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.

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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

Poll: Virginia Woolf’s Best Book?

Virginia Woolf was an ambitious and prolific author who wrote not only novels but also nonfiction books. Woolf, in fact, wrote so many groundbreaking, best-selling books that is often difficult for critics and fans to determine which is her best work.

While many fans feel Woolf’s best-selling novel “Mrs. Dalloway” is her masterpiece, others claim her nonfiction book “A Room Of One’s Own” is her best work. So what do you think? What is Virginia Woolf’s best book?

Virginia Woolf on Henry David Thoreau

In July of 1917, Virginia Woolf wrote an article commemorating the 100th anniversary of Henry David Thoreau‘s birth for the Times Literary Supplement. Woolf, surprisingly, was an admirer of American writers like Thoreau and felt they were more inventive and adventurous than any British writer to date.

What is interesting about this essay is that, despite Woolf’s exclusively upper class British upbringing, she understood Thoreau better than most modern-day American readers and even more so than some of his own peers, such as Woolf’s American godfather James Russell Lowell. Woolf saw Thoreau not as a misanthropic hermit trying to hide from society in the woods but as a “noble” rebel attempting to teach his fellow man his unique philosophy on life through his writing and actions. It was as if she saw him as she saw herself, a misfit trying to invent a new way of life, much like she and her fellow Bloomsbury group members were attempting to do in 20th century London.

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Three Guineas by Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf published her nonfiction book “Three Guineas” in June of 1938 as a sequel to “A Room Of One’s Own.” The book’s originally title was “Professions for Women” and was intended to be a novel-essay with alternating fiction and nonfiction chapters. Eventually, Virginia separated the fiction and nonfiction sections. The nonfiction section became “Three Guineas” and the fiction section became her novel “The Years.”

The book is a long essay discussing fascism, war and feminism, tying them all together in a series of letters to various organizations that had requested financial donations from Virginia. Although she began working on the book years before, Virginia confessed in her diary that the sudden death of her nephew Julian Bell in the Spanish Civil War in 1937 became a big influence on the book: “Yes I was always thinking of Julian when I wrote.”

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Julian Bell & the Bloomsbury Group

The Bloomsbury group was a close-knit group of friends who met during their college years at Cambridge. Yet after Julian Bell, the son of founding members Vanessa Stephen and Clive Bell, died in the Spanish Civil War in July of 1937, the group began to splinter.

According to author S.P. Rosenbaum, who wrote numerous books about the Bloomsbury group, Julian’s sudden death was more than the group could handle:

“The death of Julian Bell….effectively shattered Bloomsbury….Julian’s death belonged to the public events that overwhelmed Bloomsbury and the world.”

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Virginia Woolf’s Best-Selling Books

During her lifetime, Virginia Woolf wrote over 10 novels and numerous non-fiction books that forever changed the landscape of modern literature.

Although Virginia’s earlier books were often met with sharp criticism and poor sales, many of her later books were well-received and quickly became best-sellers.

Virginia’s literary reputation suffered a brief decline after World War II, yet she regained popularity in the 1970s when the second wave of feminism brought her work to the forefront once again. She has since remained one of the most popular British writers of the 20th century and her books are not only still in print but are still big sellers.

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