Virginia Woolf and Her Female Contemporaries: Selected Papers from the Twenty-Fifth Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf.
The latest volume in the Virginia Woolf Selected Papers Series arrives at a distinctive moment in scholarship on Woolf and the broader networks of modernist literature and culture in which the author moved. As many readers will know, it follows special issues of such journals as Modern Fiction Studies ("Women's Fiction, New Modernist Studies, and Feminism," edited by Anne Fernald, Summer 2013) and Literature Compass ("The Future of Women in Modernism," edited by Tory Young and Jeff Wallace, January 2013) whose contributors investigate the status and achievements of feminist subjects and methodologies in the field across the last two decades, offering new arguments to circulate, new paths to follow. This volume, and the conference from which it springs, precede just-launched publications and venues for the study of women's writing, gender, and modernism, such as the Feminist inter/Modernist Association and its affiliated journal, Feminist Modernist Studies, along with the forthcoming collection, Teaching Modernist Women's Writing in English (edited by Janine Utell). Virginia Woolf and Her Female Contemporaries offers a valuable account of facets of the present state of research on Woolf and in the wider field.
Editors Julie Vandivere and Megan Hicks open with a unique introduction that focuses primarily on the experience of organizing the volume's conference, which took place at Bloomsburg University in the Pennsylvania town of the same name in mid-2015. They discuss the particular challenges and benefits of hosting an international conference in a comparatively small university and town, highlighting strategies for acquiring financial support, engaging local media, and developing sustained points of contact among the university, schools, and readers in the Bloomsburg community. The editors provide a vivid sense of place in their writing. We are given views of events held at the nineteenth-century St Paul's Episcopal Church, for example, and the juried, public art exhibition that drew lively audiences along with a revenue stream that enabled scholarships for conference delegates. The reflections on organizing the conference in this part of book do limit its room for discussion of the conference's animating questions and themes. The introduction begins with an observation about Vandivere and other "scholars of lesser-known female modernists... sitting in a bar" and striking up the conversation that led directly to the 2015 conference, but the text promptly moves to the planning of the event rather than lingering over what must have been a spirited group discussion about women's writing and feminism in modernist studies (and our classrooms). However, Vandivere and Hicks point us to future publications including a standalone volume of essays about women modernists, not centered on Woolf, by the conference's plenary speakers. And this introduction usefully turns our attention to issues of labor and infrastructure that are crucial to successful scholarly gatherings but infrequently discussed.
Stimulating essays populate the volume's four central sections: "Who are Virginia Woolf's Female Contemporaries?"; "Virginia Woolf's Cultural Contexts"; "Virginia Woolf's Contemporaries Abroad"; and "Virginia Woolf's Contemporaries at Home." In this review, I consider seven of the volume's twenty-nine essays to give readers a sense of the collection's scope. It begins with Mary Jean Corbett's "Considering Contemporaneity: Woolf and 'The Maternal Generation,'" which cracks open two of the volume's key terms by addressing Woolf's encounters with writing by numerous women, teasing out understandings of how individuals and generations exist together in and across time. Corbett attends to Woolf's affinities with and disavowals of writers of her lifetime, most of whom (Vernon Lee, Alice Meynell) were notably older than her and provoked varied responses from Woolf as her own public, cultural status developed. Jeffrey M. Brown also explores "the peculiar values of contemporaneity" in his argument about how Woolf's writing about Ellen Terry's life and career on the stage suggests the author's awareness of "the forms of female cultural production that remained invisible and fleeting, resistant to the ossification and enduring life of print" (29). Kristin Bluemel juxtaposes Woolf's writing and personal, physical performance of gender with those of Gwen Raverat, an artist close to her in age and family history but different in the content and reception of her work. As Bluemel observes, Woolf's written responses to Raverat's body and representations of feminine experiences and identities in her engravings comprise a limited view of modern beauty. In "The Outsider as Editor: Three Guineas and the Feminist Periodical," Alyssa Mackenzie uses Woolf's writing about establishing a feminist journal that never came into print as a springboard for her study of how that imagined journal nonetheless illuminates some of the author's ideas about ideal conditions for disseminating polemics that are informed by her encounters with periodicals of her time, particularly Time and Tide, The Freewoman, and The New Freewoman. Jessica Kim is one of numerous contributors who traces the interplay between Woolf's work and texts by younger authors with whom she was contemporary. Here, Kim reads "Street Haunting" and Una Marson's "Little Brown Girl" together, identifying their varied representations of flaneurie to assert that the two further "a larger self-reflexive commentary... on the precarious status of British women writers as newly arrived observers, urban or otherwise, within a patriarchal imperial complex" (102). Part of the same section of the volume as Kim's work, Urvashi Vashist and Kristin Czarnecki situate their respective essays in geomodernist realms. Riffing on Rachel Blau Duplessis's evocative image, Vashist creates a 'woolfenstein' by bringing together Woolf and Cornelia Sorabji, associating them through not only Woolf's review of the latter's Between the Twilights: Being Studies of Indian Women by One of Their Own for the Times Literary Supplement in 1908, but also the parallels between its "uneasy union of [Sorabji's] selves, character, and author" and Woolf's approaches in her own life writing (141). Czarnecki's essay, "'In My Mind I Saw My Mother': Virginia Woolf, Zitkala-Sa, and Autobiography," takes up the proximity between the two authors' explorations of central intimate relationships and critiques of patriarchal and colonial paradigms in their texts. Setting "A Sketch of the Past" beside the Sioux writer's "Impressions of an Indian Childhood" (1900), Czarnecki identifies their similar longings for their mothers in addition to their resistance to the constraining social structures of their time. These and other papers indicate the robust qualities of the conference and this collection, as does the conference program assembled by the editors and other members of the committee, printed at the end of the volume.
Virginia Woolf and Her Female Contemporaries also is a remarkable contribution to the Selected Papers Series because of its final three pieces of writing, tributes to the groundbreaking Woolf scholar Jane Marcus by three women who first delivered them during the conference's memorial event for Marcus. Former students of Marcus, Linda Camarasana, J. Ashley Foster, and Jean Mills articulate the significance of their mentor's scholarship and teaching across several decades. Though they represent her singular impact on studies of Woolf and feminist modernism, they also turn readers' attention to the sprawling communities to which Marcus belonged. These final texts enrich the coherence of the collection. Their emphases on multigenerational dialogues and passionate intellectual pursuits gesture back to the cover image, a collage of photographic portraits of Woolf and women writers of multiple centuries, along with the photographic collage of delegates that ends the editors' introduction and together suggest the heterogeneous features of Woolf studies and the contours of feminist modernist scholarship.
--Kathryn Holland, MacEwan University
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Publication:||Woolf Studies Annual|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2018|
|Previous Article:||Virginia Woolf Writing the World: Selected Papers from the Twenty-fourth Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf.|
|Next Article:||Virginia Woolf & Heritage: Selected Papers from the Twenty-Sixth Annual Conference on Virginia Woolf.|