Virginia Woolf talks

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Literature Cambridge and Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge present a series of talks on Virginia Woolf and her contemporaries, 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.
Venue: Lucy Cavendish College, Lady Margaret Road, Cambridge, CB3 0BU


Michaelmas Term 2018

Tuesday 30 October 2018, 1.00 pm. Clara Jones, King's College, London.

The 'Cook Sketch' and 'The Villa Jones': Virginia Woolf's Lost 1931 Sketches
This talk will introduce two previously unpublished sketches written by Virginia Woolf in 1931. Discovered in the pages of a little-known notebook held in the Morgan Library in New York, the 'Cook Sketch' and 'The Villa Jones' differ formally but collectively suggest an alternative starting point for the much-discussed political turn in Woolf's writing during the 1930s. 

Written entirely in the voice of a domestic cook, the 'Cook Sketch' represents an unprecedented act of class ventriloquism on Woolf's part. By positioning the voice of the sketch in relation to Woolf's failure to include working-class voices in The Waves and her encounter with the autobiographical writing of Guildswomen in the 1931 collection Life as We Have Known It, I suggest how it might inform our understanding of Woolf's (often vexed) attitudes towards class in her life and writing. In 'The Villa Jones', Woolf's adopts the voice of a supercilious letter-writer, 'appalled' by the despoliation of the Sussex Downs by 'Jones', an archetypal showy, middle-class villa owner. I read this letter-essay in the context of Woolf's relationship to the countryside surrounding her home in Rodmell and the rise of the rural preservation discourses she apes so convincingly in this sketch. 

Both sketches provided Woolf with an opportunity to test her ear and try out new voices – probing her limits as a writer. But it is significant that the voices of Cook and of the letter-writer are both invested with political urgency and a kind of will to participate. They rehearse the questions about class, culture, community and political action that dominate The Years, 'Three Guineas' and Between the Acts later in the 1930.

Lent Term 2019

Tuesday 15 January 2019, 1.00 pm. Isobel Maddison of Lucy Cavendish College will talk about ‘Elizabeth von Arnim and Virginia Woolf: Love, Marriage, Expiation’.

Tuesday 12 February 2019, 1.00 pm. Professor Dame Gillian Beer will talk about 'Modernist Alice'.

The Alice books transform from age to age and place to place. In the period of Modernism in Britain and Surrealism in Europe, they took devious and different directions. The talk will be illustrated with writing and images drawn from Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Walter de la Mare, Arthur Eddington, Vladimir Nabokov, Andre Breton, and others.


You can read about our past talks in this series here. Contact us:

 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.

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