Virginia Woolf talks

Literature Cambridge and Lucy Cavendish College are pleased to offer a series of talks on Virginia Woolf and her circle, given by distinguished scholars in the field. The talks are free and open to all. Town and gown all welcome.
You can buy lunch in the Lucy Cavendish dining hall from 12.30 pm before the talk.

Michaelmas Term
2017: Frances Spalding and Claire Davison.
Lent Term 2017: David Trotter and Aoife Byrne.
Details below.

Enquiries: Dr Trudi Tate, tt206 [at]

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Claire Davison,
Virginia Woolf and Musical Performance

Wednesday 29 November 2017, 1.00 pm. Lucy Cavendish College.
What happens when music happens? From her earliest diary entries to her last hastily scribbled notes, Woolf’s writings reflect an incredibly sensitive ear to music. She resists scholarly analyses of musical performance, but is clearly fascinated by the intensely performative effects that music has on individual listeners and assembled audiences. The type of performance – formal or improvised, professional or amateur – is also important, as is the space where listening takes place  – whether a concert room, a private salon, a street, or even a turnip field. In this talk, Claire Davison explore the models of musical performance that Woolf evokes and the transformative, political undercurrents of music in the making.

As we shall see, there are romantic, Keatsian echoes to be seized (‘Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard / Are sweeter…’) (1) as well as stridently Tolstoyan notes (‘Where you want to have slaves, there you should have as much music as possible’). (2) But above all, for Woolf, musical performance and interpretation are empowering forms of expression, as much (if not more) the preserve of the common listener as the inspired performer.

(1) John Keats, ‘Ode to a Grecian Urn’, Stanza 2.
(2) Maxim Gorky, ‘Reminiscences of Leo Tolstoy’, translated by Leonard Woolf and S. S. Koteliansky, Hogarth Press, 1920.

Main works discussed:
Woolf, The Voyage Out, (1915), esp. chapter 12
Woolf, 'The String Quartet' (1921)
Three Guineas (1938)

Get in touch if you have trouble finding the texts. (tt206[at]


Claire Davison is Professor of Modernist Studies at the Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris, and Chair of the French Virginia Woolf Society. She is the author of Translation as Collaboration: Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield and S. S. Koteliansky (2014) and has co-edited several volumes of Katherine Mansfield's work for Edinburgh University Press. Her essay 'Hearing the World "in Full Orchestra": Voyaging Out with Woolf, Darwin, and Music' is published in Woolf Studies Annual (2017). Website: here.

Free and open to all. No need to book. Lucy Cavendish College, Lady Margaret Road, Cambridge CB3 0BU

Lent Term 2018
We are pleased to offer two lectures on Woolf's contemporaries, Katherine Mansfield and Elizabeth Bowen.

David Trotter, Giving the Sign: Katherine Mansfield's stories
23 January 2018, 1.00 pm, Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge
This talk will discuss episodes involving communication at a distance in Virginia Woolf’s The Waves and stories by Katherine Mansfield, notably ‘Psychology’, ‘Bliss’, ‘The Man without a Temperament’, and ‘The Stranger’. 


Aoife Byrne, Elizabeth Bowen's Writings of the Second World War
Tuesday 6 March 2018, 1.00 pm, Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge
How do we understand material loss in wartime? In 1940, houses Virginia Woolf had lived in (at 52 Tavistock Square and 37 Mecklenburgh Square) were both bombed. The Regent's Park residence of her friend Elizabeth Bowen was bombed twice during the war. This paper explores the ways in which Bowen responds to the upheavals of war, and how this experience changed the meanings of home. 

Suggested reading
From The Collected Stories of Elizabeth Bowen, ed. Angus Wilson (London: Jonathan Cape, 1982):
Bowen, 'Oh Madam',
Bowen, 'The Demon Lover'
Bowen, 'Pink May'
Virginia Woolf, 'The Leaning Tower' (1940)


Previous talks include Gillian Beer on Reading The Waves across a Lifetime (January 2017), Nanette O'Brien on food in A Room of One's Own (March 2017), and Susan Sellers on Virginia Woolf and the Essay (April 2017). Further information about these talks can be found on our blog page for February 2017.

Previous talk October 2017

Roger Fry, Still Life (1912)

Roger Fry, Still Life (1912)

Frances Spalding, Virginia Woolf and Roger Fry: Looking at the Carpet from the Wrong Side
Wednesday 18 October 2017, 1.00 pm. Lucy Cavendish College.

'What can six apples not be?' So Virginia Woolf, miscounting, asked herself as she watched three Bloomsbury painters pore over a small picture of seven apples by Cézanne, which today can be found in the Fitzwilliam Museum. Their intense scrutiny disturbed her. 'An abominable race,' she had declared in the wake of the excitement caused by the two exhibitions of post-impressionist art that Roger Fry had brought to London in 1910 and 1912. Gradually, however, the new approach to modern art began to intrigue her. It also affected her thinking about the novel. The post-impressionist seemed to rid art of unwanted clutter. Could writers do the same? And to what purpose? At the heart of her thinking about the relationship between art and literature and the development of the novel is her long friendship with Roger Fry. This continued posthumously, after his death, for he was the only person on whom Woolf agreed to write a full-length biography, a genre that, more generally, she mistrusted. And in this way Fry's thoughts and ideas continued to play a part in her life. 'Such a brick wall,' she had written after his death, 'such a silence. How he reverberated.'

You are encouraged to read Woolf's biography of Roger Fry in advance, but this isn't essential.

Art historian Frances Spalding curated an exhibition on Woolf at the National Portrait Gallery and wrote an accompanying book, Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision. Her books include: Roger Fry: Art and LifeVanessa BellJohn Minton: Dance till the Stars Come DownDuncan Grant: A BiographyStevie Smith: A Biography; and Gwen Raverat: Friends, Family and Affections. Website: here.

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Students at Gillian Beer's talk on The Waves, Jan. 2017. You can read an extract from Gillian's talk on our Blog page, Feb. 2017.

Students at Gillian Beer's talk on The Waves, Jan. 2017. You can read an extract from Gillian's talk on our Blog page, Feb. 2017.