Past summer courses
16-21 July 2017, Homerton College, Cambridge
The theme for our 2017 Virginia Woolf Summer Course was Woolf's Rooms. We had an amazing week of intensive lectures, supervisions, discussions, and readings. We paid visits to Girton and Newnham Colleges, and heard about the talks Woolf gave there. These talks were then revised to become A Room of One's Own (1929), one of Woolf's most influential books. It was moving to sit in the very rooms in which Woolf spoke to young women undergraduates in 1928. We also went to King's College and to the Fitzwilliam Museum, where we were privileged to see the original manuscript of A Room of One's Own.
Further details of the week can be found on our Facebook page. Sincere thanks to our inspiring teachers, and to our wonderful, enthusiatic students of all ages, from all over the world, who made this such a memorable week.
Woolf's Rooms July 2017
Why are rooms so important in the writing of Virginia Woolf? Who needs a room of their own, and why? The use of space was, and remains, a political issue. Who has space; how is it used; how is it shared (or not)? What is the relationship between rooms and creativity; rooms and power? The course explored these and many other questions through five key books by Woolf, listed below.
Our speakers included leading scholars Gillian Beer, Sinead Garrigan Mattar, Alison Hennegan, Claire Nicholson, Jane Potter, and Trudi Tate. Some evenings we had readings and talks, including a talk by Kabe Wilson on his remarkable re-writing of A Room of One's Own. Interview with Kabe Wilson here; article here.
We studied these books:
A Room of One's Own (1929)
Jacob's Room (1922)
The Waves (1931)
To the Lighthouse (1927)
Between the Acts (1941)
Reading Bloomsbury, 23-28 July 2017
Homerton College, Cambridge
Reading Bloomsbury explored some of the literature, art, and ideas developed by a lively group of intellectuals, many with strong Cambridge connections, who lived in Bloomsbury in London from about 1904. The course offered itself as an antidote to some current views of Bloomsbury; we focused on the work and ideas (rather than the love affairs) of these very interesting people, from whom we can still learn a great deal.
The loose grouping of people around Virginia and Leonard Woolf, Vanessa Bell, John Maynard Keynes, Roger Fry, Lytton Strachey, E. M. Forster, and others, were serious writers, artists, and thinkers. They were people who engaged seriously with the pressing political and social issues of the day, focusing on the 1910s to 1930s. We explored their thinking on some of the most important issues of the period, such as the First World War and the peace settlements, international relations, the franchise, the problems of an unreliable press, rights for women, freedom from sexual repression, the emergence of fascism.
Frances Spalding, Cambridge and Bloomsbury
Alison Hennegan, Sexual Politics: Lytton Strachey, E. M. Forster and others
Claudia Tobin, Vanessa Bell and Bloomsbury art
Claire Nicholson, Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway (1925): women, clothing, and Bloomsbury aesthetics
Peter Jones, Bloomsbury, Pacifism, and Politics: Maynard Keynes, Leonard Woolf, Clive Bell, E. M. Forster
• Virginia Woolf, 'Old Bloomsbury' (1928) in Moments of Being
• E. M. Forster, 'What I Believe' (1939). Online edition:
• Frances Spalding, The Bloomsbury Group(2013)
• Ian Sansom article in the Guardian on Bloomsbury (2011).
• Susanna Rustin article in the Guardian on Bloomsbury (2015).
• Extract from Glendinning biography of Leonard Woolf in the Guardian (2006): here.
• Paul Levy review of Glendinning's biography of Leonard Woolf (2006): here.
• Paul Levy on Lytton Strachey in the Guardian (2002): here.
• Art UK on Vanessa Bell: here.
• Art UK on Dora Carrington: here.
• Art UK on Roger Fry: here
• Other Bloomsbury links: here.
For students' comments on this course, please see the Testimonials page.
Virginia Woolf in Cambridge summer course, July 2016
Our first course was Virginia Woolf in Cambridge, held in July 2016 in Homerton College, Cambridge. We started each day with a lecture and discussion by a leading Woolf scholar. We heard Alison Hennegan on A Room of One's Own, Susan Sellers on Mrs Dalloway, Trudi Tate on To the Lighthouse and Gillian Beer on Reading The Waves Across a Lifetime. We also looked at some of Woolf's essays, and deepened our knowledge of the context in which she wrote. We thought about Woolf's own education, which was mainly (not entirely) at home. She was extraordinarily well read and well informed. Much of her knowledge came through her own reading, much from intellectual discussions with others. At the same time, she recognised the value of formal education. We visited Girton and Newnham Colleges and sat in the very rooms in which Woolf gave the talks in 1928 which were to become A Room of One's Own.
Most days we had what in Cambridge is called a supervision (in Oxford it is a tutorial). A small group of 2 or 3 students talks for an hour with an experienced Cambridge supervisor. It is an opportunity for an open yet guided discussion, in which students explore ideas quite deeply, listen carefully to other people's thoughts, and develop their skills in reading a literary work in depth, and with precision.
We had an excursion to the Orchard Tea Room in Grantchester and heard a talk by Claire Nicholson on Woolf's friendship with Rupert Brooke before the First World War, and we visited Bloomsbury in London, led by art historian Claudia Tobin. We enjoyed readings and talks by novelist Susan Sellers and performance artist Kabe Wilson. Throughout the week, students used their spare time to read, think, visit bookshops and colleges, discuss ideas with other students, and to reflect.
For us, one of the most rewarding aspects of the course was the incredibly interesting group of people who came to Cambridge from many parts of the world. Woolf brought together readers who would never otherwise meet, and many strong friendships were formed.
Trudi Tate and Ericka Jacobs
Directors, Literature Cambridge
Praise for Woolf summer course 2016:
• This summer course is one of my top experiences.
• The course is still resonating – I think it was the immersion. The course was a real inspiration.
• Terrific program. I am going to do my best to come back next year ... You did an exceptional job providing something for everyone, no matter their background. A big thank you.
•Thank you so much for this course. It was excellently run and has reinvigorated both my enthusiasm for the Cambridge way and, most importantly, for Woolf’s works.
• Very well organized, enthusiastic staff, diverse range of activities, wonderful location! Thanks for everything!
• Clear speakers whose enthusiasm is engaging and stimulating.
Further comments here.
Previous Study Days at Stapleford Granary
17 September 2016. Reading To the Lighthouse. Details below.
25 February 2017. Alice in Space. Details below.
18 March 2017. Tragedy, Past and Present. Details below.
29 April 2017 Reading Pride and Prejudice. Details below.
13 May 2017. Creative Writing. Details here.
11 June 2017. Reading The Waste Land. Details here.
16 September 2017. Reading Mrs Dalloway. Details here.
12 November 2017. Ali Smith and Gillian Beer: Reading and Conversation. Details here.
28 January 2018. Reading Great Expectations.
18 February 2018. Reading Tennyson. Details below.
Reading To the Lighthouse
Our first study day took place on 17 September 2016 with a day on Virginia Woolf's much-loved novel of yearning, loss, love, and mourning, To the Lighthouse (1927). Three Woolf scholars reflected upon the novel from different angles. Dame Gillian Beer explored the wealth of story-telling within To the Lighthouse. Trudi Tate discussed mourning the Victorian mother. Frances Spalding talked about Cézanne, Roger Fry, and visual art in To the Lighthouse.
For a report on the lectures, please see our Blog page for 19 September 2016.
Alice in Space
25 February 2017. A fascinating afternoon of lectures on the rich intellectual world of Lewis Carroll. Dame Gillian Beer discussed some of the ideas in her new book, Alice in Space: The Sideways Victorian World of Lewis Carroll (Chicago UP, 2016). Zoe Jaques explored the ways in which Carroll wrote about animals. To read some extracts from the lectures, see our Blog page, 1 March 2017.
Tragedy: Past and Present
18 March 2017. An inspirational day of lectures by leading Cambridge scholars, Jennifer Wallace, Adrian Poole and Alison Hennegan. The day gave us a glimpse of the monumental Tragedy paper taught to undergraduates in the English Faculty, Cambridge. For some extracts from the lectures plus a list of further reading, see our Blog page, 19-23 March 2017.
What is tragedy; how have its literary and theatrical traditions changed (or not) over the centuries? What can we learn from it now? Where does tragedy go, once the word ceases to be defined as a type of drama? Do novels, operas, lyric poetry, or paintings have the capacity to be tragic? We might think of Goya, Verdi, Dosoyevsky, Hardy, or Wilfred Owen.
The study day introduces participants to Greek, Shakespearean, and modern tragedy, with each lecture followed by questions and discussion. A unique opportunity to learn something of the history and power of tragedy, as it is taught to Cambridge undergraduates, and to think about how tragedy speaks to us today.
Jennifer Wallace, Greek Tragic Performance
Adrian Poole, Shakespeare, Tragedy and Rome
Alison Hennegan, Modern Tragedy: A Contradiction in Terms?
Greek Tragedy: Sophocles, Antigone; Sophocles, Electra; Euripides, Bacchae
Shakespeare: Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus
Modern Tragedy: O'Neill, Mourning Becomes Electra (1931); Orton, What the Butler Saw (first performed posthumously 1969); Kane, Phaedra's Love (1996)
Reading Pride and Prejudice
29 April 2017
Fred Parker, Disclosing and declaring love in Pride and Prejudice.
Pride and Prejudice is a novel about love and about marriage proposals; about how one speaks, and speaks out, in the early nineteenth century. Fred Parker explore the difficulty of communicating one’s feelings in a culture where all exchanges in public – especially between men and women – are understood to be coded and convention-based. Is it possible to be polite and sincere? It’s a question that also bears on the playful indirectness of Austen’s own narrative voice.
Anne Toner, Jane Austen's dialogues: drama and innovation.
Anne Toner discussed Jane Austen’s celebrated dialogue. She examined what is innovative about Austen’s dialogue and what readers have loved about it. She explored its relation to drama, and how Austen’s innovations in dialogue relate to her developments in depicting consciousness.
13 May 2017. This exciting workshop was led by acclaimed author and scholar Susan Sellers. It explored ideas about how to get started, what to write about, and how to engage readers; it finished with a discussion of online and commercial publishing. The course offered tips and useful exercises on voice and point of view, character and world-building, dialogue, plot, and the crucial role of self-editing. Participants found the day really rewarding.
Reading Mrs Dalloway
16 September 2017. Mrs Dalloway (1925) is one of Woolf’s best-known novels. But how well do we understand it today? What is the novel really saying about the First World War, about shell shock, about love, gender and family relations? This study day explored the historical context of this intriguing, lyrical novel about two inhabitants of London – a society hostess and a shell-shocked soldier – whose lives overlap but who never meet.
Set on a single day in 1923, Mrs Dalloway has a very sharp eye for the issues of its day, and has things to say to us in our time.
Three leading Woolf scholars gave lectures which are both informed and accessible to a wide audience. We finished with a round-table seminar in which everyone could participate.
Susan Sellers, Writing Mrs Dalloway
Trudi Tate, Mrs Dalloway: Peace and Betrayal, 1923
Claire Nicholson, Mrs Dalloway's Dresses
On 18 February 2018 we studied the great Victorian poet Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-92). Ewan Jones lectured on Maud and gave a marvellous reading of the entire poem, which took about an hour. Oliver Goldstein read and lectured on some beautiful short lyric poems. Participants included members of the Tennyson Society as well as readers new to Tennyson. We finished the day with a fascinating round-table discussion.