I recently travelled to the United States for the first time, to give some talks about my work on Woolf, specifically my project on A Room of One's Own – 'Olivia N'Gowfri – Of One Woman Or So'.
Although I had long known how much of a vast and varied critical following Woolf had over the pond (indeed, my own work was originally inspired by the research of the late great US scholar Jane Marcus), I was taken aback by just how present Virginia Woolf was in the visual literary culture of the country. I travelled to a great number of cities, visiting many libraries and bookshops – some urban, some extremely remote – and nearly everywhere I went I'd find a photo of her, framed above a bookcase, sellotaped to the side of a cash register, high up on a poster montage in a toilet ... she felt ubiquitous.
My work had focused on relocating Woolf's words to the other side of the Atlantic by moving her away from the British literary establishment, in an attempt to connect her to the later literary culture of the US. So it was reassuring to see how loved she is in a country I that felt I knew so well, yet had never actually experienced before. I found myself comparing it to times I have unexpectedly seen her image or words in British spaces. In London she is quite visible – the bust in Tavistock Square, the line drawing in the window of the Hotel Russell, the plaques, the new Dalloway Terrace restaurant, and, my favourite, the quotation from her daity in the lobby of The Shard, pictured here.
In Cambridge the presence of Woolf and her contemporaries is much more understated, and often less easily accessible. The Fitzwilliam Museum houses the original manuscript of A Room of One's Own (though it is rarely on display), The Porch in Newnham is where she sometimes stayed with her aunt Caroline Stephen. It is said that she once went skinny-dipping with Rupert Brooke at Byron's Pool in Grantchester, and in the undergraduate accommodation of one college, original tile paintings by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant adorn a staircase, completely unannounced, generally unknown, but unmistakeable, and signed.