Posts Tagged ‘Elisa Kay Sparks’

Scholar Elisa Kay Sparks is known for her interest in flowers. Specifically, Virginia Woolf and flowers. She can usually be counted on to present a paper on that topic at annual Woolf conferences. And she has an amazing blog dedicated to the topic.

A Virginia Woolf Herbarium by Elisa Kay Sparks

Flowers from one to 99

A Virginia Woolf Herbarium describes itself as “a collection of essays on flowers in the work of Virginia Woolf: fiction, essays, and life-writing.” Each of the site’s 99 essays includes photos of the flower it discusses.

Each flower discussed on the site is referred to at least once in Woolf’s fiction and/or essays. They range from the almond blossom, mentioned only twice in Woolf’s fiction, to red-hot pokers, which appear 13 times.

Counting, researching, and accounting for the flowers

Pale pink roses in the garden of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London. Similar roses frame the doorway of Virginia’s bedroom at Monk’s House.

In fact, Sparks, always meticulous in her research, includes a Flower Count that lists the flowers alphabetically and names the number of times Woolf included it in her writing. For example, Woolf mentions roses more often than any other flower — 250 times, with 162 of those occurring in her fiction.

Sparks breaks the count down into four categories: fiction, essays, diaries and letters, and digital hits.

The chart also includes flower purchases Leonard Woolf mentions in his garden account book. From 1919 to 1950, he kept an exact account of all monies spent on and earned by the garden. From 1920 to 1927, he also kept a separate garden diary. These two small green cloth books with red bindings can be found in the Leonard Woolf Papers in the University of Sussex Library.

In the process of researching Woolf’s use of flowers in her writing, Sparks collected:

  • information on the literary, medicinal, and mythological meanings of flowers;
  • research on the history of gardens and gardening; and
  • research on the social assumptions and practices involving flowers and gardening.

Eventually, she plans to distill all of the information she has collected into a book.

More about Woolf and gardens

Virginia Woolf’s Garden: The Story of the Garden at Monk’s House by Caroline Zoob (2013)

The site also includes pages for Works Cited and an annotated list of the reference works Sparks consulted while doing her work on Woolf and flowers, work I would describe as both comprehensive and ground-breaking.

Caroline Zoob’s book, Virginia Woolf’s Garden: The Story of the Garden at Monk’s House, published in 2013, gives an up-close view of the Woolf’s garden. Cecil Woolf, Leonard’s late nephew, wrote the book’s Foreward.

Literature Cambridge also ran a one-week course on Virginia Woolf’s Gardens in July 2019. Blogging Woolf attended and published daily posts.

Garden at Monk’s House, Sussex home of Virginia and Leonard Woolf

Garden at Charleston, Sussex home of Woolf’s sister Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, and Clive Bell.


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If you haven’t joined the site Academia.edu, you may want to sign up. A number of papers on Virginia Virginia WoolfWoolf are uploaded there and can be downloaded free of charge. Some of them were shared at recent Woolf conferences. You can also search the site for additional Woolf resources.

Recently uploaded papers include:

Academia.edu is a platform for academics to share research papers.

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Wednesday 9 January [1924]

At this very moment, or fifteen minutes ago to be precise, I bought the ten years lease of 52 Tavistock Sqre London W.C. 1—I like writing Tavistock. Subject of course to the lease, & to Providence, & to the unforeseen vagaries on the part of old Mrs Simons, the house is ours: & the basement, & the billard room, with the rock garden on top, & the view of the square in front & the desolated buildings behind, & Southampton Row, & the whole of London – London thou art a jewel of jewels, & jasper of jocunditie – music, talk, friendship, city views, books, publishing, something central & inexplicable, all this is now within my reach. – D2, 282-3

Thanks to Elisa Kay Sparks for finding and posting this quote in the Woolf Group on Facebook today.


Tavistock Hotel

Part of the Tavistock Hotel is on the site of Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s property at 52 Tavistock Square, on the south side of the square, three houses from Southampton Row. It was the Bloomsbury house where Woolf lived the longest. It is also where she wrote most of her novels. The Woolfs occupied the top two floors before the property was destroyed during WW II. 


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Below is a comment from Elisa Kay Sparks and a link to her review of Woolf Works.

Dear All-
I’ve finished my review/ explication of Woolf Works, the new Wayne MacGregor ballet I was lucky enough to get to see in London.  All the time I was watching it, I was wishing all of you were in the audience with me; this is the best I could do to make that so.  At the end I’ve added links to a lot of the reviews which have photographs of the performance and to a series of videos that show the dancers in rehearsal as well as  conversations among the choreographers, dancers, and dramaturg.

Study Woolf: Review of Woolf Works, Royal Opera House, May 13, 2015.

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Woolf in BloomVirginia Woolf scholar Elisa Kay Sparks has launched a new blog that links a daily quote from Woolf with a photographic image of flora.

She launched the blog, Woolf in Bloom: A Daily Almanac, on March 22. In a message to the VWoolf Listserv, Sparks said she has made a one-year commitment to the blog. She said the the blog is a response to the desire of Woolf scholars for a daily Woolf quote app that would provide a passage from Woolf to meditate on every day.

The photographs of flora that she posts with the quotes come from her daily walks, as well as from images she has collected from trips to visit gardens and Woolf sites in the UK.

“I’ll be commemorating important dates in Woolf’s life as well as attempting to highlight flowers according to the British blooming season and to Woolf’s mentions of them in diaries and letters,” Sparks said.

She said she would attempt to post to the blog on a daily basis and that most — but not all — posts would include a Woolf quote and a flora image.

Today’s quote, which is linked with a soft peach tulip:

They had reached the site of the old Exhibition. They looked at the tulips. Stiff and curled, the little rods of waxy smoothness rose from the earth, nourished yet contained, suffused with scarlet and coral pink. Each had its shadow; each grew trimly in the diamond-shaped wedge as the gardener had planned it.  –Jacob’s Room (176)

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