Posts Tagged ‘Lydia Lopokova’

If you can get to Cambridge or London this month or next, you are in luck. You have two chances to learn more about the relationship between Maynard Keynes and ballerina Lydia Lopokova, straight from Susan Sellers, author of Firebird: A Bloomsbury Love Story, which explores the couple’s love story.

Maggie Humm, whose recent novel Talland House explores the life of Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse heroine, Lily Briscoe, joins Sellers for both conversations, the first in Cambridge and the second in London.

Here are the details for both events.

A Bloomsbury Love Story

When: Sunday 24 April 2022, 10-11 a.m. BST
Where: The Cambridge Union Society, 9a Bridge Street, Cambridge CB2 1UB
Why: Part of the Cambridge Literary Festival
Cost: Tickets £12. Book here.

Susan Sellers and Maggie Humm, two world-leading experts talk about the women of Bloomsbury, and what a lifetime of reading, researching, teaching and writing about Virginia Woolf has taught them.

An Evening in Bloomsbury with Susan Sellers and Maggie Humm

When: Thursday 5 May 2022, 6.30 p.m. BST
Where: Hatchards, 187 Piccadilly, London W1J 9LE
Cost: Tickets £10 Book here.

Join Susan Sellers discussing the lives of Bloomsbury’s most unlikely lovers, Maynard Keynes and Lydia Lopokova, with Maggie Humm.

It is the winter of 1921 and Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes launch a flamboyant new production at London’s Alhambra Theatre. Maynard Keynes is in the audience, though he expects little from the evening. Despite Lydia’s many triumphs, including the title role in Stravinsky’s Firebird, Maynard’s mind is made up – he considers her ‘a rotten dancer’. Besides, Lydia has at least one husband in tow and Maynard has only ever loved men.

Tonight, however, as Susan Sellers relates, that is all about to change and while The Firebird is a fictional re-imagining, life is often stranger and more surprising. Especially, perhaps, when it comes to the lives of theBloomsbury Group.

About the speakers

Susan Sellers

Susan Sellers is professor of English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of St. Andrews. Her first Bloomsbury-inspired novel, Vanessa and Virginia, was an editor’s pick for The New York Times and has been translated into 16 languages.

Maggie Humm

Maggie Humm is an Emeritus Professor, international Woolf scholar and novelist. She has written many books on feminism, art and Virginia Woolf, and in 2020 published her debut novel Talland House, a gripping historical romance/detective fiction set in picturesque Cornwall and London during World War I. Shortlisted for several prizes including Eyelands and Impress, Talland House was chosen by the Washington Independent Review of Books as one of its ’51 Favorite Books’ of 2020.


When the don met the dancer – this is the story of how Maynard Keynes, the great economist, fell for Lydia Lopokova, celebrity ballerina and Russian émigrée. And it is also a story of resistances, when a different kind of woman stepped into the settled world of Virginia, Vanessa, and all the rest of their English entourage. – In Firebird, Susan Sellers restages the bright Bloomsbury years of the early 1920s as they have never been seen before. – Rachel Bowlby

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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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Vara Neverow and Kristin Czarnecki at the opening night reception in the hotel's Room at the Top

Vara Neverow and Kristin Czarnecki at the conference’s opening night reception in the hotel’s Room at the Top

I am late with this. After attending Woolf in the City in 2009 and Woolf and the Natural World in 2010, I posted about the conference the very next day. But this year, I haven’t been able to pull my thoughts together. I can think of a couple of reasons why.

Tweeting the conference

Maybe tweeting the conference as woolfwriter pushed any deep thinking about it out of my head. Throughout the  23rd Annual International Conference on Virginia WoolfWoolf and the Common (Wealth) Reader in Vancouver, I posted 140-character conference updates and photos under the hashtag #vwconf23 tweets.

Now I wonder if posting these brief tweets served to empty my mind of the interesting things I was hearing. Things like “Waves are metaphor for empowerment and change. -Muscogiuri #vwconf23 pic.twitter.com/NPDSpSaB8y” and “Wonderful resource: UCL Bloomsbury Project http://ucl.ac.uk/bloomsbury-pro … #vwconf23

conference tweets


Or maybe the fact that I took off for another conference — this one in Toronto — a few days after arriving home from Vancouver diverted my attention.

Some scattered thoughts

Despite my scattered thoughts, some things from the conference do stand out, and here they are:

  • After listening to Kristin Czarnecki‘s paper on “Proportion, Conversion, Transition: War Trauma and Sites of Healing in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony,” I am convinced that Silko’s 1977 novel,  the story of a Native American WWII veteran, is a must-read.
  • On the same panel, Aurelea Mahood shared “A Short History of Woolf’s Literary Work as Reviewed in Time and Tide,” prompting my interest in the magazine launched in 1920 by suffragist Lady Rhonda whose life is documented in her 1933 memoir This Was My World.
  • Christine Froula‘s plenary talk on “War, Peace, Internationalism: The Legacy of Bloomsbury” was riveting and made me want to know more. It’s a topic that deserves a book-length discussion.
  • Fittingly enough, the panel on “Woolf’s Troubled and Troubling Relationship to Race: The Long Reach of the White Arm of Imperialism” sparked a lively discussion among panelists Lisa Coleman and Evan Zimroth and their audience, with Zimroth detailing Woolf’s anti-Semitism as well as the anti-foreigner sentiments sparked by ballerina Lydia Lopokova.
  • A polite difference of opinion between Patrizia Muscogiuri and Melissa Rampelli about Rhoda’s agency in The Waves also threw up some sparks, which made their papers  and the resulting discussion more interesting.
  • A brilliant plenary talk by Sonita Sarker on “Virginia Woolf in the British Commonwealth” in which she discussed ways in which Englishness and whiteness are part of the Commonwealth and how writing makes people self-conscious and class-conscious.
  • Vara Neverow‘s powerful analysis of fascism in Woolf’s Three Guineas and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale in which she compared Woolf’s 65 pages of footnotes at the end of TG to the 12 pages of “historical notes” set in a post-Gilead world that accompany Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel. Neverow’s passionate feminism that underlay her discussion of fascism as it relates to women’s lives in both works made her argument even more compelling.
  • And of course, there was the Saturday evening banquet, with charming readings of “A Pair of Scissors” by Sharon Thesen and “Oscar of Between” — complete with current-day references to Woolf’s Orlando — by Betsy Warland.
  • Dramatic readings of favorite Woolf quotes — and I do mean dramatic — from the International Virginia Woolf Society Players topped off the evening. And here I give a special tip of the hat to Suzanne Bellamy, Catherine Hollis and Erica Delsandro.

Facebook and the conference

Woolfians at the reception held at the Bill Reid Gallery in Vancouver

Woolfians at the reception held at the Bill Reid Gallery in Vancouver

I didn’t find anyone else’s tweets about the conference, but participants did share their thoughts on Facebook, and here are a few of their comments:

“Greetings from Vancouver. Bad internet connection, but now that I’m about to leave it’s working at last … better late than never, I guess. Anyway, another amazing Woolf Conference is over, great papers and keynotes, stimulating exchange of ideas but most inspiring of all was meeting my woolfians friends and colleagues. In the midst of many things not going exactly well (flights, etc., etc., etc.), you were wonderful as ever – can’t thank you enough for that.” – Patrizia Muscogiuri

“Just got back from a fabulous time at the 23rd annual Virginia Woolf conference held in Vancouver, B.C.! Many thanks to Helen Wussow and co. at Simon Fraser University for organizing a wonderful conference.” – Diana Swanson

Suzanne Bellamy posted daily accounts of the conference on her Facebook wall:

“Arrived in Vancouver for the International Virginia Woolf conference. Stunning city, we are in a

Graduate students Bureen Ruffin of Pace University and Sara Remedios of CUNY presented papers at the conference.

Graduate students Bureen Ruffin of Pace University and Sara Remedios of CUNY presented papers at the conference.

hotel with amazing views of the harbour. An always exciting few days are ahead but my presentation is this morning so I will feel better after that is done. Great to see all the marvellous friends who come annually to this special community of scholars.

“Day 2 in Vancouver. Something happens at these Woolf events that stretches time. A day is so dense with new meanings, ideas and encounters. All panels and the two keynotes were excellent, and the first big reception up on the roof of the hotel blew the air through our brains, with the harbour and snow on the mountains. What planet are we on??? Its gorgeous indeed. In particular Rosemary Ashton from Univ College London gave a wonderful keynote on old Bloomsbury before the Stephens ever moved in, a site of radical experiment and dissent that is still a model for resistance.

“Morning of day 3 Vancouver Woolf conference. I hope my second wind kicks in, already stretched out brain, feel great. Yesterday brilliant again. Several great panels extending the conf themes of common(wealth), war, internationalism, Christine Froula’s great keynote on war and Bloomsbury showed us there is still new material to discover, new mss, recombining, setting up new collages of thinking. A wonderful escape in the late afternoon, ferry across the harbour, still a working fishing and trade port, vistas of snow and intense urbanscapes, like a little HongKong but with a metal and glass coolness. A lush conf visit to the Bill Reid Gallery, First Nations treasure, indigenous food. I couldn’t eat the bison, like I can’t eat kangaroo either. But for those Australians out there, you will understand that the joyful thrill of the day for me was a stunningly good and hilarious paper (“From Bloomsbury to Fountain Lakes”) by Melinda Smith, a Tasmanian by birth but now at Univ of Hawaii, about Kath and Kim’s episode based on The Hours, when Fountain Lakes presented a musical about Virginia Woolf. I sat there in awe that she had magically brought Kimmy and her mother the foxy Kath to a Virginia Woolf conference, equipped with brilliant theoretical analysis of layers and layers of re-performing and making over taking the colonial piss out of the dominant culture but celebrating the shared creativity of brilliant women over time. I laughed and laughed. What a funny day to have. More to come. All amazing.

Patrizia Muscogiuri and Melissa Rampelli on "The Commodified, Colonized Woman"

Aurelea Mahood chaired a panel with Patrizia Muscogiuri and Melissa Rampelli on “The Commodified, Colonized Woman.”

“Vancouver last day of VW conf. Yesterday teeming with encounters, panels and keynotes, too much to write. Plans take shape for next a performance work for next year in Chicago, collaborations set up from Brazil to Italy, fusion of Woolf with Stein’s 4 Saints in 3 Acts with lots more, jazz and set work all in the planning now. The day never seemed to end, the banquet, the VW Players show, then the bar afterwards; how I love this annual fest, I have been coming every year since 1997, next year Chicago.

“Yesterday the last sessions of the Vancouver Woolf conf, great plenary about the dark side of Brooke and the war poets, their attraction to fascism, neo-paganism. I chaired the final panel with the all-time stars of experiment and innovation, Leslie Hankins, Diane Gillespie and Elisa Sparks. As always they dazzled us with new methods and ideas around type itself, money itself and the new app. The unpacking of Woolf is never-ending, for me a life time of provocative joy continues.”

Read about past Woolf conferences

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Bloomsbury BallerinaAlison Light has written a charming and lively review of  Bloomsbury Ballerina: Lydia Lopokova, Imperial Dancer and Mrs. John Maynard Keynes for the London Review of Books.

The biography of the lucky Russian ballerina who swept John Maynard Keynes off his feet and raised the hackles of other Bloomsburies, was written by Judith Mackrell, dance critic for the Guardian.

Lopokova was a protege supported by the tsar at the age of nine and a member of the Ballets Russes when she danced her way to London in 1918 and into Keynes’s heart.

You can read “Lady Talky,” Light’s review, here.

Read more about Mackrell’s biography of Lopokova on Blogging Woolf.

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