Just back from the Woolf conference in Kentucky

What a wonderful conference Kristin Czarnecki organized! Georgetown College and its conference center became a magical garden not unlike the one described in that passage in A Room of One’s Own where:

The gardens of Fernham* lay before me in the spring twilight, wild and open, and in the long grass, sprinkled and carelessly flung, were daffodils and bluebells, not orderly perhaps at the best of times, and now wind-blown and waving as they tugged at their roots. The windows of the building, curved like ships’ windows among generous waves of red brick, changed from lemon to silver under the flight of the quick spring clouds. Somebody was in a hammock, somebody, but in this light they were phantoms only, half guessed, half seen, raced across the grass — would no one stop her?— and then on the terrace, as if popping out to breathe the air, to glance at the garden, came a bent figure, formidable yet humble, with her great forehead and her shabby dress — could it be the famous scholar, could it be J —— H —— herself? All was dim, yet intense too, as if the scarf which the dusk had flung over the garden were torn asunder by star or sword — the gash of some terrible reality leaping, as its way is, out of the heart of the spring. For youth ——Here was my soup. Dinner was being served in the great dining-hall.

However, entirely unlike the dinner Woolf’s narrator describes, the food and beverages at the Georgetown College Woolf conference were delicious, indeed scrumptious (I am thinking of the banquet especially), nutritious (Woolf would agree that a delectable pastry feeds the soul, yes?) and abundant.

The conference included an extraordinary art exhibit which ranged from a lovely, eight inch high bronze bust of Virginia Woolf to a painting and a drawing by the late, much beloved Isota Tucker Epes (the artwork provided by J. J. Wilson) to a lovely circle of hand-crafted wooden leaves of various sizes shaped into curves and curlicues and strewn about on the floor which were amazingly resistant to the human feet that wandered accidentally through the artwork. The reception on the first night of the conference was held in the artspace and the food was heavenly. But I have already praised the food. But I have to say that everything from that cornucopia of gourmet choices still tingles on my tongue. Those last nibbles, the luscious, absurdly sweet and delicate petit fours remain particularly memorable. Even the aesthetics of the small, handy conference program were amazing—an elegant twig adorned the various days of the conference and a tree, inscribed with the conference title, appeared on alternate pages.

Sensuality set aside, I turn to the things of the mind—the glorious presentations that I listened to intently while scribbling incoherently as I tried to keep up with the insights and quotations and arguments. Because of travel constraints, I missed the first plenary session, alas. In the next event, Elisa Sparks delighted us all with her rigorously taxonomical “bar-graphical” discussion of Woolf’s flowers and trees, and we all laughed out loud when we realized that Elisa really did have graphs showing the frequencies of citations of violets, roses, lilies and the like. She was followed by Bonnie Kime Scott and her amazing, intricate and rich discussion of ecological holism and eco-feminism in Woolf’s work. Individual panels were excellent—and, of course, it was hard to choose among the options. The papers themselves resonated with each other brilliantly and the follow-up discussions were inspiring, spilling over into coffee breaks and luncheons.

The Friday afternoon featured events, chaired by Renee Dickinson, were so amazing! Beth Rigel Daughterty, in “Taking Her Fences: The Equestrian Woolf,” read with her usual humor and panache selected passages in which Woolf had mentioned horses creating a collage of word images and occasions. Emily Bingham took us all by surprise in her presentation, “Kentucky in Bloomsbury: Henrietta Bingham, Black Culture, and the Southern Gothic in Jazz-Age London,” a segment of her biography on her own relative who had fascinating connections to Bloomsbury. As I discovered at the Horse Park outing in a conversation about the presentation had not Emily encountered Nick Smart, a dedicated Woolfian, at another conference last year, she wouldn’t have been at Georgetown at all. Amazing synchronicity? An archival miracle? Certainly a marvelous outcome! And, of course, Cecil Woolf delighted us with his reminiscences of his aunt and uncle, Virginia and Leonard, and added his dry commentary on such matters as an entire volume devoted to Mitz. Cecil also, after much begging from the audience, mimicked Leonard’s voice, a performance which amused us all. The featured event on Saturday was the talk on The Waves by Carrie Rohman, who will co-edit the selected papers with Kristin Czarnecki. Carrie’s paper, “’We make life’: Vibrations, Aesthetics, and the Inhuman in The Waves,” brought together theory and text in provocative ways. The subsequent conversation was, itself, quite vibrant and exciting, intellectually challenging and suggestive of new approaches to the reading of the novel. Immediately afterward, Suzanne Bellamy presented a wonderful tribute to Isota Tucker Epes, using not only slides of Isota’s amazing paintings but also stunning photographs of Isota herself. The event was very moving, visually striking and genuinely witty. Suzanne not only performed Isota’s distinctive drawl, invoking her personality, but also read from Nigel Nicolson’s heated rebuttal to Isota’s essay, “How It Struck a Common Reader of the 1930s” on Three Guineas, which she had published in the Fall 94 Virginia Woolf Miscellany (issue 44). Isota definitely won the debate!  Lovely small prints of Isota’s work–mostly postcards–were distributed after the event.

The banquet which followed included Leslie Kathleen Hankins’ screening of the cartoon, “The Great Frost” based on Orlando, and circulated a petition that it might be made available on DVD. The Society Players once more read from Virginia Woolf’s works, honoring her in her own words. Jean Moorcroft Wilson, whose sartorial choices always brighten the conference, wore a lovely blue dress with a shawl that was so mesmerizing that several of us had to take photos of her. Perhaps the photos will show up on Paula Maggio’s “Blogging Woolf” site! The following morning, after the last concurrent panels, we all gathered at the art exhibit and very much enjoyed Diana Swanson’s wonderful paper, “The Real World: Virginia Woolf and Ecofeminism.” Diana made sure that the paper had utopian rather than gloomy overtones, emphasizing the possibility of reversing the current trend toward destruction of the planet and using Woolf’s work to encourage us. Then, suddenly it was over—there were hugs and promises to gather again in Glasgow, where Jane Goldman will host the Contradictory Woolf.  Oh my!  It’s time to start saving up for the airfare!!! That’s going to be one amazing conference.

And I want to give my thanks, once more, to Kristin and to Georgetown College!

* and Fernham is, of course, also the name of Anne Fernald’s wonderful blog… http://fernham.blogspot.com/

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Remembering the 19th Annual Conference on Virginia Woolf

Wow!  Awesome!  I am still so excited about the Woolf and the City conference, organized by Anne Fernald and her assistants at Fordham University in Manhattan.  The conference was so very cool.  Even the conference hotel, the Hudson, was cool (for some of us–including me–it was actually a bit of a shock because it was so boutique that I wasn’t really sure it was a hotel–now, that is partly because I missed the whole first day of the conference and arrived at the hotel at 11:40pm on Thursday night; at that time of night, the crowded bar was thumping with rave music and the reception area was almost totally dark and the single staff person behind the elongated console adorned with carved antlers didn’t even seem to have a computer). I wasn’t ready for the platform bed with the rock hard mattress, but I liked my west-facing sixth floor view of 9th Avenue–and I loved the 15th floor Sky Terrace where some of us gathered after the banquet.

The conference presentations and events were outstanding–really amazing.  One of my favorites was Anna Snaith’s plenary on Woolf and street music.  And I am really excited about the forthcoming volume of the selected papers (eds. Liz Evans and Sarah Cornish), partly because there were so many great panels and I couldn’t get to hear all the papers I wanted to, but also because the selected papers is the intellectual archive, the memory bank, of the conference.  I am hoping that lots of presenters submit their work for the collection.  Also wonderful, as always, was the sense that the conference was really a reunion of a vast family of Woolf scholars.  I can’t wait for the 20th conference!  It will be in Kentucky at Georgetown College and hosted by Kristin Czarnecki.  I love the theme–Woolf and the Natural World.  It’s a neat contrast to Woolf and the city, and I am already envisioning a possible paper.

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