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Posts Tagged ‘World War II’

Tomorrow is Memorial Day in the U.S., the day when we remember and honor those who died in the service of our country. Although I consider myself a pacifist, I feel a special sense of gratitude to those who fought in World War II, the conflict I often think of as “the Good War.”

I am not alone. Elizabeth D. Samet, author of Looking for the Good War: American Amnesia and the Violent Pursuit of Happiness (2021), explains that this “flattering and seductive narrative” regarding World War II took hold in the 1990s, around the time of the 50th anniversary of the conflict. And it has become engrained in American consciousness since then.

The U.S., ambivalence and isolationism

Samet makes the case for a different reality, one of American ambivalence about the war, as well as a reluctance to become involved.  The bombing of Pearl Harbor changed that, but it still did not result in universal American support. The ambivalence, differences of opinion, and different levels of support for the war existed before, during — and even after — U.S. involvement, she explains.

“The idea that we went to war specifically or primarily to liberate Europe is largely a fiction, even though we obviously helped to accomplish that feat,” Samet explains. “We went to war because we were attacked and because we felt suddenly that there was an existential threat.”

The lives of the Woolfs during World War II

Virginia and Leonard Woolf, living in London and Lewes during the war years, experienced deprivation, bombing, and enemy planes flying overhead, leaving them no choice but to support the war. Leonard was a member of the Home Guard. Virginia wove messages about war and its consequences into her writing. Most notable from the mid-1930s on are three novels: The Years (1937), Three Guineas (1938), and the posthumously published Between the Acts (1941), as well as essays such as “The Leaning Tower” (1940) and “Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid” (1940).

Nevertheless, they tried to live their lives as normally as possible, despite the enemy planes that flew above their heads at Monk’s House. This passage from Leonard’s Downhill All the Way (1967), volume four in his five-volume autobiography, provides a good example.

I will end … with a little scene that took place in the last months of peace. They were the most terrible months of my life, for, helplessly and hopelessly, one watched the inevitable approach of war. One of the most horrible things at that time was to listen on the wireless to the speeches of Hitler — the savage and insane ravings of a vindictive underdog who suddenly saw himself to be all-powerful. We were in Rodmell during the late summer of 1939, and I used to listen to those ranting, raving speeches. One afternoon I was planting in the orchard under an apple-tree iris reticulata, those lovely violet flowers. … Suddenly I heard Virginia’s voice calling to me from the sitting room window: “Hitler is making a speech.” I shouted back, “I shan’t come. I’m planting iris and they will be flowering long after he is dead.” Last March, twenty-one years after Hitler committed suicide in the bunker, a few of those violet flowers still flowered under the apple-tree in the orchard.

The Woolfs and wartime music

As part of their effort to get on with their lives, the Woolf listened to music on the wireless, as well as on their gramophone. And now, thanks to Marielle O’Neill, doctoral researcher at Leeds Trinity University and Executive Council Member of the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain, we can listen in on the wartime music they enjoyed.

With the help of Stephen Barkway’s classical music expertise, O’Neill has created a playlist on Spotify of the Woolfs’ wartime music. She based her list on a purchase of Woolfs’ gramophone records made by Sheila Wilkinson, Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain co-founder.

Wilkinson purchased the records and their annotated storage box at a Lewes auction 20 years ago. According to Barkway, Leonard recorded — in his own shaky hand — the dates on which he and Virginia listened to each record on index cards cut in half. Wilkinson found four of these cards in the archive that corresponded with the records she had purchased.

Wilkinson donated the records to Charleston, who later sold them to the National Trust, which ultimately returned them to Monk’s House.

Listen to the Woolfs’ wartime music on Spotify

The Woolfs’ Wartime Music can now be accessed by everyone, thanks to O’Neill’s ingenuity. She has included old recordings that appeared on the 78 rpm records purchased from Monk’s House. They include music by Beethoven, Schubert, Mozart, and Brahms.

In addition, members of the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain can read Barkway’s article about the Woolfs’ musical tastes around the time of the Second World War in the May issue of the society’s Virginia Woolf Bulletin. In “Some of the Woolfs’ Gramophone Records: A Spotify Playlist,” Barkway pairs the Woolfs’ musical selections with events from the Woolfs’ life, as well as with quotes from Virginia’s diary, letters, and autobiographical writing.

The article includes information that Wilkinson shared in a booklet she produced for delegates during a “Virginia in Yorkshire” study week in Settle. On the final night that week, Barkway introduced and played the Woolfs’ records at Wilkinson’s request.

Join the VWSGB

If you are not a member of the VWSGB but would like to be, you can easily join.

 

 

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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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A photograph of Hitler’s “Black Book,” or “hit-list.”

The DailyMail.co.uk is reporting that historians have “digitized the first full English translation” of Adolf Hitler’s “Black Book,” which contained the names of many British figures whom he planned to have arrested (or killed) if Germany were to take over Britain.

Although there were once around 20,000 copies of the list, according to the Daily Mail, “only two are said to exist today.”

From the Daily Mail article:

Historians have painstakingly researched all 2,820 ‘enemies of the state, traitors and undesirables’ who were ‘marked for punishment or death’ that featured in the Nazi leader’s so-called Black Book.

The result is a comprehensive digitized database that reveals who the wanted citizens were, why they were a threat to the Nazis and what was to become of them.

The list is made up of hundreds of prominent politicians, authors, poets, journalists, actors, scientists, musicians, heads of industry and religious leaders.

EM-Forster

English novelist E.M. Forster was also listed in Hitler’s “Black Book” as an “enemy of the state.”

Both Leonard and Virginia Woolf are on the list. Virginia was classified in Hitler’s list as an “enemy of the state.”Other famous writers on Hitler’s list include:

  • H.G. Wells
  • Vera Brittain
  • E.M. Forster
  • Aldous Huxley

Read the Daily Mail article to see other Brits who were on Hitler’s list and learn more about Hitler’s “Black Book” and SS-Oberführer Walter Schellenberg, the man responsible for compiling the book.

You can also access the list itself, which consists of 144 pages and 2,813 names. Virginia and Leonard are on Page 277.

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Elizabeth F. Evans

Elizabeth Evans

Elizabeth Evans will give a lecture titled “Virginia Woolf’s Airplanes: Air Power and Aerial Views Between the World Wars” at 6 p.m. on Feb. 17 in Technology Building Room 301 at Purdue University North Central. It is free and open to the public.

Evans, assistant teaching professor at the University of Notre Dame, will examine the effects the growing importance of military air power had on British art and literature during the interwar years. Her research focuses specifically on Woolf’s work, specifically Mrs. Dalloway (1925) and The Years (1937).

In a 2013 essay, “Air War, Propaganda, and Woolf’s Anti-Tyrrany Aesthetic,” which appeared in Volume 59, Issue 1 of the journal Modern Fiction Studies, Evans argues that Woolf is both attracted to and troubled by the unique point of view the airplane provides. She admires its aesthetic possibilities but is disturbed by its seemingly inevitable links to warfare.

Evans edited Woolf and the City: Selected Papers from the 19th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf (2010). She is now at work on a book about aerial views in British and Anglophone writing from the early twentieth century to the present.

For more information, contact Dr. Heather Fielding, PNC Assistant Professor of English, at hfieldin@pnc.edu or at 219-785-5327.

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