Friday, September 29, 2006

Virginia Woolf is haunting me. I have never liked her work - it seemed impossible to enjoy it somehow, and so much of what I tend to read is for escapism. One can hardly slip into her world and find a comfortable spot, or so I thought. I did manage to successfully deal with THREE GUINEAS when I was at university, but that was as far as I could go. Oh, and I was quite absorbed by Michael Cunningham's THE HOURS.

However, Susan Hill has decided to convert all of us ignoramuses, and is running a course for anyone who has never got on with Woolf. I recommend it: no credit, no grades, just guided reading at your own pace with a bit of an online chat with other readers. On Susan Hill's blog, click the BOOKS AND READING option on the left hand side of the main page, WOOLF FOR DUMMIES will appear beneath it. We've started with a chapter of Lyndall Gordon's VIRGINIA WOOLF: A WRITER'S LIFE for background reading and to place her writing in context; now we are reading her very first book THE VOYAGE OUT. I am pleasantly surprised - not quite what I was expecting. I borrowed my edition from the library. While their catalogue listed it as on the shelf, I couldn't find it. When I asked, the librarian disappeared off into the bowels somewhere (where the public is not allowed to enter) and came back with a nice sturdy 1975 Hogarth Press hardback edition. Of course now I want to know what else is down there . . .

Woolf has been dogging my steps in other ways too: Emma Barnes at Snowbooks has kindly sent me a copy of THE LONDON SCENE, a very prettily produced collection of Woolf's short essays. Should complement the Hill selection nicely, thank you Emma.

Not only that, but an interesting collaborative project is developing on the other side of the pond, with bloggers invited to set up a wiki where anyone can add footnotes and textnotes to a piece of literature. The test piece is Virginia Woolf's KEW GARDENS. Take a look at Dorothy's blog.

Susan has said not to read anything else so as to avoid preconceptions about Woolf. As always, I flipped through the book reviews this weekend and in the Sunday Times CULTURE what do I find, but a review by John Carey of Victoria Glendinning's LEONARD WOOLF: A Life. This paragraph caught my eye:
Bloomsbury was excited too. Virginia’s brother Adrian Stephen, who met Leonard when he came home on leave in 1911, reported that “he was very amusing about Ceylon. His descriptions of hanging were very interesting”. Glendinning thinks that, rather as Othello’s tall tales of travel captivated Desdemona, so Leonard’s adventures stirred Virginia. “He has ruled India, hung black men,” she gushed. All the same, it is hard to see why she married him. She felt “no more than a rock” when he kissed her, and his Jewishness was distasteful: “I do not like the Jewish voice. I do not like the Jewish laugh.” Taken to see Leonard’s mother, she wrote maliciously about “Jews in Putney”, mocking their clothes, food and manners. Anti-semitism was a Stephen-family thing. Adrian did comic Jewish imitations, and Virginia expressed horror at the prospect of sharing a room with “22 Jews and Jewesses” — Leonard’s family. “It’ll be as hot as a monkey house.”
She sounds the most odious creature. So Susan, you have your work cut out for you in trying to convince me otherwise.

In the meantime I have been totally lacking in self control and added to my "To Be Read" pile with a new haul of recently released African titles:
ALLAH IS NOT OBLIGED - Ahmadou Kourouma
THE BOOK OF NOT - Tsitsi Dangarembga
HALF OF A YELLOW SUN - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Blogger Dorothy W. said...

I think the Woolf project is great, and if I weren't so busy, and overloaded with reading projects right now, I'd definitely join. Thanks for the link!

12:41 pm  
Blogger equiano said...

You're very welcome. I enjoy the discussions your group of reading friends are having in your part of the world.

10:02 pm  
Blogger Anne said...

Wow. I'm just visiting via kimbofo and am excited to have found this Woolf cache but the big news is NEW DANGAREMBGA!!! Very exciting indeed. I never thought I'd see the day.... Thanks!

2:18 am  
Blogger equiano said...

Welcome, Anne. Isn't it exciting about the new Dangarembga?! The first one was SO good, and this second has been 18 years in the making - apparently she is currently working on the third, so perhaps her muse has returned! I'll keep posting on the Woolf for Dummies, so do check back as I review the books Hill recommends...

11:19 am  

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