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 I finally read Pat Barker’s Toby’s Room. My library’s reservation system is fantastic but does require some patience! Paula first Toby's Roommentioned it here last summer, noting the allusions—in more than the title—to Woolf’s Jacob’s Room, as did Hermione Lee, who reviewed it for The Guardian.

I read Barker’s Life Class around that time before I knew it was the prequel to Toby’s Room, and I posted on the “near sightings,” the Bloomsbury references when the protagonist, Slade art student Elinor Brooke, has tea at Ottoline Morrell’s.

Elinor’s brother Toby, like Jacob before him, dies serving in World War I, and like Jacob is revealed mostly through family and friends. Toby’s Room is still Elinor’s story, in which she seeks to unearth the mysterious details of his death. Woolf appears in entries from Elinor’s diary. She records her impressions from a weekend at Charleston Farmhouse, presumably at the invitation of Vanessa Bell:

“VB was in the drawing room when I arrived, with her sister, Mrs. Woolf. I’ve met her more than once, though I don’t think she remembered me and gave me a lukewarm welcome. Doesn’t like young women, I suspect. I thought the talk would be well above my head, but they were quite relaxed and gossipy and we chatted on easily enough. Or they did. I was too nervous to say much. It was like listening to an old married couple. They’ve got that habit of completing each other’s sentences…”

The other guests are “the conscientiously objecting young men” working at the farm, none of whom, she realizes, are going to be interested in her. There’s talk of the war at dinner, and Woolf talks about “how women are outside the political process and therefore the war’s got nothing to do with them.”

Elinor is struck by Woolf’s observation but finds it less convincing when she later tries to echo the sentiment herself. Barker has no such problem making her case. In both novels, she challenges readers to explore the role of art and artists in time of war, heightening the drama with real, fictional and hybrid characters as she did in her Regeneration trilogy.

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Blogging Woolf has been busy collecting, but not posting, Woolf sightings. As a result, we have a feast for the curious mind today. They include reviews of Vita and Virginia in New Jersey (1-4), news about a lesbian bar named Dalloway (32), a Woolf appearance on Glee (10-12) and actress Alfre Woodard‘s desire to step into the role of Virginia Woolf (30).

  1. Review of ‘Vita and Virginia,’ at Luna StageNew York Times
    In Act II of Eileen Atkins‘s intelligent and resonant “Vita and Virginia,” now playing at Luna Stage, Woolf (Mona Hennessy) discovers that her lover Vita Sackville-West (Rachel Black Spaulding) has been seen “lunching at the Cafe Royal” with another 
  2. Love, Lust and Literature Sizzle Onstage at LunaPatch.com
    The work of two women, Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West, is presented by many. Luna Stage premieres ‘Vita and Virginia’, written by Eileen Atkins, in New Jersey, with performances starting this weekend. Directed by Jane Mandel, and starring Mona 
  3. Events in New JerseyNew York Times
    WEST ORANGE Luna Stage “Vita and Virginia,” by Eileen Atkins, adapted from correspondence between Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West. Through Oct. 28. $25 to $45. Luna Stage, 555 Valley Road. lunastage.org; (973) 395-5551. WEST WINDSOR 
  4. A Fall Theater Season of Infinite VarietyNew York Times
    In West Orange, Luna Stage is presenting “Vita and Virginia,” Eileen Atkins’s 1992 dramatization of the letters and diaries of Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf(Sept. 27 to Oct. 28). In New Brunswick, the Crossroads Theater Company has “Knock Me 
  5. A Painting OpportunityDaily Beast
    More than just the title of Pat Barker’s new novel is reminiscent of Virginia Woolf’s 1922 novel Jacob’s Room. Woolf wrote her third novel in memory of her brother Thoby, who died at age 26 in 1906, and so too Barker’s novel is about a sister mourning 
  6. Bitter lessons from warMiamiHerald.com
    Barker, never the most elegant prose stylist, stumbles with some back story but sets the bar high, borrowing more than a page from Virginia Woolf. Toby’s Room employs an impressionistic, experimental structure and has a title similar to Jacob’s Room 
  7. The Weekend: Art, Drinks, Jazz, Blues, Books, Theater and More!Baristanet
    The play is by Eileen Atkins and directed by Jane Manel, adapted from correspondence betweenVirginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West. “Vita Sackville-West was a wealthy aristocrat, poet, and author. Virginia Woolf was of more modest means, and widely 
  8. NJ Theater Roundup, week of 10/5: ‘One Slight Hitch,’ ‘A Chorus Line,’ moreThe Star-Ledger – NJ.com
    WEST ORANGE “Vita and Virginia,” Eileen Atkins play adapted from the letters between Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West, Luna Stage, 555 Valley Road. Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m.; Thursday, 7:30 p.m., $25-$35. (973) 395-5551.
  9. The Godfather of Nyama Choma – Francis WahomeAllAfrica.com
    opinion. British novelist Virginia Woolf is quoted saying, “one cannot think well, love well, and sleep well, if one has not dined well.” ‘Dining well’ is the feeling one gets while digging into scrumptious nyama choma, ugali, and spinach at Francis 
  10. ‘All We Know: Three Lives,’ by Lisa CohenNew York Times
    Todd and Garland published Virginia Woolf, Duncan Grant and other Bloomsbury figures. Woolf associated the couple, Cohen writes, with “the knot of art, commerce and sexuality that haunts and defines both modernism and fashion.” The golden moment 
  11. Glee Recap of Season 4, Episode 4: “The Break-Up” — Blaine Cheated on Kurt Wetpaint
    Plus, a note to Virginia Woolf: We’re never reading another one of your novels for as long as we live! As far as we’re concerned, Virginia is as responsible for this break-up as anyone else, since it was her books that brought the “crazy or lesbian 
  12. ‘Glee’ recap: Break UpBaltimore Sun (blog)
    But then she confessed she had an “energy exchange” with a Virginia Woolf fan at her school. Then Santana tells Brittany she doesn’t want to be in a long-distance relationship because they’re “impossible to maintain.” She says it’s not a breakup, but.
  13. Watch: Santana Serenades Brittany with ‘Mine’ in ‘Glee’s’ ‘The Break-Up’SheWired
    Thanks to flashback, viewers got to see that she and a girl armed with the Virginia Woolfcollection, had checked Santana out, and Santana returned the favor. While Santana explained that she would never cheat and that she didn’t want to full-on break 
  14. Lost Worlds | Mary, Mary, quite contraryLivemint
    Born in 1689, she was an English aristocrat in Georgian Britain, a famous wit and beauty, an autodidact who educated herself in her father’s library (much like Virginia Woolf), wrote her autobiography when she was a teenager, and eloped with the 
  15. Dame Eileen Atkins: I’m not jealous of Judi Dench being in SkyfallMetro
    Her liking for difficult work means she’s long been a fan of Virginia Woolf. Though she enjoyed huge success with a one-woman show of A Room Of One’s Own, her devotion to the Bloomsbury aesthete hasn’t always been rewarded. Atkins’s involvement in a 
  16. ANA Trio to perform at Tufts Oct. 14Boston.com
    The trio will perform a series of premieres and commissions, featuring pieces by Rob Deemer (“Snow”, with poetry by Sara Teasdale), Daron Arik Hagen (“Rapture and Regret”, with text fromVirginia Woolf’s The Waves and Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa; 
  17. What is biomimetics?Deccan Chronicle
    While everyone thought no one could match up to the class of Virginia Woolf’s literary style, Emily Perkins managed to surprise the world. Her fourth novel, The Forrests, has positioned her in the literary world as the next Virginia Woolf. Critics feel 
  18. Mark Your Calendars: Council Meeting, Vaccinations Offered, and Farmers MarketPatch.com
    Synopsis: Vita Sackville-West was a wealthy socialite and aspiring poet. Virginia Woolf was of more modest means, and widely considered to be a brilliant writer. The long and complex relationship between these two women will be explored in a scene in 
  19. IN THE EASY CHAIR / Betty CotterThe Westerly Sun
    I’d like to visit all of England’s great author sites, including the homes of Dickens, the Brontes, andVirginia Woolf. ALWAYS IN MY POCKET Kleenex. I’m a walking allergen. WHAT I WANTED TO BE WHEN I GREW UP A librarian. I just loved books so much, 
  20. Umbrella is Will Self’s most ambitious work to dateThe National
    Following in the footsteps of both James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, the former’s quip that “a brother is as easily forgotten as an umbrella” introduces the novel, and Self’s ageing protagonist’s bus journeys around North London are haunted by the image 
  21. This fall, there’s a dead male novelists’ society of twoGlobe and Mail
    In freely revising the myths of great men, Heroines follows Virginia Woolf and her “Shakespeare’s sister” invention, or Germaine Greer’s incredible retelling of art history, The Obstacle Race: The Fortunes of Women Painters and Their Work, or The Lives 
  22. Café Royal set for December re-openingHotel Owner
    Former patrons include Oscar Wilde, Virginia Woolf, Cary Grant, Elizabeth Taylor, Winston Churchill and Muhammad Ali. Over the past four years, the old Café Royal restaurant has been transformed into a contemporary hotel and restored to its former 
  23. Lamenting the Modern: On Zadie Smith’s NWThe Millions
    Several critics have already pointed out NW’s debt to Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. Both novels are concerned with female characters who are lost in their marriages and in their modern worlds. The pace of Smith’s prose, especially in the opening 
  24. The Sitting Room revives rare archivesSanta Rosa Press Democrat
    Years later the Virginia Woolf aficionado brought that sensibility to The Sitting Room, a nonprofit resource and reference library of women’s literature, which she and seven others co-founded in 1981. With an annual operating budget of less than $10 
  25. Divorcing a Person Suffering From Depression — My Personal Views on This Glossy News (satire)
    Here I am quoting the very famous, beautiful, wealthy, upper-middle-class Virginia Woolf, whose husband was probably walking in your shoes at the time. “Dearest, I feel certain I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of these terrible 
  26. Straight talkBusiness Standard
    I feel a deep connection with writers such as Virginia Woolf who are remarkably open to genderless interpretations of romance. Mrs Dalloway, Woolf’s classic about one day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, is a masterpiece of writing that runs as fast 
  27. Book Review: The Sweet Girl, by Annabel LyonNational Post
    Expressed in such blunt terms, Pythias’s story can be seen as a variation of the tale told by Virginia Woolf in her parable about Shakespeare’s (imaginary) sister Judith, another bright-eyed girl doomed to a mute, inglorious fate. While Woolf’s 
  28. BLOOMSBURY’S BREAKTHROUGH: Area that challenged the higher education ,
    Camden New Journal newspapers website
    IN the 100 years before Virginia Woolf moved to 46 Gordon Square, in January 1905, Bloomsbury had established itself as London’s intellectual powerhouse. Clustering around University College, and benefiting from the proximity of the British Museum, 
  29. Victorian Bloomsbury by Rosemary Ashton: reviewTelegraph.co.uk
    Today, Bloomsbury means Virginia Woolf and her coevals but, as Ashton shows so vividly, it was the district’s reputation as a centre of intellectual life that in reality drew the “Bloomsberries”: they didn’t create the area, the area created them. In 
  30. Hello, Mrs. DallowayDaily Beast
    Emily Perkins’s fourth novel, The Forrests, positions her as the heir to Virginia Woolf’s approach to fiction—for them, life is measured by the intensity of the various episodes that constitute it. Print; Email; Comments. Meet the Forrests. In Emily 
  31. Woodard dives into work to cope with empty nest, The Daily Advertiser
     snap out of it, mommy, and bring your storytelling butt to work,'” Woodard said. “Steel Magnolias” airs Oct. 7, and Woodard also has her eye on returning to the stage. “I just decided I’m old enough to play Virginia Woolf,” she said, “so I would 
  32. Short stories are far more than premises for ‘twists’The Guardian (blog)
    “A new kind of prose” was Katherine Mansfield; “A row of lamps”, Virginia Woolf. Chekhov’s “new form” … All opinions varying, but all agreeing and disagreeing about the genre from the point of view of someone who actually writes short stories – either
  33. Lani Kai Shuttering to Make Way for Lesbian Bar, Eater NY (blog)
    For what is apparently their first restaurant project, Dunn and Stolz took the name fromVirginia Woolf, and hired a chef from Boston’s Noche. The star-studded duo will now immediately go to work renovating the space with the ambitious goal of opening 
  34. Let’s hear it for a music hall Major!Daily Mail
    Major points out that Eliot’s contemporary, Virginia Woolf, was another improbable enthusiast, noting excitedly in her diary that she’d been to see the legendary Marie Lloyd. By this stage though, Woolf recorded,. Lloyd was ‘scarcely able to walk 
  35.  A play set in a women’s toilet is a surprise successDigitalJournal.com
    The BBC notes that, in the play ‘Sailing On’, two characters drawn from more notable works: Shakespeare’s Ophelia and Virginia Woolf, interact with the small audience while trying to help another character called Romola (drawn from a George Elliot novel).
  36. Novel finds the grit and light of the streets of VictoriaVictoria Times Colonist
    Consider the gardening wonk who told Virginia Woolf that she put the wrong flowers in To the Lighthouse. Woolf was justifiably irritated. Fiction takes place, not in the real world, but next door to it, in the house of what-if. Yet the questions bubble 
  37. Eva Figes, Author and Feminist, Dies at 80New York Times
    Virginia Woolf and Kafka were the huge influences she looked back to,” Orlando Figes, a historian and author, said. Much of Ms. Figes’s fiction was concerned with the passage of time. “Waking” (1981) tells one woman’s story through her awakening from
  38. Novel ideas: UK literary escapesThe Guardian
    A garden studio sleeping two at Virginia Woolf’s country retreat, Monk’s House, is now available through the National Trust. Monk’s House, a modest 18th-century weatherboard property in the village of Rodmell near Lewes, was used by Woolf and her 
  39. BOOK REVIEW: ‘Gorra’Washington Times
    Today it is recognized as one of the great American novels, the link, as author Michael Gorra states, “between George Eliot and Virginia Woolf.” As such, the book continues to sell 25,000 copies a year. James conceived the story while traveling in 
  40. The Diary: Teju ColeFinancial Times
    I enjoy her excitement about it; we talk about Virginia Woolf, and about how Woolf dealt with reviews of her work (badly, from which we both take some comfort). I’ve time only for a little tourism. At the National Gallery of Scotland, I’m drawn in by 
  41. What books make the best movies?Globe and Mail
    The advent in the twenties of the great modernist writers coincided with the rise of film. Indeed, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, William Faulkner (who briefly toiled in Tinseltown) were all intrigued by the movies, particularly by the narrative fluency 
  42. ‘Fame,’ ‘Celebrity,’ ‘Stardom’ and Other Dirty WordsHuffington Post
     of Virginia Woolf? while he was a Yale undergraduate (the Nick was David Hyde Pierce); Marcia Cross may have been a crazed denizen of Melrose Place and a Desperate Housewife, but she’s a Juilliard grad who did Shakespeare before achieving fame.
  43. The God of MarriageNew York Times (blog)
    I had chosen to write my British literature term paper on the notion of marriage in Virginia Woolf’s“Mrs. Dalloway,” despite the Orthodox Jewish Girl stereotypes that decision sent buzzing in my head. (You religious girls in your 20s. One-track minds 
  44. Opening up and inside outThe Economist (blog)
    His latest novel, “Umbrella”, is a wordy stream-of-consciousness narrative that is unashamedly modernist in style and structure. With echoes of James Joyce andVirginia Woolf, the narrative is made up of fragmented sequences, defying any linear movements.
  45. THEATRE: Local Listings > September 6Camden New Journal newspapers website
     and obsession. • PENTAMETERS, 28 Heath Street, NW3, 020 7435 3648. Vita & Virginia, Thurs-Sun, 8pm (Sun, 5pm). £10 (£8 concs). Until Sept 9. The 20-year love affair between author Virginia Woolf and the aristocrat Vita Sackville-West is brought to 

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Cover of "Life Class: A Novel"

Pat Barker’s new novel, Toby’s Room, hasn’t been released in the States yet, but I’m looking forward to it eagerly, with its allusions to Jacob’s Room. Instead, I found the 2008 Life Class at the library and snapped it up. Only later did I recall having heard that Toby’s Room is a sequel to Life Class; my reading it first is purely serendipitous.

Barker is in her most familiar territory, World War I, in this story about Paul and Elinor, who meet as painting students at the Slade. When the war starts, Paul leaves his studies to serve as an ambulance driver in France. Toby is Elinor’s brother, a medical student, and he too enlists. Elinor and Paul correspond regularly, and she writes to him about an exciting encounter:

“I’ve been to tea with Lady Ottoline Morrell! I never thought I’d live to see the day. I met her at the Camden Street Gallery and she looked at me very intently for a long time and then she said in that vague way of hers, wafting a jeweled hand about above her head, You must come to tea sometime. Do come to tea….” Elinor is prepared to dismiss this as idle chatter until she receives a written invitation, which she accepts. She describes the encounter to Paul: “She’s not easy to talk to, though she is interested in everything you say. You feel she’s listening, not just waiting for the chance to make some clever remark her self like most of that Bloomsbury crowd….”

A group at Garsington Manor, country home of L...

A group at Garsington Manor, country home of Lady Ottoline Morrell, near Oxford. Left to right: Lady Ottoline Morrell, Mrs. Aldous Huxley, Lytton Strachey, Duncan Grant, and Vanessa Bell. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The acquaintanceship continues. Elinor isn’t totally comfortable; she feels that Lady Ott wants something from her—”She seems to be drawing your soul out of your body … a kind of cannibalism”—but she’s swept up in the milieu. She writes to Paul about a party at which Ott holds up a purple feather boa and hands it to “a tall etiolated man with a straggly beard who wrapped it around his neck and immediately started to dance a minuet….” What do you think—Lytton? Later, Elinor is “seized by a man who looked like a highly intelligent teddy bear and spoke with dry, devouring passion about how the war must stop, now, at once, this instant, keeping his gaze fixed on my bosom the while…” Clive?

Woolf isn’t mentioned, but you sense her in the shadows, perhaps in deep conversation with someone or other on a velvet covered settee. And apparently Elinor will meet her in Toby’s Room.

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Today we have another Woolf sighting of  Virginia Woolf in contemporary fiction, this one in a novel by Pat Barker aptly (for a Woolf reference) titled Toby’s Room. It is due out in August, and once again, it comes via the  VWoolf Listserv, this time from Stephen Barkway.

The Woolf reference is spelled out in a Guardian piece titled “The Big Novels of 2012,” and it reads:

Barker’s focus is art student Elinor Brooke, torn between a desperate desire for independence and a feeling (partly ascribed to Virginia Woolf, whom she briefly meets) that the war has nothing to do with women.

In this novel, Barker brings back students of the Slade School of Art, whom readers first met in her 2007 novel Life Class, set in 1941. It was a move she predicted during an interview with The Guardian back in 2007.

The narrative of Toby’s Room takes place between 1912 and 1917 and involves art student Elinor Brooke’s search for her brother Toby who is reported “Missing, Believed Killed” during World War I.

Barker is best known for her Regeneration trilogy, which includes Regeneration (1991), The Eye in the Door (1993) and The Ghost Road (1995).

Watch an interview with Barker about the novel, and you will note even more similarities to Woolf.

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