It's not too late to attend the Woolf Conference at Fordham's Lincoln Center campus.

We're expecting over 200 people starting on Thursday. The first talks begin at noon.

We have plenary sessions every day. Rebecca Solnit will be giving the keynote address on Friday afternoon at 3:30.

You may purchase a day-pass for $45. 4-day passes are $175. We will have volunteers helping register people beginning at 10:00 on Thursday morning. All events are in our classroom building at 113 W 60th, with plenary sessions in Pope Auditorium (street level), registration one flight up (escalator) on the Plaza, and most sessions on the 5th floor.

We have some wonderful fiction writers and poets reading from work inspired by Woolf on Friday, 1:30-3:00 and on Saturday, 11:00-12:30. On Saturday, 2:00-3:30, NYC public high school girls in Girls Write Now will be reading their work inspired by Woolf and from 4:00-5:30 we will have a panel discussion featuring three amazing women inspired by Woolf.

We also have two ticketed events. On Thursday at 8:00 we will be hosting a staged reading of "Vita & Virginia" directed by Matthew Maguire. Tickets are $15 at the door. On Friday at 8:00, The Stephen Pelton Dance Theater and the band Princeton are presenting a one-night only collaboration of Woolf inspired modern dance & pop music. Tickets for that are $20 at the door.

You can find more information about the conference at our conference website. Please note that the website lists the Merc reception as being on Thursday: we changed the date to Friday.

Un Cuarto Propio

I never did blog about my recent trip to the 18th Annual Woolf Conference in Denver the other week. That experience my be lost to the ether. One part of it, however, I want to make sure to document: Leah Leone’s paper on Borges’ translation of A Room of One’s Own, Un Cuarto Propio. Leah explained that, given Borges’ stature—and Woolf’s—this particular translation of Woolf’s 1929 feminist pamphlet is by far the most widely available one. It was commissioned by another Latin American modernist and Woolf fan, Victoria Ocampo. However, while Ocampo was a feminist, Borges was not.

Leone’s paper laid out in really persuasive detail five or six examples of moment when Borges muted Woolf’s feminism. For example, even though Borges’ collection of stories was entitled Ficciones, he translated the phrase “woman and fiction” as “las mujeres y la novela” (working from memory with only Dora-grade Spanish) abjuring the cognate “fiction”—less common in Spanish but very much in Borges’ vocabulary—in favor of the Spanish for novel. Why does this matter? “Novel” is a narrower genre, a more feminine one, and a genre that Borges did not admire.

Elsewhere, where Woolf uses “we” in the context of a room full of women, Borges translated the pronoun not as “nosotras,” which indicates women, but “nosotros” which indicates any group that contains at least one man. Sigh.

Still, what was so elegant about Leah’s paper was that for all she found lacking in the Borges translation, she did not deliver a screed against him. Instead, she discussed feminist theories of translation on the one hand and what we can learn about Borges himself on the other.

Part of me wanted someone to get up and just really get angry about the injustice of it all, but mostly I was really impressed and fascinated by Leah’s work—and I know that I would have striven for the same balanced and intellectual tone that she so ably struck.

I wished Ana Maria had been there, but I promised Leah that I’d write it up so that she could read it—and you can, too.

Apparently, there are new, better translations out—several in recent years—but they come from smaller feminist presses and, of course, don’t carry the Borges name.

UPDATED to correct my mispelling of "propio" as "propRio"--as I mention in the comments, I'm sure it's all those years of trying to get my tongue around the French "propre." I don't speak Spanish, so I muddle my way through...

Woolf & Spies

Via the vwoolf listserv, from a week or so back.

Seems I'm not the only one obsessed with Woolf and James Bond....

If I could bring an author back to life...

In the week that Sebastian Faulks revived the work of Ian Fleming, we asked five writers to do the same for their favourite novelists

Katy Guest chooses Virginia Woolf

A plausible charmer once told me that my email style reminded him of Virginia Woolf's obscurer essays. He later said that I looked like her, which spoiled the compliment, but of course I wish I could write like that. Who else could be so thrilling in a story in which hardly anything happens? Sebastian Faulks says that Bond was difficult to write because he has "almost no internal life". Then Woolf's novels are the anti-Bond: her characters have interior life – to the exclusion of much else. In fact, Bond would be about the same age as the six year-old James in To the Lighthouse. Which could explain a lot...

To the Spy Who Loved Me

"Yes, of course, if it's fine tomorrow," said Mrs Bond. "But you'll have to be up with the lark," she added.

To her son these words conveyed an extraordinary joy, as if it were settled that the target practice were bound to take place, and the karate lesson to which he had looked forward, for years and years it seemed, was, after a night's darkness and a quick fumble on the beach with the lighthouse keeper's crippled daughter, within touch. Since he belonged, even at the age of six, to that great clan of English public schoolboys who cannot express any emotion at all, and must let future prospects, of mutilating mackerel and throwing them back into the sea, foreshadow what is actually at hand, since to such people any expression of suffocating motherly compassion or paternal disapproval has the power to crystallise and fix the moment somewhere only the best-paid Harley Street shrink could ever find it, James Bond, sitting on the floor cutting out pictures from the illustrated catalogue of Italian-made Beretta 418s, endowed that picture of cold steel with heavenly bliss. It was fringed with joy. The Aston Martin DB5, the Rolex submariner, the sound of heavy breathing, a naked girl softly singing on a beach – all these were so coloured and distinguished in the mind of this image of handsome British manhood unformed, though there was something a bit cruel in the mouth, and the eyes were cold, so that his mother, watching him guide his scissors with deadly skill around the pictures, imagined that it might take only the slightest disappointment to this childish sensibility, the smallest snub from a figure of authority, to turn this sweet, rumple-haired child into a ruthless killer.

"But," said his father, stopping in front of the drawing room window, "it won't be fine."

Jolie Woolf: Passing Glances

So, I bought the June Vanity Fair in order to read Todd Purdum’s article on the end of Bill Clinton (scary, good). As a bonus, Angelina Jolie is on the cover and there’s a nice interview with her about how happy she is to be pregnant, how much she loves motherhood, blah, blah, blah. It’s embarrassingly riveting. For all my education, I still do love reading celebrity profiles and there is something especially fascinating to me these days in reading those of the “I’m a working mom, too” variety. Shame!

But there, in tiny six-point font on the magazine’s cover, on Jolie’s left upper arm, is this quotation: “As a woman I have no country. My country is the whole world.”—Virginia Woolf.

You have to smile.

The quotation is from Woolf’s 1938 pacifist pamphlet, Three Guineas. It was wildly unpopular when published for it linked patriarchy to fascism, forcing the English to look inward at their complicity with the rise of Hitler precisely when it was most convenient and expedient to demonize the fascists. Women have no country, in Woolf’s argument, because a country offers benefits in exchange for loyalty and women have gotten nothing from their country—no citizenship rights, no legal standing as individuals, no inheritance, no right even to serve.

So it’s askew of the original context, but not completely perverse, to apply it to Jolie, the current poster child for UN Refugees and international adoption. It’s very weird—and non-Woolfian—to make this quotation so earth-mother-y, but it’s right and very Woolfian to recall us to global connections beyond politics, to remind us of the real lives of people who are at once utterly without a voice in politics and, at the same time, grossly affected by—made homeless by—politics.

Pop Woolf: Art Education Campaign

Newsweek has now twice run an ad for Arts Education featuring Virginia Woolf. The headline is "Why some people think Virginia Woolf is the state's official animal."

And the copy goes on to explain the importance of funding arts education for kids.

You can see (and download) the ad here.

It's one of a whole series of punning ads--Whitman & chocolate, Duke Ellington & royalty, & my second favorite, the Spanish ad punning on Goya and canned beans.

The Woolf ad is on my offfice door now.

Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Woolf

So, we didn’t watch Satyricon, because my husband came home on Friday with a video for me: Alan Bennett’s screen adaptation of The History Boys. I loved it. And, having missed it in London AND New York, I was very glad to be able to see it at home.

All of which has me thinking about Alan Bennett and Virginia Woolf. And sent me to read the play I’d forever meant to read, Me, I’m Afraid of Virginia Woolf. I only knew about it from Brenda Silver’s Virginia Woolf Icon. (You can read an essay by Silver & emerging from the book here and you can read my review of Silver, too.)

I was not all that surprised to find that I loved the play and found it hilarious even as I could see its enraging anti-feminism pretty clearly. The play, a teleplay from the 70s, is about a closeted man, a lecturer in English literature, whose crisis involved a grotesquely defaced portrait of Woolf (with enormous tits) that’s up on the board for his lecture on Bloomsbury.

I went on to read another play, with a slideshow, in which a batty woman shows slides, one of which depicts one thing, but she says it depicts “Percival before he went to India and died.” In Woolf’s novel The Waves Percival dies in India.

And both The History Boys and The Uncommon Reader are rife with inspirational thoughts on reading that chime very closely to Woolf’s own thoughts.

But for a man of Bennett’s generation and working class from the North of England to admit an affinity with Woolf (that elite, effete, Londoner) would be, I guess, anathema.

Still, there’s definitely a strong love-hate relationship to Woolf here. To be continued….?

UPDATE: I’m sure you’ve already seen Maud Newton’s lovely review of Bennett for the LA Times. And, to my surprise, it was reviewed in AM NY (the subway freebie paper) this morning as part of their—get this—new book section.

How to Write, Venus Edition

Strange, then, to turn from Mosely to Danell Jones’ The Virginia Woolf Writer’s Workshop. Where all of his examples seem to lead a person to genre fiction replete with dark psychological motivations and violence (one long chapter discusses a hypothetical Mad Max-style road/vengeance father-son plot), Jones mines a more encouraging, feminine, and thoroughly Woolfian vein.

A long while back, I got a random email from her: she had this idea to cull all Woolf’s advice about writing from her books--novels, essays, diaries, and letters--into one place and write a kind of writer’s guide in the voice of Virginia Woolf. Bored and curious more than hopeful, I agreed to give it a look. Most academics won’t stick their necks out for stuff like this, but I love it, find it fun, and don’t mind venturing my opinion where my knowledge might be thin. (What, after all do I know about novel-writing?)

The manuscript was really rough but promising. I sent her my comments. She, by return of post, sent me a really beautiful scarf! That was unexpected.

The book is so much improved and it is now really, really lovely--welcoming. I read it in proofs and now the finished copy is here. It’s very pretty, which is nice. But she really pulled it off: she makes it possible to imagine the delightful, absurd but not so absurd possibility that you’re taking a writing workshop from Woolf. She’s woven together dozens and dozens of quotations from across all of Woolf’s work seamlessly and effectively (and, they’re all indexed in the back). Here’s how the book begins:
What, she writes on the board, are the conditions necessary to produce a work of art?
Up shoots the hand of a young woman in an Ani DiFranco T-shirt. “A room of her own and five hundred a year?”
True, she says, amazed how the words she wrote all those years ago seem to have sprouted wings…”
With chapters on Practicing, Working, Creating, Walking, Reading, Publishing, and Doubting, Jones captures the key topics that Woolf meditated on in her comments on writing. And, of course, these are topics of great interest to us all.

There’s another new light book on Woolf out this month, too, though I haven’t seen it yet, I’m eager to get my hands on Ilana Simons’ A Life of One’s Own: A Guide to Better Living Through the Work and Wisdom of Virginia Woolf. Maybe this will be this year’s How Proust Can Change Your Life. As tiresome and irritating as I now find Alain deBotton, that was, I thought, a genuinely amusing and good book.

Bella Woolf in the Gambia

I’m reviewing--have just reviewed--Victoria Glendinning’s biography of Leonard for the Virginia Woolf Miscellany.

There is a lot to like in the book. Leonard is a really interesting person and she lays out all the bits of him for you to think about. She never really lets the narrative run, however, so it’s often a little distracting or even frustrating. We can go for 50 pages without hearing about the Woolf’s cook and then suddenly “Louie” appears without any further explanation. I have to rack my brain to remember that she’s Woolf’s cook. What about other readers?

Here’s a bit, though, that I adored that needs no further introduction. Woolf’s charismatic older sister Bella was married to an officer in the British Empire and posted to the Gambia. She wrote to Leonard of her problems with the local Girl Guides:
I have to be very strict, very strict. Of course I can’t object to them wearing their uniforms at night to solicit men, because to them it’s a most glamourous dress. But I’ve had to put my foot down and tell them they must not give birth to their babies on the parade ground.

Lonely French Men, 2: Red White and Pink

It’s always a little silly when people want to make too much of color. I think that’s part of why I’ve been struggling to write this post for far too long now. And overwrought color symbolism can be insidious--racist and sexist, too. Still, even if we know that a color does not mean a thing, that a white dress does not equal virginity, we are still affected by the symbolic weight of seeing a young, fresh girl in a white dress. However sophisticated we might be, a white dress is different from a pink dress or a red one.

I had heard that The Mystery Guest had a Woolfian connection, but I hadn’t guessed how strong it was or that it was specifically a connection to Mrs. Dalloway. It’s a book about a confident, successful woman who gives a party. A man is an unexpected guest at that party. Flowers play a major role. The party is and is not a success.

The connection to Woolf is explicit: the novel is very involved in thinking about both Mrs. Dalloway and Joyce’s Ulysses. But the loveliest moment is one in which the protagonist comes upon a glorious and enormous bouquet of red and white roses. Praising them, his ex says, “the only flowers I could ever bear to see cut,” an allusion to Mrs. Dalloway that it takes him a moment to place. When he does, all sorts of illusions come crashing to the ground.

The flowers are red and white in Bouillier’s novel and that’s important and right, too. They are red and white in Mrs. Dalloway, colors that connote passion and purity, that seem to echo the novel’s double-vision throughout. For Clarissa’s most passionate time--her youth--was also the time when she was most in white. But the night when she meets Richard Dalloway, Peter remembers her in “something floating, white, crimson.” And now, at 52, she wears not white or red, but the cool and sexless green a mermaid’s dress, a dress for a woman who retains “a virginity preserved through childbirth.” Clarissa was in white as a young woman. Sally, in pink. And, at the party that evening, the young Elizabeth (she’s 18), who is both more and less than her mother, wears a dress that is sometimes described as red, sometimes pink. In fact--I went back and checked--the maid, an old woman, and her father perceive it as pink while Sally, who was so daring as a girl, is the one who perceives it to be red.

Some editors have wanted to correct the error--it’s confusing & Woolf was sometimes careless about such things. I am going to leave it. I don’t know what to make of it, quite, but it seems lovely and nice that Elizabeth gets to be both red and pink at once--a sign of the promise with which Woolf endows her.


A while back, I thought I would make a casual effort to collect Woolf-ish things in the blogosphere. The project has taken a while to get off the ground and I’ve been wondering why.

I think that it partly made this blog feel a bit too official to me--something that always makes me a bit itchy. Fernham seems to be at its best as long as I keep it loose. Every time I get really good at meeting my (pitifully modest) goal of four posts per week and my sitemeter count upticks a bit, I get nervous and busy and turn my head away from the blog just long enough for my readership to fall back off, for the blog to return to its rightful place, on the backburner of my life.

Then, too, I subscribed to weekly Google alerts for “Woolf” and “Virginia Woolf” only to find lots and lots of references to people writing about the movie, or noting that they just read Mrs. Dalloway for the first time and didn’t much care for it, or saying that some day they might want to read Woolf. These aren’t the kind of rich, nuanced readings that I was hoping to link to, to weave together.

Still, I watch, I look and I read. And I have found some wonderful tidbits for you:
  • Amardeep Singh posts a lovely meditative appreciation of “Street Haunting,” one of Woolf’s great essays--and an essay getting a lot of scholarly attention of late. The essay is simply about walking in the city in winter, about concocting an errand to justify the “journey” and all the little encounters along the way. Since he posts it over at the Valve, there are some amusingly churlish responses, too.
  • Mrs. Bookworld has been gobbling Woolf’s diaries. I was so jealous of her that I began doing the same. Shame to say, I’ve never read the diaries the whole way through. Now, with a new Woolf project, I have all the more reason to begin. And what I delight they are. Now, rather than envy Mrs. Bookworld (who is, after all, convalescing from foot surgery these few weeks--get well soon!!), I envy Woolf herself. Interesting people are constantly interrupting her work. When my doorbell rings, it tends to be UPS with a package for upstairs. When hers rings, it’s her friend Walter Lamb, just in from seeing the Queen--“he always stops by after he’s been to see the Queen,” she says with mild irritation and then, recalling his good gossip (about the King demonstrating how ill-fitting his dentures are), decides that it is kind of fun to have him around.
  • Bloglily spent some time with Strachey’s Eminent Victorians in December (she, too, is on a health break--good luck with the radiation therapy, Bloglily--a strange thing to add parenthetically, but a sincere wish nonethless.)
  • And probably most famous of all, Susan Hill’s blog resumes its Woolf for Dummies Course. This last is the strangest to me. In my ignorance, I don’t know her work, but her blog is set up almost entirely for readers--especially high school students--who are coming to the web for help in writing papers on her. The “course” is briskly encouraging--kind of a Barbara Woodhouse for readers instead of dog owners (Woolfies! Woolfies!).
  • I keep thinking Imani must have had something to say about Woolf, but this is all I have found…so far…

And then, all of a sudden, I have found, too, tons of delightfully random, not totally literary references to Woolf from blogs I never would have found otherwise.
  • There’s a great critique of the limitations of SuperGirl that draws upon A Room of One’s Own here,
  • and here is a review of a play based on Woolf’s The Waves--surely one of the great “unfilm-able” novles, but one that had had many dramatic interpretations,
  • I’m a little jealous that a pretty picture and a very brief quotation from Woolf can garner so many comments here,
  • but it’s a sign of how Woolf continues to inspire. As is this lovely entry at Hot Toddy, on Woolf’s diaries as an inspiration for blogging,
  • and, strangely enough, Woolf can even be an inspiration for parenting!

Finally, the Woolf listserv, which has many, many more readers than Fernham, has been abuzz of late with the connections between Patti Smith and Woolf. Apparently, as googling them shows, Smith acknowledges Woolf as a major influence and has given several performances and exhibitions on the connection.

Off web, my copy of Susan Gubar’s latest book, Rooms of Our Own arrived in the mail today. I can’t wait!!!

So, those are the passing glances to Woolf around the web this month

Passing Glances at Virginia Woolf

Recently, I wrote about an old feature of the International Virginia Woolf Society Bibliography: Passing Glances. My friend Sally Greene began collecting allusions and references to Woolf in popular novels and pop culture. At Ana Maria’s urging (and thanks to Google which now provides me with categories for free and daily email alerts, too), I’m going to try to keep track of mentions of Woolf in the blogosphere.

I’ve already linked several times to the dicussion of “Kew Gardens” at A Curious Singularity. You can also find some information about a Woolf wiki here. I’m a bit skeptical of wikis these days: they seem to me destined to go the way of hypertext and choose your own adventure. Still, I’d be grateful to be proven wrong.

Both Mark Thwaite and Susan Hill are steadily reading their way through Woolf. Mark has posted entries on To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Dalloway, and, most recently, this enthusiastic and insightful entry on The Waves. Susan is conducting an ongoing reading project, Woolf for Dummies, which seems to be geared to those who really are afraid of Woolf. The most recent entry I can find is just a query to see who’s read Night and Day yet. That book, Woolf’s second novel, is not one that generally inspires readers to continue. Still, her posts seem to have encouraged book-buying of at Equiano’s and Kate’s, too.

Someone called Anne (not me) posted a long Woolfish comment to the query “Do men ever write in women’s voices?” (which seems a silly question) and the more interesting follow-up, what are the best female protagonists created by men?

A romance novelist considers the spark of inspiration ignited by her teacher assigning some Woolf. I’ll be curious to see where this leads…

Woolf still doesn’t have the web presence of the Bronte blog but it’s fun to find her cropping up here and there.