More than 200 scholars from around the world converged on Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus from June 4-7 for “Woolf and the City,” the 19th Annual Conference on Virginia Woolf.
Through four days of discussions, plenary sessions and performances related to Woolf’s writings, scholars explored the enigmatic author and feminist’s complex relationship to her beloved London.
Attendees were treated to a performance of the 2004 play Vita and Virginia, written by Dame Eileen Atkins and directed by Matthew Maguire, director of Fordham’s theatre program.
“Woolf today, in the 21st century, has emerged as not just a woman writer, but as a great writer,” said Anne Fernald, Ph.D., associate professor of English, director of writing and composition at Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus, and organizer of the conference. “She speaks to so many people—politically, socially and artistically.”
Tamar Katz, Ph.D., associate professor of English and urban studies at Brown University and one of the plenary speakers, said that critics examining Woolf’s urban writings see her role as a flaneur—a narrator who wanders through the city to observe and experience it.
In her talk, “Pausing, Waiting,” Katz referenced two of Woolf’s novels set in London—Mrs. Dalloway (1925) and The Years (1937). Both novels, she said, illustrate the author’s use of time and rhythms in urban life—particularly those moments that her characters spend pausing and waiting—as a means to develop larger themes and questions about the human condition.
“If there is an optimism to the narrative model that Woolf figures to the city, it is one in which we are always pausing, waiting and looking,” said Katz, author of Impressionist Subjects: Gender, Interiority and Modernist Fiction in England (Illinois Press, 2000). Such anticipation, said Katz, is a form of suspension that leans forward toward a future revelation that can be horrific or pleasing.