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Dogs and Virginia Woolf is the subject of a newly published long-form essay by Mireille Duchene, author of After Virginia Woolf, An Unpublished Notebook (1907-1909). Published in French, Entre chiens et Woolf, une affaire de femmes (EUD, Essais) (Between Dogs and Woolf: A Women’s Affair) is in the form of a revisited biography.

In this 146-page essay, Duchene investigates the issues of animals in literature and gender and identity.

Woolf, women and dogs

She also explores the unique relationship between Woolf and her dogs and the place they hold in her daily life and imagination. Duchene discusses the dog Woolf had in childhood, as well as the dogs of her powerful female friends, Violet Dickinson, Vita Sackville-West, and Ethel Smyth, mistresses of a chow-chow, a greyhound and sheepdogs. And Duchene also covers Shag, Woolf’s faithful terrier companion, of whom Woolf wrote a funny and touching obituary for The Guardian, which is reprinted in French in Entre chiens et Woolf, une affaire de femmes.

More on Woolf and dogs

An earlier work discussing this topic is Shaggy Muses: The Dogs Who Inspired Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Edith Wharton and Emily Bronte.

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In All the Lives We Ever Lived: Seeking Solace in Virginia Woolf, Katharine Smyth links her own story with Woolf’s To the Lighthouse.

Published last year, Smyth’s memoir tells the story of her own family, of discovering her parents as people, and of her father’s alcoholism and death. She does it all while weaving in literary criticism of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse.

By doing so, critics say she creates the perfect medium for reflecting on grief, loss, and marriage, on the way family morphs as you age, on memory and the difficulties of trying to understand who your parents are, and who they once were. Wow. That’s an armload to take on in one book.

The memoir’s title comes from the poem “Luriana Lurilee” by Charles Elton that Woolf references in To the Lighthouse.

That Gordon ties Woolf’s semi-autobiographical novel to her memoir is quite fitting, as Woolf focused her work on her own parents in the roles of Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay.

This is a transcendent book, not a simple meditation on one woman’s loss, but a reflection on all of our losses, on loss itself, on how to remember and commemorate our dead. –  Charlotte Gordon, The Washington Post

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When I first heard that renowned Virginia Woolf scholar Maggie Humm was writing a novel featuring Lily Briscoe and based on Woolf’s semi-autobiographical novel To the Lighthouse (1927), I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy.

The opportunity came in March, when I saw on Facebook that Maggie had advance reader’s copies in her grasp. After meeting Maggie at many Woolf conferences, I consider her a friend. So I contacted her and asked for a copy. She immediately promised to send one.

Pandemic realities on both sides of the pond

A few hours later, pandemic reality hit her. Recalling that the coronavirus had pretty much grounded all international flights, thereby shutting down international mail delivery, Maggie realized that a copy mailed from England would be unlikely to reach me. She put me in touch with her U.S. publicist to obtain a copy stateside instead.

The book arrived quickly, and I expected to jump right in. But my pandemic reality meant I had difficulty focusing on Maggie’s book — or any book — until recently. That made me late finishing the novel and late posting about it here as well. But since it is now available on Amazon, better late than never. So here goes.

Talland House fills in and illuminates

Maggie, emeritus professor of cultural studies at the University of East London, is the author or editor of 14 books, with the last three focused on Woolf and the arts. So it is only natural that in her first novel, Talland House, Maggie focuses on artist Lily Briscoe from To the Lighthouse.

To that end, Talland House fills in Lily’s back story — the death of her mother, her art studies in Paris and St. Ives, her work as a nurse during the Great War, and her involvement in the suffrage movement. Set between 1900 and 1918 in both Cornwall and London, it also provides a prequel to Woolf’s novel and reimagines that work from Lily’s perspective.

That reimagining includes Mrs. Ramsay’s demise. Her death, mentioned briefly and parenthetically in Woolf’s novel, is “discovered” or explained in Maggie’s novel. But I will include no spoilers here.

While conducting research to write the novel, Maggie pored over old photos of St. Ives, as well as Cornish newspapers, artists’ memoirs, and art journals to get a feel for the seaside town and its art community during the years the novel covers.

St. Ives Bay, June 2004

The extent of her research shows in her luminous prose that paints a compelling and colorful picture of St. Ives and its charms, the location of all of Woolf’s novel and much of Talland House. The picture is so complete — from the view of the lighthouse from Talland House to the fishing boats in the harbor — that one is transported back in time to the cobblestone streets of the Cornish town.

References slipped into a must-read

Woolf scholars and readers will delight in catching the specific references to Woolf’s work that Maggie slips into this historical novel.

Lily makes note of Mr. Ramsay’s boots and his recitation of Tennyson’s poems. She recalls moving the salt cellar at dinner and describes the animal skull on the nursery wall and the tapping sound of the window blind’s acorn on the nursery floor. And in a fresh take-off on Woolf’s famous line in “Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid” (1940), “Thinking is my fighting,” Lily proclaims that painting is hers.

If you are a fan of Woolf, this is a must-read. If you are not, it will make you want to become one, just so you can connect this enchanting novel to Woolf’s works.

More on the novel

Talland House was shortlisted for the Impress and Fresher Fiction prizes in 2017 (as Who Killed Mrs. Ramsay?) and the Retreat West and Eyelands prizes in 2018.

Read more about Talland House:

Maggie Humm has brilliantly filled in the edges beyond Woolf’s canvas; she has a deep, awe-inspiring understanding of the role of the visual in Woolf’s work, and here she reveals that she also has a novelist’s gift to create something new, that has its own imaginative life, from that understanding. -Lauren Elkin, author of the award-winning Flaneuse

Maggie Humm talking about Virginia Woolf and her photo albums at Waterstone’s Gower Street during Dalloway Day celebrations in London in 2018.

 

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One day walking round Tavistock Square I made up, as I sometimes make up my books, ‘To the Lighthouse’ – Virginia Woolf.

That quote is the inspiration for an illustrated pamphlet published last month and created by artist Louisa Amelia Albani. Titled A Moment in the Life of Virginia Woolf: A Lighthouse Shone in Tavistock Square, the booklet visually reimagines this ‘moment’ on a summer afternoon in London’s Tavistock Square in 1925.

To do so, it uses Woolf’s own words from her letters and diaries, along with excerpts from To the Lighthouse (1927).

I ordered a copy of Albani’s pamphlet last week. It hasn’t arrived from London yet, but I did get a thank you email for my order directly from Albani — an unexpected but lovely treat.

Art exhibit too

The artist also has an online art exhibition with the same title. The exhibit includes more than a dozen pieces based on Woolf. Many of them are already sold, so if you are interested in an original piece of art connected to Woolf, take a look now.

Below is a video of the project that the artist has posted on YouTube.

 

 

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Mitz: The Marmoset of Bloomsbury is a book about Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s pet marmoset that they adopted in 1934 and took with them when they visited Berlin in 1935. And it is now available on Amazon, with the e-book selling for $1.99 and the paperback $11.19.

At that price, I couldn’t resist adding the Kindle version to my Woolf collection, even though I already own the hardcover version published by Harper Flamingo in 1998.

Author Sigrid Nunez drew on memoirs, letters, diaries, biographies, and her imagination to write this mock biography that is said to pay homage to Woolf’s Flush.

Accolades from reviewers

According to reviewers, it “offers a striking look at the lives of writers and artists shadowed by war, death, and mental breakdown, and at the solace and amusement inspired by its tiny subject.”

This new edition includes an afterword by Peter Cameron and a never-before-published letter about Mitz by Nigel Nicolson.

It was also named one of NPR’s best books of 2019. Here’s what NPR had to say in its review:

Mitz captures the heartrending downside of love and connection — loss. But it also reminds us, beautifully, of the “great solace and distraction” of literature.

At this time in history, as in the late 1930s, we can all use some solace, as well as some distraction.

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