Monday, 31 March 2014

Questionnaire to Contributors:

 Responses by Tony Pinkney

1.If you were shipwrecked on a desert island (as in the BBC radio programme) and could have one Virginia Woolf work and/or scholarly book on Woolf, what would it be and why? 

I’d want to take Jacob’s Room - perhaps it’s characteristic of male readers of Woolf to prefer this? – and, on the literary-critical front, a copy of David Galef’s The Supporting Cast: A Study of Flat and Minor Characters (1993).  The Galef book has a very fine chapter on Jacob’s Room and, remarkably, a full-scale character index for that novel too, running to thirty-eight pages – he claims there are no less than 810 named and unnamed figures in the book!  So, with both novel and critical study at my disposal, I’d have plenty of material for mulling over issues of literary characterisation.  I’ve always particularly admired the way narratologists reduce complex texts to elegant geometrical diagrams, so I’d be busily working out an underlying ‘character-system’ for Jacob’s Room’s 810 figures during the lonely years on my Robinson Crusoe island.

2.What do you think Woolf’s writing has to offer to young women readers today (inside or outside the academy)?

The liveliest students on my Modernism undergraduate course this year are women who are taking creative writing courses as a significant part of their overall English Literature degree scheme.  So Lily Briscoe becomes a role model for their own creative endeavours, and Woolf is an extraordinarily suggestive reservoir of stylistic possibilities to them.  As creative writing begins to shoulder out traditional literary study (I often feel that our generation of academics may probably be the very last literary critics as such), I think that Woolf will be the modernist writer who can best hold her own in that process.

3.What, for you, is the single most memorable or interesting Virginia Woolf sentence (other than the December 1910 statement), and why?

I’ve always been much taken by this fragment of a sentence from early in To the Lighthouse, as Mrs Ramsay and Charles Tansley walk to town together: ‘a man digging in a drain stopped digging, and looked at her; let his arm fall down and look at her’.  There’s always a man digging in modernism (compare the ‘man with the hat’ who ‘regretfully plung[es] his spade in the earth’ in Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist); and I suspect that middle-class experience in Woolf, more specifically, always has to be validated by some working-class gaze or activity.  My family were ‘diggers’, though underground as miners rather than on the surface, which I suppose is why I am attuned to this motif.  There are in fact more mentions of miners and mining in Woolf’s fiction than you might expect.

4.How do you see your own work on or around Woolf developing over the next five years?

Well, I don’t usually work on Woolf specifically, but I would at some point like to test out my hunch or hypothesis that William Morris and his communist politics are an important background presence across her fiction.  We know that Clarissa Parry and Sally Seton had read Morris at Bourton (and founded a society to abolish private property in the light of that reading); and more generally 1920s London is certainly haunted by the 1880s across that book.  Moreover, I sense that every Thames-side scene or memory in Woolf’s fiction (Dalloway, Lighthouse, Waves) is secretly inhabited by the utopian upriver Thames trip undertaken in Morris’s News from Nowhere.  So could one conjure a communist or utopian Woolf out of this?  It would be worth a try.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

New edited Woolf collection

I'm glad to announce that my new edited collection, Virginia Woolf and December 1910: Studies in Rhetoric and Context, is now published from Illuminati Books.  I hope you'll agree with me that it's a very fine looking volume indeed, and I'm sure you'll find the contents every bit as impressive as the physical appearance of the volume itself.

We intend to use this blog to allow the contributors to the volume - all of them well-respected scholars of Woolf and/or modernism - to reflect further on the state and direction of Woolf studies.  So keep tuning in for interesting developments in the days ahead!  Contributors are: Elizabeth Abel, Rachel Bowlby, Pamela L. Caughie, Melba Cuddy-Keane, Maria DiBattista, Terry Eagleton, Christine Froula, Jane Goldman, Suzette Henke, Claire Kahane, Stephen Kern, Alison Light, Tony Pinkney, Suzanne Raitt, Christopher Reed, Susan Sellers, Brenda Silver, Peter Stansky, Masami Usui.

Makiko Minow-Pinkney