The blog is dead! Long live the blog!

I miss blogging.

2012 has turned out to be my worst year for blogging yet. And, alas, one of my best for facebook. Now, I love facebook. I would never bore you with pictures of my daughters swirling apples around in a bowl of melted caramel, but there, in that happy let’s-pretend stew of friends from kindergarten up through now, there is something comforting in getting a few “likes” for that image of happy childhood.

Still, this was better. A better discipline for me and better for my writing.

I submitted the mss of my edition of Mrs. Dalloway on January 31. But it wasn’t quite right, and so the editors asked for a bunch of changes. I resubmitted it in June, but I didn’t send it to right batch of editors. Finally, every superior editor signed off on my work in August and, two Fridays ago, on 9/28, I submitted it a third time. I’m hoping it’s the charm.

And, part of that hope is all about the hope that I can return to writing little tiny essays here from time to time.

We shall see.

Speaking of Woolf….

I’ve now done two of four sessions on Woolf for a book discussion series at the Brooklyn Public Library. They have been amazing. Preparing to talk about Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse with a group (how big? somewhere between twenty and forty) of adults, some of whom have been reading Woolf since before I was born, others who’ve never read her is thrilling and nerve-wracking. I can do little else on the day of a talk.

But then, to get into a room with other adults who’ve chosen to spend part of their day thinking and talking about a writer is a deeply moving thing and, once we get going, the time takes care of itself.

The conversation I had on Sunday, however, was unlike any other conversation I’ve had about Woolf in all my quarter century of studying her.

Luna Stage, just down the road from me in West Orange, is mounting the New Jersey Premier of Vita and Virginia (Eileen Atkins’ wonderful adaptation of letters to tell the story of Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf’s love affair and of their continuing friendship thereafter) and they invited me to give a talkback after one of the performances. Of course, I said yes. A friend and I were already planning to go.

Then they asked me if I would speak with the director and the actresses.

On Sunday, I did.

We planned to talk for an hour, but it quickly grew to two. I did my best to tell them how to pronounce Lytton Strachey and Violet Trefusis. I tried to explain, not as an intellectual, but in ways that would help an actress, what I thought drew these women to each other, how I understood their sexualities and their attraction to each other. By the end of the time, the actresses were more in character than out, “I think I’m jealous…” “I say you don’t get anything done, but you get so much done…”

What a magical thing: to knock on a door, meet a group of strangers, and, within moments be passionately debating what it might have been like to be another woman altogether.

I’m still smiling.

If you’re in the area, I’ll be talking about Between the Acts on Wednesday, 9/19, 3:00-5:00 and about Moments of Being two weeks later, on 10/3. Both of these events are at the Brooklyn Public Library. These discussions are free and open to the public.

My talkback at Luna Stage is after the 3:00 PM performance on Sunday 9/30. The actresses are amazing and tickets are only $25.


It’s been a hard month at Fernham. I was so excited to turn in the first submission of Mrs. Dalloway in January. Making the revisions in May, however, was less exciting. Still, I thought we were moving closer to proof stage. I worked around the clock, as hard as I know how, sure that I was making progress toward a book. Now, it turns out that what I’ve done has to go to the series editors one more time and then to the Advisory Board. The goal posts haven’t just moved, they have receded from sight. I’m not sure why I didn’t understand the process, but it’s considerably lengthier and more involved than with my first book.

The good news is that the series editors tell me that what they’ve seen is good.

The good news, for you, is that this will make for a better book.

The bad news is that I am beyond done with thinking about this project. The bloom is off the rose, the flowers have wilted, and I’m ready to quit. On top of everything else, the editors are also asking me to excise all my Americanisms. Not knowing what those are, I’ve asked them, with all due respect, to do it themselves.

In the end, this is probably only a two-month delay, but I’m so discouraged that it feels like this book is never going to be done. Sometimes, unfortunately, the scholar’s life is even less than it’s cracked up to be.

One last draft footnote

31:9 Princess Mary Princess Mary (1897-1965) was the third child and only daughter of George V and Queen Mary. She married Viscount Henry Lascelles (1882-1947) on February 28, 1922. Lascelles had been an early suitor of Vita Sackville-West and would be the model for the Archduke Harry in O. Michael North notes that, for many people in England, this royal wedding was a sign that the war was finally over (5). Woolf took a passing interest in the wedding ‘Please tell me why Pr. Mary married Ld. Lascelles’ (L2 511). Later Clarissa's maid Lucy imagines herself as attending Princess Mary (59). 

Happy Birthday, Miss Jan

Adeline Virginia Stephen, later Virginia Woolf, was born on this day in 1882. One of her family nicknames was Miss Jan, on account of her January birthday. In the Monday 21st December [1891] issue of the Hyde Park Gate News, young Virginia, nearly 10, this fictional love letters, part of a regular series in the HPGN:
My own Tom I love you with that fervent passion with which my father regards Roast beef but I do not look upon you with the same eyes as my father for he likes Roast Beef for its tast [sic] but I like you for your personal merits.
Happy Birthday, Miss Jan!

Draft footnote of the day: the green dress

58:14-15 By artificial light the green shone The green dress that becomes magical by artificial light reverses a distressing memory of a green dress gone wrong: ‘Down I came one winter’s evening about 1900 in my green dress […] All the lights were turned up in the drawing room; and by the blazing fire George sat, in dinner jacket and tie, cuddling the dachshund [….] He said at last: “Go and tear it up”’ (MB 151).

Draft footnote of the day: red flowers in Flanders Fields

104:19-20 Red flowers grew through his flesh John McCrae’s 1915 poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ commemorates the fact of red poppies blooming abundantly in battlefields that saw some of the heaviest casualties during World War One: ‘In Flanders fields the poppies blow / Between the crosses, row on row’ (1-2). Line six begins ‘We are the dead.’ Since 1920, the red poppy has been a symbol of remembrance of the war dead.


Not her most charitable mood, but sometimes I find myself thinking something similar about those #occupy kids. Yeah, they're my heroes, but they're kind of weird...
266:20 Hampstead Village in North London dating from the eighteenth century, where artists and freethinkers have resided. The poet John Keats, who, like Jim Hutton, Woolf imagines in red socks, lived in Hampstead from 1818-1820 (see EN 265.28). He wrote ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ there. Adjacent is the preserved open space of Hampstead Heath. Cf. ‘It’s unfortunate the civilization always lights up the dwarfs, cripples, & sexless people first. And Hampstead provides them’ (D 1:110; 21 January 1918).

Draft footnote of the day: Albanians

181:8 Albanians Albania, too, was in the news at this time, although for far different reasons than Armenia and with much less public sympathy from Britain. By 1921, Albania was bankrupt, having been at war continuously since 1910. The discovery of oil led the British-based Anglo-Persian Oil Company to send significant financial support to Ahmed Zogu. Zogu was elected prime minister in 1922, then, president in 1925. In 1928, Albania became a monarchy and Zogu, its king, Zog I. See Vickers.

This morning's mystery

I'm off to read 'The Rape of Lucrece' for Mrs. Dalloway and it strikes me as a pretty grim task. I was summarizing Cymbeline yesterday, trying to describe how Imogen's husband makes a bet that she is faithful, sets up a friend to test her, and he sneaks into her bedroom and spies on her while she's asleep. Later he pretends to have raped her.

Then, I spent all that time re-reading Clarissa last spring which is all about rape.

And the other Clarissa in literature is the rapist's accessory in 'The Rape of the Lock.'

And Jane de Gay's book pointed me to the links between Clarissa's thought that there will be no more marrying and Hamlet's 'Get thee to a nunnery' speech.

So why, I want to know, is Clarissa Dalloway's happy memory of love also Othello's feeling? Why, when she remembers feeling in love, does she remember the feeling of a lover who will become a murderer, a man who will go mad from suspicion of his wife's infidelity?

Looked at from this angle, the violence and the threat of rape seems to be in too many places with no one untainted.

Draft footnotes of the day: The Tempest & Cymbeline

Jane de Gay's excellent book led me to look again at Ariel's song in The Tempest. Earlier, I had heard 'those are pearls that were his eyes' more strongly through Eliot's quotation of it than through Shakespeare himself. Jane's work taught me to think differently and led me to a great dog footnote too. Enjoy.
61:18 Fear no more From Cymbeline. See EN 16:23. See also 46:26, 211:1. Jane deGay notes that Woolf’s earlier allusion to Ariel’s song from The Tempest (47:21) informs this allusion to Cymbeline: ‘Fear no more says the heart, committing its burden to the sea’ (61:18-19). Both songs are dirges sung for characters presumed dead who turn out to be alive (de Gay 89). See also EN:61:24. 
61:24 the dog barking See The Tempest: ‘Hark, hark! | burthen dispersedly, [within]. Bow-wow. | The watch-dogs bark! (1:2:381-383). This, from the first half of Ariel’s song, closely follows the combined allusion to Cymbeline and The Tempest above (61:18).

Shakespeare, the sun to our little moons

One of the puzzles in writing footnotes to Mrs. Dalloway is that the direct allusions don't necessarily correlate to the writers who most influenced Woolf. This makes a lot of sense--we often talk a lot about influences that bother us and talk seldom at all about those who are so important to us that they run in our veins. Still, one of my challenges as an editor has been to think about ways to depict this accurately. Woolf herself offers an explanation for this phenomenon in this discussion of Shakespeare from the 1924 essay ‘Indiscretions’: 
‘Of Shakespeare we need not speak. The nimble little birds of field and hedge, lizards, shrews and dormice, do not pause in their dallyings and sporting to thank the sun for warming them; nor need we, the light of whose literature comes from Shakespeare, seek to praise him’ (E 3:463)
It's a beautiful metaphor. I've certainly found a lot more Shakespeare than I expected in Mrs. Dalloway and, thank to other critics, will be able to cite many more.

Mocking James

Nothing is better than when Virginia Woolf gets going on Henry James. (We have played this game before.) This is from a review of a very bad-sounding book of reminiscences of 19th c. novelists by Molly MacCarthy:
'through the drawing-room door we may hear the reverberation of Mr. Henry James, who, seeing the end of his sentence in the distance, with uplifted hand and rumbling fence of sound wards off intruders.' (E 3 444).

Hello, TR; Hello 2012

Why not start the year with more dark comedy? This from a review by Woolf of a book on Teddy Roosevelt. 'Body and Brain' is the title of the review & Woolf's point is that TR, unlike many politicians, clearly possessed both:

When he was President of the United States a cowboy came up to him and said, ‘Mr. President, I have been in jail a year for killing a gentleman.’ ‘How did you do it?’ asked the President, meaning to inquire as to the circumstances. ‘Thirty-eight on a forty-five frame,’ replied the man, thinking that the only interest the President had was that of a comrade who wanted to know with what kind of tool the trick was done.’ No other President, it is said, from Washington to Wilson, would have drawn that answer. (E 3:225)

Good-bye Lord Harcourt, Good-bye 2011

2011, I leave you with this bit of black humor from Woolf's 1919 review of Edward Jerningham and his Friends:

‘Lord Harcourt, indeed, vanished in an extremely abrupt and, to him, unpleasant manner, being found “in a narrow well, nothing appearing above water but the feet and legs, occasioned, as it is imagined, by his over-reaching himself to save the life of a favourite dog, who was found in the well with him, standing on his lordship’s feet"’ (E 3:60-61)
Happy New Year to all. 

The edition is due on January 31. I am in the thick of it. 

Even Woolf nods

In the finished novel, Clarissa's maybe-I-should-have-married-him friend, Peter Walsh, has a young (24) girlfriend called, obviously enough, Daisy. But in the draft, she was, for a moment & far too obviously, Daisy Summers. I cannot tell you how happy it makes me to learn how ham-fisted Woolf could be in her drafts and how sure she was in her revisions to excise such silliness.

Daisy Buchanan came into being in the spring of 1925 as well, by the way.

As a name, Daisy first became popular in the Victorian period, along with other flower names. 

Draft footnote of the day: She was at her worst

252.6 “How delightful to see you!” In her 1919 essay, “The Royal Academy,” Woolf describes an unidentified portrait of a woman in full evening dress: “She stands at the top of a staircase… about to greet someone of distinction who advances towards her up the stairs. Not a hair is out of place. Her lips are just parted. She is about to say, ‘How nice of you to come!’” (E 3.89).