Book Review: “The Bloomsbury Group Memoir Club” by S.P. Rosenbaum

The Bloomsbury Group Memoir Club” by S.P. Rosenbaum, published in January, explores a little known aspect of the Bloomsbury Group.

Although not much is known about the club and hardly any documents about it have survived, Rosenbaum, a noted Bloomsbury Group biographer who has written countless books on the famous literary group, such as “Victorian Bloomsbury” and “The Bloomsbury Group: A Collection of Memoirs and Commentary,” managed to gather whatever scraps of information remain on the club in the various member’s diaries and letters to present in this book.

The Memoir Club was a sort of writing group set up in 1920 to encourage its members, which included Molly and Desmond MacCarthy, Leonard and Virginia Woolf, Clive and Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, Roger Fry, Mary Hutchinson, E.M. Forster and Maynard Keynes, to write and finish their memoirs, according to the book:

“According to some accounts, including one by E.M. Forster, Molly MacCarthy started the Memoir Club in an attempt to get her wonderfully conversational, endlessly procrastinating husband to write his memoirs. It was to be a resurrection of the Novel Club that, as was mentioned, she futilely started before the war to get Desmond to finish the novel he had begun. The Novel Club, which included neither Forster nor the Woolfs, seems to have failed because other members could not finish theirs either, or in some cases even start them. Memoirs might be easier, it seems; Desmond of course never wrote his either, though he did manage to read some pieces to the club.”

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How Virginia Woolf Inspired the Bechdel Test

It was recently revealed that the Bechdel Test, the feminist benchmark for movies that first originated in a comic strip by Alison Bechdel in 1985, was indirectly inspired by Virginia Woolf’s book “A Room of One’s Own,” according to an article in The Week magazine:

“In the original strip, a couple discusses whether they want to go to a movie and get some popcorn. One isn’t sure, because she has a rule: ‘I only go to a movie if it satisfies three basic requirements,’ she explains. ‘One, it has to have at least two women in it, who, two, talk to each other about, three, something besides a man.’ When her girlfriend says those criteria are good, but pretty strict, she responds, ‘No kidding. Last movie I was able to see was Alien. The two women in it talk to each other about the monster.’ Having walked past three uber-masculine posters for movies about mercenaries, barbarians, and vigilantes, the two women give up on the idea of a film altogether, and go home to make popcorn. The sentiment wasn’t new; as Bechdel later explained, it came from Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. In the novel, Woolf’s narrator responds to a surprising book she is reading. ‘Chloe liked Olivia,’ I read. And then it struck me how immense a change was there. Chloe liked Olivia perhaps for the first time in literature.’ When it comes to female literary characters, ‘so much has been left out, unattempted,’ Woolf’s narrator thinks. She struggles to think of texts that show women as friends, and marvels at texts that show women having ‘interests besides the perennial interests of domesticity.’ Sixty years after A Room of One’s Own, those observations remained accurate, and almost 30 years after Bechdel’s strip, they still are.”

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Mirror Productions Developing a New Virginia Woolf Film

A London-based production company, Mirror Productions, is currently developing a film based on Eileen Atkins play “Virginia and Vita” according to an article on screendaily.com:

“The company is in development on actress and screenwriter Eileen Atkins’ long-gestating feature adaptation of her play Virginia and Vita, about the turbulent love affair between literary trailblazer Virginia Woolf and the author Vita Sackville West.

‘Eileen has found a good ally in my partner Evangelo,’ Baxter told Screen. They have been working on the script, which is now out with directors of note, one of whom will be approved by Eileen.’

‘We’ve had quite a bit of verbal interest in the script,’ he continued. ‘Once we have our director on board I’m hopeful we can get moving on it later next year.’”

Mirror Productions is spearheaded by Simon Baxter and producer Evangelo Kioussis.

Atkins has been involved in a number of Virginia Woolf productions. In addition to writing the play “Virginia and Vita,” she also wrote the script for the 1997 film “Mrs. Dalloway” and acted in the 2002 film “The Hours.”

Since the film is still in the early stages of production there is no word yet on casting or a release date.

Sources:

Screen Daily; Mirror Preps Eileen Atkins Virginia Woolf Biopic; Andreas Wiseman; Dec 16 2013: http://www.screendaily.com/news/production/mirror-preps-eileen-atkins-virginia-woolf-biopic/5064760.article

Book Review: “Virginia Woolf’s Garden” by Caroline Zoob

Virginia Woolf’s Garden,” published in November, is a fascinating look not only at the sprawling garden at Virginia’s country home, Monk’s House in Rodmell, but also at the effect the garden had on her life and work.

Although I’ve been reading Virginia’s letters and diaries for years and have heard all about the garden, I had never seen a photo of it in its entirety and had absolutely no idea how large and expansive it was. The book presents the garden in large, beautiful color photographs as well as detailed maps and numbered diagrams complete with the names of the plants found in each section of the garden. There’s also numerous before and after photos depicting the way the garden looked when the Woolf’s lived there and how it looks now.

The photographs in “Virginia Woolf’s Garden,” taken by Caroline Arber, are stunning and capture the beauty of the garden in all its glory. Having a bit of a green thumb myself, but with no garden to tend to, the images made me both envious of and happy for Virginia that she had such a beautiful retreat from the world. The garden, and Monk’s House in general, was clearly a sanctuary for Virginia and also a source of inspiration at times, as can be seen by the many appearances gardens, flowers and fish ponds make in the books Virginia wrote while living there. Virginia actually wrote in the garden, in a small converted shed she called her “writing lodge.” She walked through the garden every morning on her way to her lodge and it was in this garden and lodge that she wrote some of her most famous works.

virginia woolfs garden by caroline zoob

“Virginia Woolf’s Garden” by Caroline Zoob

The author of “Virginia Woolf’s Garden,” Caroline Zoob, lived at Monk’s house for 10 years as a tenant (The National Trust lets the house out to a live-in tenant in exchange for upkeep of the garden and grounds.) Zoob does a fantastic job chronicling the history of Virginia and Leonard’s life at the house, from the moment they first purchased it in 1919 until their deaths decades later. The book details how the garden was a source of pleasure and a place to escape from the chaos of London but was also, at times, a source of friction between Virginia and Leonard due to large amounts of time and money he spent on it. Virginia occasionally complained of the financial upkeep of the garden, once stating “We are watering the earth with our money!

Zoob also punctuates the text with amusing anecdotes from the Woolf’s garden, such as the time the Woolf’s pet marmoset climbed up one of the fruit trees in the garden and refused to come down:


“By the gate is a large lime tree which was planted before 1919…It was up this tree that Mitzi, Leonard’s pet marmoset, escaped one day and refused to come down, not even tempted by the bait of honey, her favorite treat. Leonard had taken Mitzi in on a temporary basis to nurse her back to health. They took to each other and Mitzi stayed, inseparable from Leonard and intensely jealous. With a perfect understanding of his pet’s nature, he summoned Virginia to the bottom of the lime tree and proceeded to kiss her. Instantly Mitzi jumped down from the tree in a jealous rage. Every time I weeded or planted white narcissi and hyacinths under that tree I thought of them standing beneath it, kissing, with a marmoset flying through the branches to oust the competition.”

Zoob writes not only of the Woolf’s life at Monk’s house, but also of her own. One of the most interesting parts of the book is in the last chapter where Zoob discusses the types of visitors that come to Monk’s house. The house had its fair share of ignorant, uninformed visitors who would ask ridiculous questions like “so why were people so afraid of her then?” and “are those her cats?” (a reference to Zoob’s own cats who lived at the house with her). These visitors made Zoob all the more appreciative of the true Virginia Woolf fans visiting the house on personal pilgrimages. Zoob details how she was at first puzzled by but then came to appreciate how they would cry and hug in the garden or sob at the front gate, thinking it was the gate Virginia walked through on her way to drown herself in the nearby river (Virginia actually left through a different gate, which is no longer in use). These anecdotes and stories help bring Monk’s House to life and demonstrate why it’s more than just an old cottage in a tiny English village.

Any fan of gardening or horticulture in general would truly love and appreciate this book. Yet, I think the true Virginia Woolf fans, the pilgrims who have been to Monk’s house and were moved by the experience or the ones who want to go but haven’t had the opportunity yet, would absolutely cherish it. I’m pleased that the National Trust entrusted Monk’s House to Zoob for so long and I’m especially grateful that she shared her experience with us through this book. “Virginia Woolf’s Garden” is a definite must-have for any Virginia Woolf fan.

“Virginia Woolf’s Garden” is available at amazon.com:

Virginia Woolf to Appear on Season 4 of Downton Abbey

Actress Christina Carty has been cast to portray Virginia Woolf on season 4 of the popular period drama Downton Abbey.

Not much is known about Woolf’s role in the new season but according to an article in The Telegraph, Lady Edith meets Woolf at a party with the Bloomsbury group while working as a newspaper columnist in London. Several stills of Carty as Woolf have recently surfaced, suggesting she appears in more than one scene.

Since season 4 of the show is set in 1922, Woolf would have been 40 years old at the time and would have just published her novel “Jacob’s Room.” Although she was well-known in literary circles at the time, Woolf didn’t become famous until the publication of her widely popular novels “Mrs. Dalloway” and “To The Lighthouse” in 1925 and 1927.

Christina Carty as Virginia Woolf in Downton Abbey copyright Nick Briggs Carnival Films I

Christina Carty as Virginia Woolf in Downton Abbey (Carnival Films Photo)

Despite the fact that the characters on Downton Abbey are purely fictional, Woolf did often mingle with aristocrats in real life, such as Lady Ottoline Morrell and Vita Sackville-West (although Morrell and Sackville-West were rather unconventional aristocrats for their time).

The fourth season of Downton Abbey will premiere in the UK on Sept. 22, and in the US on Jan. 15, 2014.

According to imdb.com, although Woolf was portrayed by Nicole Kidman in the Oscar award-winning film “The Hours,”  she has only appeared as a character in a television series a handful of times over the years:

♦ Muchachada Nui (2010): Epsiodes #4.7, #4.11 and #4.13. Played by Joaquin Reyes
♦ London (2004): Played by Harriet Walter
♦ Art That Shook the World (2002): Episode titled “Virginia Woolf’s Orlando.” Played by Joley Richardson
♦ Tom & Viv (1994): Played by Joanna McCallum
♦ A Room of One’s Own (1991): Played by Eileen Atkins
♦ Ten Great Writers of the Modern World (1988): Episode titled Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway.” Played by Eileen Atkins
♦ Une femme, une epoque (1981): Episode titled “Virginia Woolf.” Played by Maud Rayer.

Update: Jan 6, 2014: Unfortunately, Virginia Woolf’s cameo was cut from episode one of season four of Downton Abbey. Carty, as Virginia Woolf, still appeared briefly in a scene at a literary party but she only appeared for a few seconds and had no spoken lines or introduction.

Christina Carty as Virginia Woolf in Downton Abbey copyright Nick Briggs Carnival Films II

Christina Carty as Virginia Woolf (Carnival Films Photo)

Christina Carty as Virginia Woolf in Downton Abbey copyright Nick Briggs Carnival Films III

Christina Carty as Virginia Woolf (Carnival Films Photo)

Sources:

Internet Movie Database: Virginia Woolf (Character): http://www.imdb.com/character/ch0009867/

Daily Mail; Things Heat Up For Lady Edith in Season Four of Downton Abbey While Her Sister Lady Mary Still Grieves Matthew’s Death; Sept 11 2013:  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-2418272/Downton-Abbey-season-4-Things-heat-Lady-Edith-Lady-Mary-grieves.html

The Telegraph; Downton Abbey: “We Don’t Want Anymore Deaths”; Sept 12 2013: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/downton-abbey/10302775/Downton-Abbey-We-dont-want-any-more-deaths.html