In the photograph above, taken on the occasion of a group described as the “Emperor of Abyssinia and his entourage,” boarding the British naval ship the Dreadnaught in 1910, Virginia Woolf—bearded and in brown face-- is at far left. She joined her brother and other friends in pulling off what was then known as the “Dreadnaught Hoax,” an exceptionally embarrassing incident for the British government and the entire structure of the British empire, since initially they got away with their disguises, and were treated as dignitaries not only on the ship, but also in public. The hoax remains surprising and shocking to this day, especially since Virginia Woolf’s body of work and her contributions to modernist literature are still thought of as “lyrical,” domestic, and while profoundly gendered, not necessarily part of a political critique of the modern world.
But Virginia Woolf, in her writing and in her life, was what we would now call a social justice warrior, and her work is extraordinarily related to the world, not simply one tiny corner of it. The word “geography” is especially suited to Woolf, since it links the global (geo-) to writing and everything that goes with writing, from knowledge to information, beauty to truth. Woolf writes a blazing global modernism that is profoundly political and invested in everyday life no less than the contours of modernity worldwide, in gender and sexuality, race and ethnicity, class and radical inequality, colonialism and decoloniality, climate crisis and the disparity between the Global North and Global South. This seminar emphasizes the links between and among Woolf’s visionary aesthetics and her style, and the politics it exudes, a politics that travels all over the globe. We can set Woolf’s work into play with contemporary women’s writing from around the world, as well as doing justice to its revelations about our own world at this moment of social, cultural, and climactic breakdown, fierce inequalities, and political challenges to voice, truth, and love. We’ll read many of the major works as well as a key long essay that bridges the gap between media culture and political theory, and several short stories that distill these geographies, to produce an ecological and ethical reading of Woolf’s pivotal literature that carries over into this moment in time.
This seminar requires participation and dedication to the reading, of course. In addition there will be a writing project created in two stages, the first a short paper structured around a “geographic” element of most interest to the student, in relation to Woolf’s writing but also to the world at large. These geographies can include space itself and movement in space; oceanic or fluid geographies versus the power maps of world geography; the uses of modern media and technology in Woolf’s writing—photography, systemic violence, even fashion as a geographic code; landscape, agriculture, war and climate change as key parts of Woolf’s literary “geographics.” That short paper is spun off into a final project that extends its length and can also include, just as Woolf’s work does, both space and place, geography and region, various media from photography to film, and attention to archives of trauma, justice, renewal. There is also one required group presentation in class.
Two stories, in pdf: “The Mark on the Wall,” http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/woolf/monday/monday-08.html
“Lady in the Looking-Glass”
Essay: “Three Guineas” http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks02/0200931h.html
Novels: Jacob’s Room (1922), Mrs Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927),
Orlando: A Biography (1928), The Waves (1931), Between the Acts (1941—published posthumously)
The novels will be available at the UCSB Bookstore.