Virginia Woolf and the Victorian Art World

Pre-Raphaelite Reflections

When I recently visited the National Portrait Gallery’s current exhibition, Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision, I was delighted to discover several gorgeous photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron displayed in the first room. Here was a connection between one of my favourite writers and my favourite photographer; I had previously been aware of Woolf’s familial ties to Cameron, but seeing the latter’s beautiful photographic portraits of Victorian cultural greats displayed alongside images of the former really brought it home. Woolf is often described as boldly departing from Victorian traditions, a leading light of literary Modernism — this is certainly true of her writing, with works such as To the Lighthouse (1927), Mrs Dalloway (1925) and Jacob’s Room (1922; my personal favourite) taking the English novel in far more experimental directions. Nevertheless, the inclusion of Julia Cameron in the NPG exhibition got me thinking about Woolf’s ancestry and artistic background.

Julia Margaret Cameron, 'Julia Prinsep Duckworth (later Julia Stephen)', April 1867. Julia Stephen was Virginia Woolf's mother. Source. Julia Margaret Cameron, ‘Julia Prinsep Duckworth (later Julia Stephen)’, April…

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Night and Day by Virginia Woolf

Book Snob

Virginia Woolf’s novels have always seemed waif-like to me; slight, ethereal wisps of poetic prose that can be read in a single sitting. Night and Day, her second novel, couldn’t be more different to this impression; it has far more resemblance to the doorstop length sagas of her father’s contemporaries than to her later works that so epitomise the modernism of the 1920s and 1930s. It took me a long time to read; partly due to the sheer amount of words, but also because I was enjoying it so much that I wanted to remain immersed in it for as long as possible. It is an intriguing mix of 19th and 20th century, of classic and modern, of past influences and forward thinking innovation. Despite its seeming distance from her later novels, it is still unmistakeably Woolf. Only she could write the magnificently atmospheric scenes of misty twilight walks…

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Daniel Boudinet “Polaroid” 1979

Sites of Memory

The opening image in Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida.

Some passages from Camera Lucida I have found of note:

So I make myself the measure of photographic “knowledge.” What does my body know of Photography? I observed that a photograph can be the object of three practices (or of three emotions, or of three intentions): to do, to undergo, to look. The Operator is the Photographer. the Spectator is ourselves, all of us who glance through collections of photographs–in magazines and newspapers, in books, albums, archives… And the person or thing photographed is the target, the referent, a kind of little simulacrum, any eidolon emitted by the object, which I should like to call the Spectrum of the Photograph, because this word retains, through its root, a relation to “spectacle” and adds to it that rather terrible thing which is there in every photograph: the return of the dead. (9)

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The Difference Between Metaphors and Symbols

The Sceptical Prophet

These two are easily confused with each other, and it’s no wonder why! The two are related to each other, blurring the line between. I was guilty of using the two almost interchangeably in my early years of high school, until I read this:

“A metaphor is not language, it is an idea expressed by language, an idea that in its turn functions as a symbol to express something.” – Susanne Langer

Let’s go through a quick definition. A metaphor is a rhetorical device in which the traits of something are attributed to something else, but not in a literal sense. It helps to understand that a simile is a type of metaphor, so let’s take a look at an example:

“But look, the morn, in russet mantle clad, Walk o’er the dew of yon high eastern hill” – Hamlet, William Shakespeare.

The coming of morning is likened to being…

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52 Weeks of Inspiring Illustrations, Week 3: An Evolutionary History of Photography

Echoes from the Vault

As part of our 52 Weeks of Inspiring Illustrations we will explore the Photographic Collection by examining the evolution of photographic processes as they are represented by our holdings. The aim is to underline the physical qualities of different photographic media and the cultural and commercial implications of advancements to these processes.  The reader will be introduced to a medium first driven by the curiosity of science and then very quickly taken over by commercial imperatives. Although much attention in specialist texts about photography emphasise the “art” of photography and the aesthetics of unique prints, the creation of photographs, proportionally speaking, takes place far from artists, museums or art historians. Photography, for the most part, is a commercially driven medium. Although our Photographic Collection features fine examples of rare vintage material which has been identified as art, it is rather the scope and multiplicity of the subjects represented and how…

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26 thoughts before turning 26 -8. Euphemism

 In writing this entry, I suddenly realise that I’d never be making it to 26 thoughts before turning 26, but it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters, like I said before, which is an indication of getting older. And that’s it.

I was watching Closer, the movie starring Natalie, and in an early scene, the protagonists were talking about euphemism in obituaries: “He was a convivial fellow, meaning he was an alcoholic; He valued his privacy – gay; He enjoyed his privacy – raging queen” “What would my euphemism be?” “She was disarming.” It invokes what Susan Sontag said in an interview, and I paraphrase it: I want to collapse everything in the past. I suddenly came to understand how hopelessly valuable it might be if one dies a nobody, with no distortion of any single moment of this life, which could never be possible unless everything is erase or demolished. Traces are already distortions, like memories are already desires.

26 thoughts before turning 26 – 7. Solitude

“Why do precisely these objects which we behold make a world?”

Henry David Thoreau: Walden 

Well … here comes the question: What is this “we”? Who is the “we” referring to? Plural forms often indicate company, but aren’t people still isolated when they are seemingly perfectly accompanied, attached with each other? Solitude is the permanent, if not perfect, form of existence. And in a way, death is the best approach in maintaining solitude.