Guest Blog: Conference on Woolf, Europe and Peace

We are pleased to welcome Peter Adkins, Assistant Lecturer at the University of Kent as our guest blogger. Peter is one of the organisers of the Virginia Woolf Conference which takes place in Canterbury, 21-24 June. After the conference, we look forward to welcoming some of the delegates to our summer course in Cambridge, Woolf and Politics.


Virginia Woolf, Europe and Peace
The 28th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf

‘The war was over – so somebody told her as she took her place in the queue at the grocer’s shop. The guns went on booming and the sirens wailed.’ (The Years, 1918 chapter)

In the short chapter of Woolf’s novel The Years set in the immediate aftermath of the November 1918 armistice, the Pargiter family’s former housekeeper Crosby experiences the uncanny sensation of continuing to hear the war which has officially come to an end. The gun salutes and celebratory sirens marking the ceasefire in Europe, ironically, perpetuate the wartime conditions that are meant to have ended. Woolf was herself disconcerted by the guns and sirens that were meant to signify the end of the First World War. As she wrote to her sister, Vanessa, on Armistice day, ‘[t]he guns have been going off for half an hour, and the sirens whistling […] though it’s all done in such an intermittent way that its not in the least impressive – only unsettling’. Peace might have been declared across the channel in France, but the war continues to structure the lived experience of everyday reality in London: ‘The guns went on booming and the sirens wailed.’

2018 marks a century since the end of the war that was purported to be “the war to end all wars,” but which in reality heralded the beginning of a modern mode of warfare that would come to dominate most of the proceeding hundred years. Crosby’s experience of hearing the guns continue to boom and the sirens wail after the armistice not only speaks to Woolf’s own experience in 1918, but also the failure of the armistice to keep to its promise. Writing The Years in the 1930s Woolf was only too aware that the promise of peace in Europe had not been kept, as events on the continent once again were building towards an imminent crisis. Woolf’s next book Three Guineas (1938), a work whose 80th anniversary is also to be celebrated this year, continued this line of preoccupation, addressing the questions of war and peace more directly, taking its subject as the rise of fascism in Europe and the complicity of patriarchy (both at home and abroad) in allowing such ideologies to flourish.

The 28th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf, to be held at Woolf College, University of Kent, 21–24 June 2018 and taking the theme of Woolf, Europe and Peace, looks to engage with these anniversaries and legacies in new critical and creative ways. The conference will revisit how Woolf thought and wrote about ideas of peace and Europe, concerns that proliferate in Woolf’s texts, and not just in the context of the two world wars. For instance, Woolf’s love of Europe is well-known, exemplified in both the diary entries describing her romantic trip to France with Vita Sackville-West in 1928 and in the fictional description of Jacob’s pilgrimage to the classical ruins of Greece in Jacob’s Room. As such, while we expect that the anniversary of the war ending (and the current state of global politics) will mean that many delegates look towards Europe’s wartime contexts, we also envisage contributions from those who are thinking about Europe and Woolf in broader terms.

Similarly, the notion of ‘peace’, a word whose meanings and implications exceed any specific context, is ripe with possibilities of thinking about Woolf’s writing through theoretical, historical and affective frameworks outside of the two world wars. The conference will also afford the opportunity to consider the question of Woolf, Europe and Peace in relation to those around her, particularly in the Bloomsbury circle, who were writing about these subjects. John Maynard Keynes’ The Economic Consequences of the Peace (1919), Clive Bell’s Peace at Once (1915) and Leonard Woolf’s Quack, Quack! (1935) offer three prominent examples of the way in which these questions were being addressed by those who Woolf knew and whose ideas she was in dialogue with.

Our keynote speakers are  Professor Rosi Braidotti (Utrecht), Professor Claire Davison (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle), and Dr Jane Goldman (University of Glasgow). There will also be a plenary dialogue on the subject of Woolf and politics by Professor David Ayers and Professor Rachel Potter. As is the tradition with the Annual International Woolf Conferences, in addition to the plenary talks there will be a number of additional events and excursions. These will include a performance of Claude Debussy’s La boîte à joujoux (‘The Toy Box’), a children’s ballet premiered by the Omega Workshops in 1915, on the Friday evening in the University of Kent’s Colyer-Fergusson concert hall. There will also be a performance of ‘The Particle and the Wave’ an ‘audio/video/text piece’ by Himali Singh Soin with Dario Villanueva and David Soin Tappeser, that uses algorithmic measurements of the distance between the 1,265 semi-colons in The Wave to create sound waves. Keeping with the conference’s focus on Europe, there will be a ‘Lunchtime Polylogue’ reading, in which the ‘Time Passes’ section of To The Lighthouse will be simultaneously read aloud in multiple European languages at a different points of the Canterbury campus.

For those delegates who are hoping to arrive a few days early (and we recommend you do, Canterbury is wonderful to visit in the summer) there will be the option to visit some of the places in Kent that were important to Woolf and which appear in her writing. On Wednesday 20 June, there will be a trip to Knole House and Sissinghurst Castle Garden, both, of course, the former homes of Vita Sackville-West. For those not attending the trips, there will still be the opportunity to wander through the historic setting of Canterbury and see aspects of the city which Woolf herself would have encountered when she spent a month on the outskirts of Canterbury in the summer of 1910 (for further information on Woolf’s connection with the city see Derek Ryan’s ‘Virginia Woolf and Canterbury’ in Virginia Woolf Miscellany, Number 89 and 90).

For more details about the conference please visit:

Literature Cambridge