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05 May 2017

Virginia Woolf Celebration

Virginia Woolf delivered a talk entitled ‘Poetry & Fiction’ to the Oxford University English Society at St Hugh’s on 18 May 1927, accompanied by Vita Sackville-West. Almost ninety years after her visit, join us for a day of talks and discussion celebrating Woolf and exploring new perspectives on her life and work.

Speakers will be Professor Frances Spalding CBE, Fellow of Clare Hall, Cambridge; Juliet Nicolson (English, 1973), alumna, author and historian; Professor Alexandra Harris of the University of Liverpool’s Department of English; and Christopher Woodward, Director of the Garden Museum.

Celebrated actress and playwright, Dame Eileen Atkins, whose script, ‘Vita and Virginia’ is soon to be adapted for the big screen, will be reading from ‘A Room of One’s Own’.

There will be a buffet style lunch and the day will finish with afternoon tea, to be held on the terrace if the weather permits.

A 10% reduction applies to Current Students of Oxford University – please provide your college and matriculation details when booking.

Professor Alexandra Harris - 'Woolf the Explorer'

Alexandra Harris studied English at Christ Church before doing an MA at the Courtauld Institute. She returned to Oxford for her DPhil, which explored the relationship between Romantic English art and modernist fiction, and is now Professor of English at Liverpool University. She enjoys thinking about literature in relation to art, design, landscape, and the history of taste.

Professor Harris has written extensively on Virginia Woolf, for example in her book ‘Romantic Moderns’, for which she won the Guardian First Book Award. More recently she published an introduction to Woolf’s life and work: ‘Virginia Woolf’. Alex also presents arts documentaries on BBC Radio 3 and 4, including the 2015 ‘A Walk of One’s Own: Virginia Woolf on Foot’, exploring the link between her passion for walking and her writing.

In Alex’s talk, she hopes to disrupt perceptions of Woolf as frail and ethereal and will give a sense of her toughness and adventurousness: sunbathing and walking for miles on intrepid trips in Spain and Turkey.

Juliet Nicolson - 'A House Full of Daughters'

Juliet Nicolson studied English at St Hugh’s, matriculating in 1973. She is now a novelist and historian.

Her latest book, ‘A House Full of Daughters’, tells the story of the extraordinary women in her family, including her grandmother, Vita Sackville-West. Vita formed the inspiration for Woolf’s ‘Orlando’, which was described as ‘the longest and most charming love letter in literature’ by Juliet’s father, Nigel Nicolson.

In her talk, Juliet will discuss generational changes: political, sexual, social and educational, in the only relationship that is shared by all women. She will discuss the part that loyalty and jealousy, sex and secrecy, love and betrayal have played in seven generations of women in her own family over 200 years, from her great-great-grandmother Pepita to her three year old granddaughter Imogen.

Professor Frances Spalding, CBE - 'Virginia Woolf’s acknowledged debt:  ‘to the unrivalled sympathy & imagination of Mr Roger Fry’'

Professor Frances Spalding, Fellow of Clare Hall, Cambridge, is an art historian and writer. She was appointed as Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the Birthday Honours 2005 for services to literature.

Professor Spalding specialises in twentieth century art and cultural history and has published, amongst numerous other titles, books on the Bloomsbury Group and its members, including a recent biography of Woolf’s sister, the artist Vanessa Bell, and ‘Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision’ in 2014. Frances also delivered the annual Virginia Woolf Birthday Lecture on ‘Virginia Woolf and Tristram Shandy’ at Senate House, University of London in January 2016.

In her talk, Frances will discuss Woolf’s debt to Roger Fry, the painter and critic.

Christopher Woodward - 'The Kindness of Hydrangeas: Virginia Woolf and Gardens'

Christopher Woodward is Director of the Garden Museum in London. It was set up in 1977, rescuing the abandoned ancient church of St Mary’s from demolition, and hosts three exhibitions each year exploring the making of British gardens. The museum is currently being renovated with help from a Heritage Lottery Fund grant and is scheduled to reopen later this year.

Woolf liked to write in a converted tool shed in her garden at Monk’s House, Sussex, where she lived with her husband, Leonard. While he was the horticulturalist of the pair, Virginia found comfort and delight in the garden. Christopher will discuss what Woolf drew from, and saw in, gardens and in individual flowers although she was not a gardener herself; he will also reflect on what Woolf helps gardeners to see in gardens.

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