woolf’s life and work, often contrasting with Woolf’s own letters and autobiographical works—that Meads diligently scrutinizes.

Woolf, mental illness, sexuality and more

Regarding Woolf’s mental illness, she notes that not everyone accepted Leonard Woolf’s or Quentin Bell’s accounts, citing Hermione Lee and others who question the chronology and severity of Virginia’s breakdowns. Another hotly contested issue was Leonard’s role—help or hindrance?—with both pro- and anti-Leonard factions waging wars of words over the years.

Virginia Woolf’s sexuality, her relationships with friends and family, her idiosyncrasies, her death and her afterlife are explored through the extensive written record Meads—and we—sift through today.

These Particular Women approaches its other subjects with a similar dissection of the historical record, sourcing biographers, journalists, and contemporaries to speculate about Agatha Christie’s eleven-day disappearance, Kitty Oppenheimer’s struggles in her husband’s shadow, Mary McCarthy’s presentation of self, Jean Harris as dissected by Shana Alexander and Diana Trilling. Each of these women was a rebel, out of step with and often ahead of her times.

More from Kat Meads

Kat Meads has also written works of fiction, poetry, and memoir, and I can’t sign off without a brief synopsis (with Woolf citation) of her wildly entertaining 2018 novel, Miss Jane: The Lost Years. Miss Jane, a student, endures emotional abuse at the hands of the despicable Prof P, under the watchful eyes of the Greek chorus that narrates her tale.

When Prof P storms out after one of his tirades, they wish him “Good riddance! One less misery in the house!” But they become concerned about how she’ll respond to being alone. They’re relieved that there’s no shotgun in the house, that the ocean is four hours east, and:

We’re relieved Miss Jane doesn’t daily stroll alongside an Ouse-ian river with fast-flowing, tempting tides. We’re relieved Miss Jane stopped reading Virginia…. We’re relieved Miss Jane has collected no pocket stones.


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This Devastating Fever, a new novel by Sophie Cunningham, follows the story of novelist Alice Fox and her struggles to write about Leonard Woolf as he deals with what he and Virginia would do if Hitler invaded England.

The novel, shortlisted for a Victorian Premier’s Literary Award, links Leonard and Virginia’s past dilemmas to those of the present, as Alice deals with the COVID-19 pandemic.

About the author and the talk

Cunningham, a member of the Order of Australia for her literary contributions and the author of nine novels, spent 15 years writing her latest.

If you can get to Sydney, Australia, you can hear Cunningham talk about her novel at Castle Hill Library 11 a.m. – noon on May 27, as part of the Sydney Writers’ Festival.

Complex, darkly funny and deeply moving,– a dazzlingly original novel about what it’s like to live through a time that feels like the end of days, and how we can find comfort and answers in the past.

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Martin Riker’s protagonist in The Guest Lecture is Abby, an economist who has been denied tenure at her university for publishing a book about Maynard Keynes that is deemed derivative.

Because of her book’s popularity outside academia, she’s been invited to present a lecture to a lay audience. In a hotel room the night before, she’s preparing her talk in an imaginary conversation with Keynes himself.

She will discuss his “bohemian arty side,” so that the audience:

will depart having learned something about the Bloomsbury group, some bits and bobs of history. For example, the bizarre and wonderful factoid that Keynes was housemates with Virginia Woolf. They were friends and she at some point claimed to be jealous that he could do what she did—write beautifully—but she couldn’t do what he did—economics, politics.

Abby describes her office at home as:

A writing room. A reading and thinking room. A ‘room of one’s own’—which was my first Virginia Woolf book, incidentally, and remains a favorite example of how a conceptual argument—in this case about female autonomy, living your own life—can also be a practical argument, in a way Keynes probably appreciated.

I found the novel entertaining and educational, philosophical and thought-provoking. It’s interesting how Maynard Keynes has shed the stereotypical image of the serious and sober intellectual, as his colorful life and provocative views are explored in fiction here and also in E.J. Barnes’s Mr. Keynes’ Revolution and Mr. Keynes’ Dance and in Susan Sellers’ Firebird: A Bloomsbury Love Story.

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News that French writer Annie Ernaux has won the Nobel Prize for literature brought up a connection to Virginia Woolf that Alice Lowe wrote about four years ago in a post titled “The Years and The Years.”

In it, Lowe explores the connections between Ernaux’s 2008 memoir and Woolf’s eponymous 1937 novel. She says she found several links, both direct and implied, between Ernaux and Woolf, and she explores those in depth in her essay published on Bloom.

The Years was the last of Woolf’s novels to be published in her lifetime. It’s a work of straightforward fiction, not autobiographical, yet I’m struck by ways in which its underlying structure and Woolf’s purpose are manifest in Ernaux’s memoir. – Alice Lowe, “The Years by Annie Ernaux: Memoir of a Generation”

Alice Lowe

Ernaux received the prestigious award “for the courage and clinical acuity with which she uncovers the roots, estrangements and collective restraints of personal memory.”

Much like Woolf, her work is inspired by her own life. It considers family, class, politics and gender, themes Woolf explored as well.

Lowe’s Woolf fantasy

Lowe recently published a piece about a Woolf fantasy. Titled “Tea for Two,” it is worth a read.

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