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Posts Tagged ‘Virginia Woolf’

Byron the Bloodsucker, and Other News

May 28, 2015 | by

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Detail from a hand-colored engraving of Villa Diodati, by Edward Francis Finden, ca. 1833, after a drawing by William Purser.

  • Jonathan Franzen gave his first interview about his new novel Purity yesterday, and even the Associated Press showed up: “Those who left early missed a highlight of the event, a self-described ‘rising sophomore at the University of Connecticut’ telling Franzen that The Corrections was the basis for her project on the ‘depressed male protagonist in post-9/11 literature.’ ‘Say no more,’ answered a surprised, but amused Franzen.”
  • John Polidori was Lord Byron’s physician, and they traveled Europe together—no mean task, given the latter’s celebrity, which left the doctor feeling “like a star in the halo of the moon, invisible.” He was often the butt of Byron’s jokes that he began to write a cruel story about him—“The Vampyre,” which “establishes the vampire as we know it … reimagining the feral mud-caked creatures of southeastern European legend as the elegant and magnetic denizens of cosmopolitan assemblies and polite drawing rooms.” One problem: when the story was finally published, it was attributed not to Polidori but to Byron himself.
  • Virginia Woolf’s suicide—admittedly one of literary history’s more memorable, in its methods—has come to overshadow her life. Depictions of the author focus almost exclusively on her melancholic side, and Woolf Works, a new ballet, is no different: “What a miserable Woolf it always is! The focus in Woolf Works, The Hours, and Waves alike is on her tragic demise. This limits our view of her as a person—there’s none of the wit, charm and spirit that Woolf, by all accounts, had.”
  • Next time you see a commercial for Swiffer, remember the big picture—in the vastness of the cosmos, dust is not our enemy, but our friend. And we have the pictures to prove it. “Dust plays an essential part, not only in the history of life, but in the history of the universe as a whole. Although dust is a very small part of the mass of the universe, it controls the birth and death of stars and the heating and cooling of interstellar gas. Dust is prominent in the Hubble pictures, not only because dust clouds are beautiful, but because dust-clouds are big players in the cosmic drama.”
  • When the recession hit in 2008, an eighty-year-old novel, Kanikosen (Crab Cannery Ship), landed on Japan’s best-seller lists. What explains its sudden popularity? Well, it’s a story of the people: a tale of proletarian struggle based on a 1926 mutiny aboard a Japanese fishing ship. “Kanikosen laid bare not only the grueling reality of capitalism, but also the possibility of united resistance by workers.”

She Would Buy the Flowers Herself

May 14, 2015 | by

Today marks the anniversary of the 1925 publication of Mrs. Dalloway. The stream-of-consciousness novel has long been considered a modernist classic, perhaps the most accomplished work in Woolf's oeuvre—and though its elliptical prose and complex themes render Mrs. Dalloway a particular challenge for adaptation, this has naturally not stopped people from attempting to do so, with varying degrees of success. 

The above is either the worst or the best such adaptation, depending upon how highly you value things like coherence, tone, and style. It has none of Marleen Gorris’s respectful fidelity, none of Philip Glass’s aggressive atmosphere. Indeed, Natalia Povalyaeva’s animated short, Mrs. Dalloway and the Flowers, has almost nothing to do with the novel at all. Unless, that is, we are talking about the line, “It might be possible that the world itself is without meaning.”

Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.

The Philosophy of Your Word Processor, and Other News

October 27, 2014 | by

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A promotional photo for the Canon Cat, an early word processor.

  • April 1975: Updike and Barth hung out in Baltimore. They ate some soft-shelled crabs and visited Poe’s grave. “I don’t think we’re very unlike,” Updike later wrote. “We’re both sons of the hard-working, temperate Middle Atlantic region, twice married, depression-conscious, and stuck with the belief that there is such a thing as American littrachoor.”
  • A lost Malcolm Lowry novel, In Ballast to the White Sea, is soon to see print for the first time. Lowry spent some ten years on the book, which was lost when his home in Vancouver burned down in 1944. He’d left an early copy of the manuscript with his first wife’s mother; it wasn’t rediscovered until 2001.
  • Wash your hands of Microsoft Word and its misguided Platonism: embrace WordPerfect. “Intelligent writers can produce intelligent prose using almost any instrument, but the medium in which they write will always have some more or less subtle effect on their prose … When I work in Word, for all its luxuriant menus and dazzling prowess, I can’t escape a faint sense of having entered a closed, rule-bound society. When I write in WordPerfect, with all its scruffy, low-tech simplicity, the world seems more open, a place where endings can’t be predicted, where freedom might be real.”
  • Virginia Woolf to Katherine Mansfield, 1921: “I’m in the middle of my novel now, but have to break off, of course, to make a little money. I shall write an article on Dorothy Wordsworth, and so pay for our new sheets.”
  • Does the Internet ever sleep? Not in America.

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The Death of the Pay Phone, and Other News

September 22, 2014 | by

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A man in a Miami retirement community uses a pay phone, 1973. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

  • It’s Banned Books Week. Read something that some prudish bureaucrat condemned as mind-polluting trash. The options are nearly endless
  • Woolf v. Wharton: “Critics exalted Dalloway as an important advance in literature. In the Saturday Review, the critic Gerald Bullett unfavorably compared Wharton’s latest, A Mother’s Recompense, with Mrs. Dalloway, calling Woolf ‘a brilliant experimentalist,’ while Wharton was ‘content to practice the craft of fiction without attempting to enlarge its technical scope.’ ” Wharton was stung by the slight, and disapproved of modernist experimentalism—but it may have goaded her into attempting a “stunning narrative maneuver” in The Age of Innocence.
  • Among Nabokov’s “menagerie” of pet names for Véra: Gooseykins, Pussykins, Monkeykins.
  • Graham Greene’s 1952 open letter to Charlie Chaplin, defending him against trumped-up charges from the House Committee on Un-American Activities: “I suggested that Charlie should make one more appearance on the screen … He is summoned from obscurity to answer for his past before the Un-American Activities Committee at Washington—for that dubious occasion in a boxing ring, on the ice-skating rink, for mistaking that Senator’s bald head for a rice pudding, for all the hidden significance of the dance with the bread rolls … at the close of the hearing Charlie could surely admit to being in truth un-American and produce the passport of another country, a country which, lying rather closer to danger, is free from the ugly manifestations of fear.”
  • Doomsday for NYC pay phones: “Next month in New York City, a contract will expire that requires the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) to maintain the city’s 8,000 remaining pay phones.”

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Where Are They Now? Part Five

August 29, 2014 | by

The last in a week-long series of illustrations by Jason Novak, captioned by Eric Jarosinski.

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The Shape of a Life

August 26, 2014 | by

Notes for Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life.

Notes for Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life.

Congratulations to Hermione Lee, who has won the 2014 James Tait Black Prize for her biography of the Booker Prize–winning novelist Penelope Fitzgerald. One judge described Lee’s biography as “a masterclass in writing of this type … the perfect marriage of an excellent subject and a biographer working at the very top of her game.”

Lee was at work on the book during her Art of Biography interview last year: in the course of their conversation, Louisa Thomas discovers a blanket-covered box that contains the Fitzgerald family archive. Though Lee denies having set out to be a “woman writer writing about women writers,” she has almost exclusively chosen women authors as her subjects. Still, for a biographer of Woolf, Cather, Wharton, and Bowen, Lee found Fitzgerald to be a special case:

I don’t have a theory about Penelope Fitzgerald. I’m deeply interested in the shape of her life, and I’m fascinated by lateness, late starts. She didn’t start publishing novels until she was sixty, for a variety of reasons. I feel there was a powerful underground river running through her life. She was a brilliant young woman, and everybody thought she was going to be a writer and she was writing away like mad in her teens and early twenties, and she was the editor of a magazine. And then it all went underground. Meanwhile, she’s writing notes in her teaching books, which are a form of apprenticeship, and she’s bringing up her family, and she’s coping with her husband. And then he dies. And then up it comes, this underground river, at the age of sixty, and she writes thirteen books in twenty years. I don’t have a theory about that. Nor do I want to blame anyone. But I want to understand it and show it happening as best as I can.

The complexity of women’s lives is, naturally, at the center of Lee’s interview, and it’s a thread that connects Lee to her subjects intimately. The first woman to hold the Goldsmiths’ Chair and the first woman president of Wolfson College, Oxford, she recalls walking across the grass of New College and thinking of Virginia Woolf, who, in trespassing momentarily on the lawn, was chased off by a beadle. As Woolf writes in A Room of One’s Own, “Instinct rather than reason came to my help, he was a Beadle; I was a woman. This was the turf; there was the path. Only the Fellows and Scholars are allowed here; the gravel is the place for me.”

Lee, however, feeling the benefit of the “strenuous labors of my female predecessors,” can stray from the path; she makes a point of walking across the grassy quad, because “I had the right to be there.”

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