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Virginia Woolf would have been 140 today. So today, as we near the end of year two ofVW Diary Vol. 5 the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems fitting to look at the moody diary entry she wrote a day after her fifty-ninth birthday in 1941, when she, Leonard, and the rest of the world were living through year two of the Second World War.

Her diary entry of Sunday, Jan. 26, 1941, shows that despite the difficult state of the world, she slogs on with her work as she battles depression and vows that “[t]his trough of despair shall not, I swear, engulf me.”

She bemoans the solitude and the smallness of her current life at Monk’s House in Rodmell and details her “prescription” for survival:

Sleep & slackness; musing; reading; cooking; cycling; oh & a good hard rather rocky book – p. 355, The Diary of Virginia Woolf, Volume 5.

Woolf’s words convey pandemic feelings

To me, so much of this entry pertains to our pandemic state in the present day. We work. We battle uncomfortable feelings. We refuse to be engulfed by despair. We see our current lives as smaller — much smaller — than they once were.

But we go on anyway, doing whatever necessary in this “cold hour.” We sleep. We think. We read, we cook, we cycle. We surf, we Google, we Zoom.

We press our noses to the closed door, hoping it will open soon.

Here is Woolf’s diary entry for the day after her 59th birthday in its entirety.

1941

Sunday 26 January

A battle against depression, rejection (by Harper’s of my story & Ellen Terry) routed today (I hope) by clearing out kitchen; by sending the article (a lame one) to N.S.: & by breaking into PH 2 days, I think, of memoir writing.

This trough of despair shall not, I swear, engulf me. The solitude is great. Rodmell life is very small beer. The house is damp. The house is untidy. But there is no alternative. Also days will lengthen. What I need is the old spurt. “Your true life, like mine, is in ideas” Desmond said to me once. But one must remember one cant pump ideas. I begin to dislike introspection. Sleep & slackness; musing; reading; cooking; cycling; oh & a good hard rather rocky book–viz: Herbert Fisher. This is my prescription. We are going to Cambridge for two days. I find myself totting up my friends lives: Helen at Alciston without water; Adrian & Karin; Oliver at Bedford, & adding up rather a higher total of happiness. There’s a lull in the war. 6 nights without raids. But Garvin says the greatest struggle is about to come–say in 3 weeks–& every man, woman dog cat even weevil must girt their arms, their faith–& so on.

Its the cold hour, this, before the lights go up. A few snowdrops in the garden. Yes, I was thinking: we live without a future. Thats whats queer, with our noses pressed to a closed door. Now to write, with a new nib, to Enid Jones (354-355).

Google Doodle in commemoration of Woolf’s 136th birthday

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Editor’s Note: Emma Morris, the author of this post, is a digital copywriter from Johannesburg, South Africa. She is also a self-proclaimed logophile and loves Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group. Emma spends her days writing engaging marketing copy for brands and her evenings immersed in literature and literature blogs. 

On Nov. 5, cultures and creators came together in Amsterdam and online to celebrate the publication of an anthology of essays, letters and poems which resonate with Virginia Woolf’s essay On Being Ill.

There was a diverse range of speakers at the hybrid event organized by the Perdu Literary Foundation. Both in-person and on Zoom, they spoke to the complexity of the theme. Speakers included Elte Rauch, Marielle O’Neill, Nadia de Vries, Lucia Osborne-Crowley, Deryn Rees-Jones, Sophie Collins and Mieke van Zonneveld, as well as superb live music from Ekster.

Pandemic allows identification

The timing of the publication date could not be more perfect. As the world limps out of isolation, we can most certainly identify with Woolf’s essay on illness itself and the resulting isolation, loneliness and vulnerability that comes with it.

The anthology examines the way illness and literature are dialectically connected to each other, and how the process from conceptualization to the publication of the anthology mirrors the stages of illness.

Connecting as writers

Elte Rauch from HetMoet

As Elte stated in her opening address at the launch, the people involved in this anthology didn’t know each other, but each of them was able to connect at varying points in the process.

This idea that connection can never be lost is pivotal, she said, explaining that while writing is a solitary action, publishing is done together. It is the time when writers, illustrators and musicians all come together.

In an evening that celebrates the relevancy of Virginia Woolf, and especially her “revolutionary act of empowerment,” as Marielle O’Neill stated in her essay, that by openly embracing such a taboo subject as mental health – especially at a time in our history when illness itself is a taboo subject, the anthology as well as the original essay by Woolf will resonate with post-lockdown readers.

When everyday moments become special

As Marielle stated in her essay, small everyday moments, like Mrs. Dalloway buying flowers, become special moments. For example, coffee with a friend becomes a special occasion.

Writer Nadia de Vries with Marielle O’Neill from the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain

This anthology shows us, as readers, how beautiful it can be to write about a subject that is, in all honesty, not beautiful.

As Woolf so describes in her essay, when adults are ill, it inevitably makes us feel like children again. Illness is not beautiful. It’s messy, it’s raw and it leaves us vulnerable. In some ways, being ill mirrors the act of writing and creating itself.

How often do we as artists, writers and musicians share some of the most secret parts of our souls when we put pen to paper or paint to canvas?

Literature and anthologies bring us together

As I close this blog piece, I will leave you with something that was repeated during the evening, and certainly echoes in the anthology itself. Just as literature succeeds in bringing people together, this anthology brought writers, creators, scholars, and musicians together for an evening. It even brought you and I together for an evening.

It helped us put aside the loneliness of lockdown, illness and a global pandemic and allowed us to just enjoy each other’s company and inner most thoughts and feelings.

When we talk about illness, we lay bare how naturally afraid of illness and the finality of death we are – almost on a primitive level. But one thing is certain, when we do discuss our vulnerabilities and share our fears, magic is created.

How to get it

The anthology is available now in Holland in English and Dutch editions, with a UK book launch planned for January 2022. For more information contact Elte Rauch at info@uitgeverijhetmoet.nl.

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Nothing could be more timely than a new edition of Virginia Woolf’s On Being Ill which will be out in anthology form on Oct. 25 and include essays on illness from writers across the globe, with cover art by Louisa Albani.

Even in the midst of the current pandemic, illness remains an unpopular theme in literature. But in her essay, On Being Ill Virginia Woolf asks whether illness should not receive more literary attention, taking its place alongside the recurring themes of “love, battle and jealousy.” According to the publishers, this book, On Being Ill, does exactly that.

Thinking about illness

This edition serves as a complement to HetMoet’s 2020 publication of the first Dutch translation of Virginia Woolf’s On Being Ill. In this collaborative volume, authors, translators and illustrators have come together from Great Britain, Ireland, the United States and the Netherlands to represent past, present and future thinking about illness.

Noteworthy contributions to this 172-page paperback edition are Deryn Rees-Jones’ preface to Woolf’s essay from 1926 and the introduction to Audre Lorde’s The Cancer Journals of 1980. Against these, the voices of contemporary authors resonate as they contemplate the interactions between sickness and literature.

Readers are able to begin the book at the end, or might happily start in the middle, as every contribution is a unique, personal piece that offers poignant observations of the world of illness from within.

Book launch Nov. 5, in person and live online

The book launch of this new edition will take place Nov. 5 at 7 p.m. GMT at Perdu Literary Foundation in Amsterdam and will be also be transmitted live online. The event will mainly be in English.

Elte Rauch from Uitgeverij HetMoet will talk about how the book came into being and will introduce the panel members and writers. There will be readings and contributions from Mieke van Zonneveld, Deryn Rees-Jones, Lucia Osborne-Crowely, Nadia de Vries and Jameisha Prescod. Marielle O’Neill from the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain will speak about Woolf’s essay. The evening will be accompanied by music.

Tickets are €7.50. For more information email Elte Raunch: info@uitgeverijhetmoet.nl

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It’s nearly time for Woolf Salon No. 13, so read one or more (or none!) of Virginia Woolf’s six short essays included in The London Scene and plan to join Woolf scholars and common readers around the globe for the Sept. 24 Woolf Salon on Zoom.

Details

Hosts: Salon Conspirators
Day: Friday, 24 September 2021
Time: 3 p.m.–5 p.m. ET / Noon –2 p.m  PT / 4 p.m. – 6 p.m. Brasilia / 8 p.m. – 10 p.m. BST / 9 p.m. – 11 p.m. CEST

Anyone can join the group, which meets on the third or fourth Friday of each month via Zoom and focuses on a single topic or text. Just contact woolfsalonproject@gmail.com to sign up for the email list and receive the Zoom link.

About The London Scene

Originally published bi-monthly in Good Housekeeping between December 1931 and December 1932, the six essays in The London Scene provide Virginia Woolf’s musings on the street hauntings of which she was most found.

These essays include:

  1. The Docks of London
  2. Oxford Street Tide
  3. Great Men’s Houses
  4. Abbeys and Cathedrals
  5. “This is the House of Commons”
  6. Portrait of a Londoner

Where to find them and how much to read

The essays are available as freestanding collections, published in 2004, 2005, and 2013. They can also instantly be instantly accessed as an e-book. They also appear in Volume 5 of The Essays of Virginia Woolf, edited by Stuart Clarke.

“If you can’t get through all six essays, no problem! Just read what you’re able and join us anyway. It might be best, actually, if folks spend their time focusing on just one or two of the pieces,” said Salon co-organizer Benjamin Hagen, who also serves as president of the International Virginia Woolf Society.

Background on the Salon

The Salon Conspirators — Hagen, Shilo McGiff, Amy Smith, and Drew Shannon — began the Woolf Salon Project in July 2020 to provide opportunities for conversation and conviviality among Woolf-interested scholars, students, and common readers during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Have we killed the self-sacrificing Angel in the House? If an exhibit by photographer Lanie McNulty is to be believed, the answer is no.

Virginia Woolf advocated for such a death. In “Professions for Women” read to the Women’s Service League in 1931 and published posthumously in The Death of the Moth and Other Essays (1942), she wrote that “Killing the Angel in the House was part of the occupation of a woman writer.”

A woman writer, she believed, had to kill off the respectable Victorian “angel,” popularized by Coventry Patmore in his 1858 poem. The angel, an ideal woman who lives to serve others, particularly males, neglects her own personal needs and certainly never considers herself to have any professional aspirations.

Pandemic forces women into angel roles

McNulty, a New York based photographer and social activist, was inspired by the current pandemic to turn her lens on domestic interiors. In doing so, she produced stunning photographs that depict women at home alone and with children, husbands, parents, and friends.

Created in collaboration with her subjects, McNulty’s photographs starkly expose what the pandemic year has made clearer than ever — that women play an outsized role trying to keep it all together. Her photos make up the exhibit “The Angel in the House.”

McNulty is not the first to make a play on the death of the angel for an artistic purpose. A literary journal titled Killing the Angel (pictured above) launched in 2013 but now appears to be defunct.

Exhibit and book

Now on display at New York’s Planthouse, The Angel in the House opened today and runs through Oct. 23 by appointment.

If you can’t make it to the exhibit, you can buy the book.

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