Intended primary for my Creative Inquiry on Woolf and Place (2012-2013)
and my capstone seminar on Virginia Woolf (Fall 2010),
this blog also contains an account of our Woolf trip in May 2012
as well as posts about flowers and gardens in the life and work of Virginia Woolf.

*Photo of Monk's House Garden taken from door of Woolf's bedroom*

Friday, August 27, 2010

Reading and Discussion Questions for Woolf's Early Short Stories


• You may want to start out by reading Woolf’s manifesto for the new form of writing she is trying to invent: “Modern Fiction.” Slightly revised from an essay called “Modern Novels” published in 1919 -- around the time she was writing “Mark on the Wall” (1917) and “Kew Gardens” (1919) -- this is Woolf’s best known and most often-quoted essay. You want to look for what she is attacking in the previous generation of writers and what she wants to see in the new writing. (make lists)

• Then think about how “Mark” and “Kew” embody these ideas.

• Jane Goldman has a brief section on “Modern Fiction” in her book (103-6), and Mark Hussey has a page-long entry on it in his A to Z (on reserve).


• As you read the short stories, be thinking about “A Sketch of the Past.” What structures/ ways of writing do these works have in common? Can you begin to articulate a sense of Woolf’s characteristic style? How does she think? And how is that revealed in the way she organizes or structures her stories? Also be alert for common themes and images. Twenty+ years separate these short stories from her memoir. Are there issues which she seems to be concerned with across that arc of time?

• There are several overviews about the short stories available:

o Goldman, Cambridge Intro, pp. 87-92 (R) REQUIRED

o Sandra Kemp’s Introduction to the selected short stories for Penguin (BB)

o Baldwin, Dean. “Bold Experiments” 13-26 in Virginia Woolf: A Study of the Short Fiction (1989) (BB)

o I personally favor A. Fleishman’s “Forms of the Woolfian Short Story” (1980) which posits 2 different forms for the stories: linear and circular (though we can argue quite a bit over which stories are which). (BB)

o Dick, Susan."Chasms in the Continuity of Our Way: Jacob's Room."Chapter Two of Virginia Woolf. London & New York: Edward Arnold, 1989. (R) Connects the early short stories up to the method and themes of Jacob’s Room.


• On first reading, this story appears to be quite random and chaotic. Just read it a couple of times, letting the images sink in. Then I would advise going through and trying to make your own outline of what each paragraph is about.

• Can you see any turning points in the story? Can you clump any paragraphs into groups?

• What seem to be the repeated images and concerns? ( Repetition is the key to meaning)

• What is the story “about”?


• Use the same reading process with “Kew.” Notice the various characters in the story and how the narration/ point of view shifts among them. Is there any pattern here?

• I will be posting some materials on Woolf and the Visual Arts on the Criticism Folder on Blackboard. Many people see these experimental short stories as Woolf’s reaction to the new theories about modern art that she was discussing with the circle of artists and art critics to which her sister, Vanessa Bell belonged. Both Clive Bell and Roger Fry were important definers and what the new modern art was about, and in many ways what Woolf is trying to do is find a way to adapt these ideas to fiction.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

“ A Sketch of the Past” --Things to Think About

-->Pattern of Censorship: do you see a pattern in what Leaksa choose to exclude from the text? (Leaska is a traditional, old-fashioned Woolf scholar)
-->Text itself (Not just what it tells her about her life, though that is important)

  • Plot – What is the structure of this piece? Is there any?

  • How does she organize her thoughts? Do you see patterns of repetition, climax etc?

  • Is there any way this is structured like a novel? Or is it more like a poem?

  •  Character

  • Who are the most important people in her life? (we’ll need to think about to what degree they show up again in her novels)

  •   How does Woolf see character and the possibility of knowing character? How does she describe others?

  • How does Woolf present herself as a character? What are some of the characteristics of the autobiographical narrator?

  • Theme – Can we use “Sketch” as a way of beginning to identify the major themes/concerns in Woolf’s work? Start a list.

  •   Northrop Frye believes the thematic content of a work is often carried through is imagery. Do you find any repeated patterns of images in “Sketch”? What are these images about?

    • Saturday, August 21, 2010

      Reserve List

      Reserve List for English 496: Virginia Woolf (Fall 2010)

      Briggs, Julia . Virginia Woolf: An Inner Life. London: Penguin[Allen Lane] 2005.
      PR6045.O72 Z54359 2005

      Caramagno, Thomas. The Flight of the Mind: Virginia Woolf's Art and Manic-Depressive Illness (1992)
      PR6045.O72 Z566 1992

      Dick, Susan. Virginia Woolf. Routledge, 1989.
      PR6045.O72 Z617 1989
      The complete shorter fiction of Virginia Woolf / edited by Susan Dick.
      PR6045.O72 A6 1989

      Fleishman, Avorm. Virginia Woolf: A Critical reading. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1975.
      PR6045.O72 Z63 1975

      Gillespie, Diane F. The Sisters' Arts : The Writing and Painting of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell.
      PR6045.O72 Z644 1991

      Goldman, Jane. The Cambridge Introduction to Virginia Woolf. Cambridge UP, 2006.
      PR6045.O72 Z647 2006
      ---. The Feminist Aesthetics of Virginia Woolf.
      PR6045.O72 Z648 1998

      Hussey, Mark. Virginia Woolf A To Z : A Comprehensive Reference for Students, Teachers, and Common Readers To Her Life, Work, and Critical Reception.
      PR6045.O72 Z729 1995

      Lee, Hermione. The Novels of Virginia Woolf. New York: Holmes and Meier, 1977.
      PR6045.O72 Z774 1998
      ---. Virginia Woof.
      PR6045.O72 Z774 1998

      Moore, Madeline. The Short Season Between Two Silences: The Mystical and the Political in the Novels of Virginia Woolf. Boston: Allen & Unwin, 1984.
      PR6045.O72 Z822 1984

      Reed, Christopher. Bloomsbury Rooms : Modernism, Subculture, and Domesticity
      NX543 .R44 2004

      Zwerdling, Alex. Virginia Woolf and the Real World. Berkeley: U of CA P, 1986.

      Reflections on Our First Day/ Reading Recommendations

      It was great to meet you all and get a bit of a sense of who you are. I am making a class directory which I will post on Blackboard under CLASS MATERIALS, making it easy for you to contact each other. Once you get yr blog up, I will sign on as a follower; that way I will be notified automatically whenever you put up a new entry. You might want to follow my blog as well.
      I’ve also compiled and sent in a very modest Reserve List for the class. (See below and on BB) Many of these books are explained in fuller detail in my previous entry. From what you said about your interests in class, I have some recommendations:

      If you are interested in Woolf’s LIFE, I suggest first, Hermione Lee’s biography and second, Caramagno’s book, as I think it has the most balanced assessment of how her mental/ emotional states affected her work. I have been re-reading him and find his interpretations of her work consistently insightful and also often a helpful corrective to far-fetched Freudian interpretations. Quentin Bell’s classic biography has the merit of being written by someone who actually knew her –he was her nephew— but also the accompanying flaws of being written by someone who didn’t take her feminism or lesbianism or political beliefs seriously, and as a member of the family, was at pains to deny the existence of sexual abuse in her childhood.

      For those of you interested in Woolf’s WRITING PROCESS, I highly recommend Julia Briggs’s book –you may want to buy it in paperback. It is an intellectual biography of the process of writing Woolf’s major texts. Of course Woolf' diaries are the best way of getting to know her life and work, but I suspect that at 5 vols. this is more than you want to take on during one semester. Leaska has some well chosen selections from the diaries in The Virginia Woolf Reader. And Leonard compiled a selection of passages particularly concerned with her writing into the book, A Writer’s Diary, available on for $5.95 plus shipping.

      Zwerdling’s book is extremely helpful for HISTORICAL BACKGROUND. And Jane Goldman’s book on Woolf’s feminist aesthetics is very helpful for anyone interested in MODERNISM AND THE VISUAL ARTS. On this topic, see also, Chris Reed’s brilliant study of the politics of interior decoration styles in Bloomsbury Rooms. I assign his first chapter as the introductory reading assignment in my Modernist London Seminar because it so clearly lays out the battle lines btw what he calls the “domestic” aesthetic of Bloomsbury, and the “heroic”/ somewhat fascist brand of Modernism favored by Eliot, Pound, and Wyndham Lewis. And the locus classicus for all work on Woolf and the visual arts is Diane Gillespie’s book, The Sisters’ Arts, which explores Virginia’s relation to her sister Vanessa’s painting and Vanessa’s reactions to her sister Virginia’s writing.

      For those of you interested in WOOLF AND FILM, I recommend that you do an MLA search for the work of Leslie Hankins, who has for many years been building up a careful and detailed study of Woolf’s exposure and reaction to modern British cinema, as well as Laura Marcus’s book, The Tenth Muse and Maggie Humm’s Modernist Women and Visual Cultures.