Written by Ali Hope
My relationship with Virginia Woolf had a discouraging start when I first read To the Lighthouse in my very early twenties. It was a period when I was still reading Victorian literature and European realist novelists like Balzac, Flaubert and Zola. Virginia Woolf didn’t sit too well with me then; it was the wrong time. Years later – actually about ten years ago – I watched the film, The Hours, then read the book by Michael Cunningham. It sparked an interest; I wanted to get to know Virginia Woolf, but I had the memory of not really getting To the Lighthouse. I thought Virginia and I didn’t really get along. However, I decided to try Mrs Dalloway and, although I liked it, I still didn’t get as bowled over as I wanted to be, as I knew other readers were. I put Virginia Woolf to one side, dimly aware that my reading tastes had taken a new direction over the years.
And yet, Virginia Woolf was exactly the kind of writer I wanted to be reading.
Then, at the beginning of 2015, I got another chance: a book group I was attending chose Orlando, described as Virginia Woolf’s love letter to Vita Sackville-West. I loved it. I wanted to tell everyone how good it was. Not long after, I saw a read-a-long of The Voyage Out being talked about on Twitter, I joined, and loved that too. Finally, I thought, I, too, can read Virginia Woolf. It might have taken me a while, but I began to get it. In October of last year, I read A Room of One’s Own [Simon’s review here]. I was pretty nearly blown away, and it was at this point that the germ of an idea began. I can’t remember when exactly I came up with the idea, but it was toward the end of the year: a yearlong Virginia Woolf read-a-long – #Woolfalong.
I split the year up into six, two month periods – each one with a different theme.
Phase 1 – January/February – Getting started with a famous Woolf novel – To the Lighthouse or Mrs Dalloway
Phase 2 – March/April – beginnings and endings – The Voyage Out/ Night and Day (Woolf’s first and second novels or Between the Acts,Woolf’s final novel
Phase 3 – May/June – shorter fiction – any collection of short stories.
Phase 5 – September/ October nonfiction by Virginia Woolf – essays or diaries.
I have read quite a few books, more than just one book each phase, and my enthusiasm for Virginia Woolf has grown and grown. Not everything has been easy – I recently struggled a bit with the third section of Three Guineas – but every step of the way I have grown to appreciate Virginia Woolf and incredible writer she was.
Many people have joined in #Woolfalong: other bloggers, readers on Twitter and FB. It has been marvellous; my very small book group joined me with To the Lighthouse in January (I can report I was blown away this second time of reading). I have tried to bring everyone together with a little round up post at the end of each phase, sharing what everyone read, linking to reviews on other blogs. Naturally as the year has gone on fewer people are still woolf-ing-a-long, I had expected that. But there has been and remains so much love and enthusiasm for Virginia Woolf that it has helped to spur me on through-out the year.
[Note: This post was originally posted in autumn 2016, but has since been updated with additional links]
Ali Hope blogs about books at Heavenali, reviewing books from a bygone era as well as some more recently published titles.