The Edinburgh Companion to Virginia Woolf and the Arts

The Edinburgh Companion to Virginia Woolf and the Arts

The Edinburgh Companion to Virginia Woolf and the Arts

The Edinburgh Companion to Virginia Woolf and the Arts


This volume is the most authoritative and up-to-date guide to Virginia Woolf's artistic influences and associations. Original, extensive, and newly researched chapters by internationally recognized authors explore the author's ideas about creativity and the nature of art in light of a recent "turn to the visual" in modernist studies, which has brought new focus to visual technologies and the significance of material production.

Sections situate Woolf's work within influential aesthetic theories and practices, including Bloomsbury aesthetics, art, race, Vanessa Bell, painting, theater, music, dance, fashion, entertaining, book design, broadcasting, film, and photography. It draws on archival and historical research, especially within Woolf's manuscripts and the Bloomsbury milieu. World renowned for her expertise on Woolf, Maggie Humm completes a volume that is rich in overlap and all-encompassing in its debates and methodologies.


Kate Flint

In 1924, VIRGINIA Woolf posed for the fashionable studio photographers Maurice Beck and Helen Macgregor. Her image appeared in the ‘Hall of Fame’ in London’s Vogue magazine: this fame, according to the accompanying caption, rested on her role as a publisher, on her writing as a critic, on her fiction – ‘in the opinion of some of the best judges she is the most brilliant novelist of the younger generation’, and on her family ties: ‘she is a daughter of the late Sir Leslie Stephen and a sister of Vanessa Bell’ (Vogue, May 1924: 40). Woolf is positioned, in other words, in relation to the new generation and the old. This message is emphatically reinforced by her costume. Seated at a polished table, her hands demurely folded in front of her, looking pensively to one side, Woolf wears a dress that had belonged to her mother, Julia Stephen. With lace at the collar and cuffs, and a clump of jewellery at the neck fastening, Woolf has on the clothing of the Victorian past.

The relationship of Virginia Woolf to Victorian aesthetics is a great deal more complicated than some of her more outspoken pronouncements would lead one to believe. In her 1927 essay, ‘How It Strikes a Contemporary’, she wrote:

We are sharply cut off from our predecessors. A shift in the scale – the
sudden slip of masses held in position for ages – has shaken the fabric from
top to bottom, alienated us from the past and made us perhaps too vividly
conscious of the present …. No age can have been more rich than ours in
writers determined to give expression to the differences which separate
them from the past and not to the resemblances which connect them with
it. (CE2: 157–8)

This is a rupture that may be traced in her critical meditations with which she surrounded her fiction in the postwar decade, stressing the jettisoning of old habits of plot, old conventions of melodrama and love interest, old ways of imposing artificial structures on the mobility of consciousness and one’s overlapping impressions of the world – and in her visual environment. Gone were the dark and cluttered Victorian interiors. The desire for severance from . . .

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