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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.

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

 

 

 

Virginia Woolf’s writing lodge at Monk’s House in Sussex, England

Virginia Woolf’s feminist polemic A Room of One’s Own (1929) continues to matter to women, particularly those who identify as feminists.

In a video presented March 18 by the South Orange Public Library in honor of Women’s History Month, Anne Fernald discusses Woolf’s seminal book. In the hour-long “Virginia Woolf and ‘A Room of One’s Own’ Today,” Fernald discusses rooms, freedom, and how feminist writers and scholars think through Woolf today.

She also asks listeners to imagine what their own room dedicated to creative pursuits might look like.

Fernald is a professor of English and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Issues at Fordham University, editor of the Cambridge University Press edition of Mrs. Dalloway (2014) and author of Virginia Woolf: Feminism and the Reader (2006).

Virginia Woolf’s desk in her writing lodge at Monk’s House, 2019

Last time, I wrote about the online programs offered to the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain, thanks to the pandemic. Today, I must also grudgingly thank the pandemic for the wide selection of online sessions featuring Woolf and other women writers that are offered by Literature Cambridge for the second year in a row.

Second Virginia Woolf Season

The first group of sessions are those remaining in the Second Virginia Woolf Season. Each offers an hour-long lecture by a Woolf scholar, followed by an hour of discussion. Each of the following sessions has a theme and focuses on one book by Woolf.

  • Saturday 26 March 2022, 6 p.m. BT – Tea and Tradition: Night and Day (1919),

    Ellie Harrison lecturing on Woolf via Zoom

    with Ellie Mitchell. Live repeat session.

  • Saturday 9 April 2022, 6 p.m. BST – Books and Libraries in Three Guineas (1938), with Claire Davison
  • Sunday 10 April 2022, 6 p.m. BST – Woolf and Androgyny: A Room of One’s Own (1929), with Alison Hennegan. Live repeat session.*
  • Sunday 8 May 2022, 6 p.m. BST – Virginia Woolf and Clive Bell, with Mark Hussey
  • Saturday 11 June 2022, 6 p.m. BST – Mrs Dalloway from Bond Street to Westminster, with Claire Nicholson.

British Summer Time: Please note that clocks in Britain move ahead one hour on Sunday 27 March 2022.

Woolf’s Houses summer course

The path behind the Monk’s House gate

Literature Cambridge’s annual summer course resumes this year with a live online course on Woolf’s Houses, 25-29 July 2022. Literature Cambridge hopes to resume the in-person Woolf Summer course in July 2023.

Women Writers Season

Woolfians might also be interested in the last few lectures in the Women Writers Season on Vita Sackville West, Radclyffe Hall, and Elizabeth Bowen. Dates are April 2, April 16, and May 7.

Members of the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain are welcome to book sessions at the student price. Per session: £23 students, VWSGB members, CAMcard holders £28 full price

T-shirts like these may be available when Literature Cambridge holds its first in-person summer course since 2019 in July of 2023. The topic will be Woolf’s Women.

I don’t have many positive things to say about the pandemic, but I am glad of one thing. It increased the number of online programs offered by the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain. And they make membership in the society even more worthwhile, no matter which side of the pond you are on.

The Bloomsbury Ballerina

The most recent online program was “Lydia Lopokova and Bloomsbury,” a March 16 conversation between author Susan Sellers and Virginia Woolf scholar Maggie Humm about the fascinating Russian dancer Lydia Lopokova and her complicated relationship with Bloomsbury.

Sellers, who wrote the novel Vanessa and Her Sister (2014) has a new novel coming out. Titled Firebird: A Bloomsbury Love Story, it tells the surprising story of two of Bloomsbury’s most unlikely lovers – John Maynard Keynes, the distinguished economist, and the extrovert Russian dancer Lydia Lopokova. Weaving biography and fiction, Firebird explores the tangle of Bloomsbury’s bohemian relationships as lifestyles are challenged and allegiances shift following Lydia’s explosive arrival.

Humm’s many publications on Bloomsbury include her acclaimed novel Talland House (2020), inspired by Woolf’s To the Lighthouse.

I missed the March 16 conversation, but because I am a member of the society, I can access it online as a YouTube video, via a link sent to members only.

Join up

Membership to the society for UK residents is £20, or £10 for full-time students. There are also memberships for those of us outside the UK. It is well worth it. Membership includes the following:

  • FREE Virginia Woolf Bulletin three times a year, containing articles, reviews and previously unpublished material by Woolf herself (normally £5 each)
  • Discount on Birthday Lecture: annual talk by a Woolf scholar or author, held on the Saturday nearest to 25 January
  • FREE Regular email updates, with information and news of upcoming Woolf events
  • Discount on member events: e.g. day conferences; study weekends, talks, visits; guided walks in an area connected with Woolf
  • FREE online talks and events: live and recorded events accessed by web link (members only)

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