Posts Tagged ‘Patricia Laurence’

Like another Woolf blogger I know, I am writing from a room of my own on the Jersey side of the Hudson.

Well, it’s not really my own room. I am sharing it with my husband. And I don’t own it. I am merely renting it for the night.

But we have driven up from Ohio to see Septimus and Clarissa, the stage adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway that is on stage until Oct. 8 at the Baruch Performing Arts Center in New York City.

I will post more about the rave-winning play after we see it tomorrow night. Meanwhile, here is a link to a review written by another Woolfian, Patricia Laurence, Woolf scholar and professor of English at Brooklyn College, the City University of New York:

The Mindscape of Septimus and Clarissa: Ripe Time Adapts Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway in The Brooklyn Rail 


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Anne Fernald posted a message to the VWoolf Listserv directing us to Sarah Funke Butler’s post on The Paris Review website that discusses a letter Woolf wrote to her nephew Julian Bell in 1929.

Patricia Laurence, author of Julian Bell, The Violent Pacifist, a monograph in Cecil Woolf Publishers Bloomsbury Heritage Series, added her insights to the listserv discussion:

“The poem that Woolf refers to in her letter is probably “Chaffinches” published in the Songs for Sixpence Series, 1929, Cambridge. Julian’s early poetry was not marked by `modernist’ or `currency’ in subject, diction, rhythms or metres. His promise in `Chaffinches’ is marked rather by his Hopkinesque description of birds:

Startled, flock after springing flock they rise
With rustle of beating wings as as each flies
The sudden coverts flicker white,
In drooping, jerked finch flight
Of rise and fall: Stray chinking call.

“Nature description and the pastoral came naturally to him in poetry and letters, and when in Paris in 1930, `his first experience of a large town’, made him not a modernist but `fiercely naturalist….sending…[him] to watch all the gulls and sparrows of Paris.” Romanticism (what he viewed as “emotionalism”) and modernism (currency) were anathema to him, and the consciousness of “the chasm in the road’ after the Great War is absent from most of his poetry–though he is of the Auden generation.

“Nevertheless, though he may not have been as talented as others in Bloomsbury, he was not given much encouragement by his family.”

The letter is part of a Virginia Woolf collection currently held by Glenn Horowitz Bookseller, Inc., which features a photo titled Virginia Woolf Goes to the Beach on its home page.

Woolf items are featured in two of Horowitz’s catalogues: The Robert Reedman Collection of Virginia Woolf and Bloomsbury and Virginia & Leonard Woolf. The company also offers Vita Sackville-West and T.S. Eliot catalogues.

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Editor’s Note: Patricia Laurence, Woolf scholar and professor of English at Brooklyn College, the City University of New York, attended the March 16 performance of Room and wrote this review.

Lauren "projecting a stillness of mind"

Imagine a string of pearls–“moments of being”–from Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own and A Sketch of the Past strung together in a dramatic adaptation. This is the experience of attending Room, an admirable production mounted by the New York Women’s Project, under the direction of Ann Bogart, and adapted from Woolf’s works by Jocelyn Clarke.

These “moments” are a part of Woolf’s philosophy that a great part of our everyday life is lived as “non-being,” or what she calls the “cotton wool” of ordinary experience. But “one’s life is not confined to one’s body and what one says and does,” asserts Woolf, and behind “the cotton wool” of the every day is a hidden pattern. This pattern is revealed in exceptional and infrequent “illuminations, matches struck in the dark,” moments of being.

It is these moments that are revisited in Room a praiseworthy effort to bring Virginia Woolf’s words and advice about writing and reading to broader audiences–though the night I attended, the words were addressed  to, mostl,y a room of women.

Though imaginatively choreographed by Ellen Lauren and Ann Bogart—at times, almost a dance of the body to accompany the dance of Woolf’s mind–this production misses the mark. In transforming Woolf’s writing into a dramatic production, it ignores her philosophy and her own pattern of narration—that moments of being are embedded in the ordinary cotton wool of experience and, therefore, shine all the brighter when they occur.

In this production, moments and polemics combine and are too densely packed to have their effect. Where, one wonders, is the cotton wool, the ordinary stuff of life, to buffer and frame these moments in the experience of the theatergoer? This is not just Woolf’s philosophy but also a principle of drama.

The production begins with Virginia Woolf among us: “Good Evening,” says the cool voice of Ellen Lauren, as she makes her way down the aisle to the stage, tall and lean as Woolf. She asks us to “Imagine a room, your own….” and the stage for the next ninety minutes becomes that material and inner room of the mind so important to women and fiction. It is a room with a closed door that invites women to write.

Originally A Room of One’s Own was a lecture delivered to the women of Newnham and Girton Colleges, Cambridge University, in 1928– the year full equal voting rights would be extended to women in England—and then published in written form, 1929. Given the times, Woolf is always self-conscious about tone as she weaves her arguments against the exclusion of women from education, jobs and the material conditions necessary to the writing of fiction. Sensitive always to how the male audience would “hear” and be persuaded by her lecture—Woolf works by stealth and indirection in arguing and avoids stridency of tone. At times, in Bogart’s production this tone is violated, absorbing didacticism and assertiveness from another time and place.

Nevertheless, we listen attentively to the flight of Woolf’s mind, and her reflections on “what is meant by reality”; how the writer has “a shock-receiving capacity”; the “moments of being” of appreciating a flower “that is the whole” or experiencing revulsion at violence. And, importantly, in portraying Woolf in this production, how memoirs too often are failures because they say, “this is what happened” but “they leave out the person to whom things happened.” In finale, it is asserted that “you cannot write without a room of your own,” and money, a material condition that Woolf would have added to this production.

There were some wonderful moments in this production where Ellen Lauren captured the rapture and the waves in the synchrony of Woolf’s words and her body. What is intriguing about this production is that the actress, and Ann Bogart, the director and founder of the SITI theater company with Tadashi Suzuki, studied photographs of Woolf and created a lexicon of physical structures, what they term “a sort of alphabet.”

As the words of Woolf unfolded during the production, there was a physical score, so that at one moment, we observe Lauren bent sideward over a chair, magically not touching it, and projecting a stillness of mind. At another time, she dances the rapture of Woolf’s words. It is this–the choreography of words, mind and body that speaks to a new kind of acting and direction in Woolf productions (and, hopefully, productions that will involve astute Woolf critics and scholars in the process).

For those living in NYC, there are two more days–through Sunday, March 27—to see this production.

Blogging Woolf readers can save on tickets to Room


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Laurence is the author of Lily Briscoe's Chinese Eyes

After she attends tonight’s performance of Room, Woolf scholar Patricia Laurence will write a review of the play based on Virginia Woolf’s writing. 

Laurence is is a writer, critic and professor of English at Brooklyn College, the City University of New York.

The play is on stage through March 27 at the  Julia Miles Theater, 424 W. 55th St., and Blogging Woolf readers can get half-price tickets by using the code you will find at this link.

Read more about Woolf’s Room on stage in NY March 12-27.

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