Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf? Bloomsbury welcomes icon home

January 30, 2004

Virginia Woolf is being welcomed back to Bloomsbury by British scholars in the final chapter of the literary giant's academic rehabilitation in the UK.

Some 300 delegates will visit London this June to attend the first major conference dedicated to the author of Mrs Dalloway and Orlando to be held in England.

The occasion will be marked by a week of events at the Bloomsbury Theatre and the unveiling of a bust of Woolf in Tavistock Square. Such a celebration of Woolf in her home city would have been unthinkable 20 years ago when she was still largely regarded as a relatively unimportant literary figure in the UK.

The hostility of the influential Cambridge University critic F. R. Leavis and a reaction against the perceived snobbery of the Bloomsbury Group contributed to Woolf's dismissal. This contrasts with her high status in the US, where the majority of international Woolf conferences have been held.

The "14th International Conference on Virginia Woolf" in Bloomsbury, supported by The Times Literary Supplement , will be staged at the University of London's Institute of English Studies on the initiative of three graduate students.

Gina Vitello, who lectures in English at Birkbeck College London, suggested bringing the event to Bloomsbury in 2001 when the conference made its first appearance in the UK, at the University of Wales, Bangor.

She observed that many Britons were now at the forefront of Woolf scholarship, including Gillian Beer, David Bradshaw, Hermione Lee and Andrew McNeillie.

Nicola Luckhurst, lecturer in literature at Goldsmiths College, University of London, said that the weight of American scholarship had had some influence in helping British academics improve their previously awkward relationship with Woolf.

"It has been a strange journey but Woolf has been reclaimed by the British tradition of biography and it's about time the conference came here," Dr Luckhurst said.

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