Virginia Woolf's Bloomsbury. Volume 1: Aesthetic Theory and Literary Practice

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Virginia Woolf's Bloomsbury. Volume 1: Aesthetic Theory and Literary Practice. Ed. Gina Potts and Lisa Shahriari (London: Palgrave, 2010) xvii + 188pp.

The essays in Virginia Woolf's Bloomsbury grew out of the 14th Annual Conference on Virginia Woolf, held in London in June 2004, whose theme was "Back to Bloomsbury." Volume 1 of the two-volume set clusters papers under the heading "Aesthetic Theory and Literary Practice." (A second volume centers on "International Influence and Aesthetics.") The collection conveys the sense of a lively conversation and the excitement of the peripatetic conference's return to Woolf's hometown. An interest in situating Woolf within London marks several of the papers, though the focus on the city tends, surprisingly, more toward the insides of houses and the shelves of their libraries than street haunting. The rubric "Aesthetics and Literary Practice" is broadly defined, with essays engaging topics from painting, architecture, and photography to less expected subjects like natural history and Leonard Woolf.

Indeed, following Gina Potts's introduction, first among the essays comes Cecil Woolf's warm recollection of his uncle and aunt, an affectionate corrective to accounts of a mean, authoritarian Leonard and melancholy, dispirited, even sadistic Virginia who haunt the biographical record. The fascinating essay that follows, by Suzanne Raitt, also centers on revision and return, though of a different sort, in Woolf's composition practices and as thematized in To the Lighthouse. Whereas writing for Woolf could be an ecstatic experience, revision was traumatic. Even the narrator's encounter in A Room of One's Own with Milton's and Thackeray's drafts, as Raitt shows, proves so. Placing accounts of Woolf's practices in the context of psychoanalytic understandings of textual revision, Raitt looks at Woolf's expansion, through revision, of the section of To the Lighthouse devoted to Lily Briscoe's practices of artistic return and argues that, in returning to that novel, Woolf came to see revision as potentially--sometimes--curative.

Beth Rigel Daugherty examines the influence of Anne Thackeray Ritchie, Woolf's "Aunt Anny," first as a model of a writing woman to balance Leslie Stephen's man of letters, and then through the prose style and preoccupations that Ritchie shares with Woolf. The younger writer admired Ritchie and at times, according to Daugherty, seems even to have echoed her sentences. In A Room of One's Own, Daugherty traces the recurrence of the canon of women writers that Ritchie too championed and the method that she pioneered for writing women's lives. Daugherty credits Ritchie, too, as the likely source of Virginia Stephen's copies of Atalanta, a progressive girls' magazine that could have served as a standin for the community and instruction of a schoolroom. Anna Bogen's contribution places Room in relation to a body of writing that made less room for women, the popular campus novels of the period. These novels nevertheless share with Woolf's essay an investment in insider-outsider tensions and the divide between modern London and the world apart that is the university, evocative alternately of history and timelessness. Yet, Bogen notes, it is from a modern London of recognizable sites that Woolf's narrator imagines a future Cambridge of women writers. Bogen shows that Room can be read as appropriative, rather than merely subversive, of university literature--a genre in which, though its writer was thought until recently never to have enrolled in a university course, it is now the canonical text.

Morag Shiach's and Elisa Kay Sparks's contributions return to the city. Shiach poses the question of whether, to complement the flaneur as metaphor of modernity, we can find a "comparably historicized form of cultural analysis or literary criticism that engages with the more confined, and the more static terrain of the room"--a model that would re-imagine the city's connecting streets as a "structured network" of interior spaces (51). …


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