Abstracts are pasted below for the Institutional Woolf Panel at the Modern Language Association Convention in Seattle. Saturday, 7 January, 10:15–11:30 a.m., 617, WSCC.
Link to the listing in the MLA Program.
Presiding: Amanda Golden (Emory University)
Emily Kopley (Stanford University), “Improving on ‘A Dog’s Chance’: A Room of One’s Own as a Reply to Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch’s On the Art of Writing.
In A Room of One’s Own (1929), Virginia Woolf quotes Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch’s observation, in On the Art of Writing (1916), that ‘the poor poet has not in these days, nor has had for two hundred years, a dog’s chance,’ and extends his argument: since women have historically been poor, ‘[w]omen, then, have not had a dog’s chance of writing poetry’ (106). Quiller-Couch’s book gathered lectures he delivered to young men at Cambridge in 1913-14, just as Woolf’s book developed from two lectures she gave to young women at Cambridge in 1928. In the quote above, Woolf, whom Quiller-Couch once called ‘that precious lady’ (qtd. in Brittain, 45), revises her male predecessor’s statement in two ways: she turns ‘the poor poet’ into ‘women,’ and she uses ‘poetry’ to mean not verse but great literature in any form. Throughout A Room of One’s Own, Woolf challenges Quiller-Couch’s assumptions that verse is taught, written, and read by men; and that verse is a more edifying and noble form than prose. Yet, even as Woolf draws on Quiller-Couch’s ideas, explicitly and subtly, in order to dispute them, she draws on his rhetorical strategies in order to strengthen her feminist argument.
This paper will study how Woolf, a self-proclaimed outsider to the university system, drew on the work of an eminent insider in order to critique his patriarchal views on poetry and gender, using his own argumentative technique against him.
Lise Jaillant (University of British Columbia), “Woolf in the Modern Library Series: Bridging the Gap between Academics and Common Readers.”
In 1928, the Modern Library, a New-York based series of cheap reprints, released Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Fourteen Great Detective Stories. Woolf’s introduction for the Modern Library remains the only commentary of its sort that she wrote for any of her works. Woolf, who insisted that readers should “take no advice” on what and how to read, was nevertheless willing to engage with the new middlebrow culture by explaining her work to a large audience of American readers. When the Modern Library dropped Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse from its list in 1947, academics wrote articles and letters to complain about a decision that they believed was motivated by low sales. In fact, the Random House archives show that the Modern Library’s decision was due to copyright difficulties. From 1928 to 1947, then, high- and middlebrow readers could read Woolf’s novels in the Modern Library, along with detective stories, novels by Pearl Buck and Edna Ferber, and other texts marketed as “the world’s best books.” My paper seeks to recover a key moment in the history of modernism: the moment when Woolf’s novels were sold to a diverse audience of common and professional readers, and had not yet been dissociated from the “lesser works” of middlebrow writers. Drawing on recent discussions on the links between modernist and middlebrow cultures (Hammill, Keyser, Sullivan, for examples), I argue that the Modern Library allowed Woolf to escape the limitations of her highbrow image and to participate in the new middlebrow culture – a surprising move for a writer who strongly criticized the middlebrow ethos.
Emily Dalgarno (Boston University), “Translation in and out of the University.”
As the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis suggests, translation is deeply embedded in an imperial narrative about the institutions that protect inheritance and filiation. Although as a girl Woolf first learned foreign languages at the University of London, in her fiction translation practices are the basis of her criticism of the social functions of the university in an imperial society. She wrote during a period when the goals of translation were undergoing fundamental change. The translator who was compelled to observe the ethnocentric standards of translation in the university that were epitomized by Matthew Arnold evolved within a few decades into a figure whose aim, in response to the demands of colonial readers, was to mediate between cultures. In “On Being Ill” Woolf dismissed the Tower of Babel, and in The Waves and The Years her characters reveal the ethnographic limits of translation. Edward Pargiter, the don whose education is in part a matter of filiation, refuses to translate a key line from Antigone’s scene with Creon, in a scene where the university is seen as policing the borders of gender, class and nation. Although Woolf might also on occasion refuse to translate, when confronted by two models that confirm or question the academic institutions of imperial Britain, she joined the company of German classicists who read Antigone as a play that uses an ancient Greek text to challenge the semantics of the official language.
Karen V. Kukil (Smith College), “Virginia Woolf and Bloomsbury at Smith College.”