DallowayDay2019: Queering Dalloway


Photo Sarah M. Hall
‘Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself’: Waterstones Gower Street. Photo Sarah M. Hall

The third VWSGB DallowayDay, with the theme of ‘Queering Dalloway’, was held on Saturday 15 June 2019 in the Gallery, Waterstones, 82 Gower Street, London WC1E 6EQ. The room was beautifully adorned by Mark Banting of Waterstones, with a wide selection of Woolf and Bloomsbury books and large vases of flowers reminiscent of Clarissa’s party.

The day was dedicated to Leonard Woolf’s nephew Cecil Woolf, who had died aged 92 on Monday 10 June (tributes will appear in the September Virginia Woolf Bulletin). A photograph of Cecil standing next to the VWSGB-funded bust of Woolf in Tavistock Square and a copy of that day’s Times containing his obituary were on display.

The first event was ‘Gender and Identity in Woolf’s Novels’, chaired by Sarah M. Hall. Stuart N. Clarke kicked off proceedings with a talk on homosexual men in Virginia Woolf’s novels, followed by Claire Nicholson on clothes and gender. The ensuing debate included points about why gay women of Woolf’s era sometimes cross-dressed, but gay men never did. Was this about masculine power: the reluctance of men to relinquish it by appearing as women, and the attempts of women to acquire it by appearing as men? The reasons for the very different receptions of Woolf’s Orlando and Radclyffe Hall’s Well of Loneliness, published within months of one another in 1928, were also discussed.

Photo Mark Banting
Claire Nicholson, Stuart N. Clarke and Sarah M. Hall discuss ‘Gender and Identity in Woolf’s Novels’. Photo Mark Banting

Following this first event, there was a break for tea and cake, made for DallowayDay from recipes taken from The Bloomsbury Cookbook by a local bakery. This was also an opportunity for participants to look through a copy of the recently published Mrs Dalloway manuscript, kindly lent for the day by SP Books.

Photo Mark Banting
Wine gum cake from a Bloomsbury Cookbook recipe. Photo Mark Banting

We reconvened at 4 pm for ‘Adapting Mrs Dalloway’ with Thomas Bailey and Hal Coase, director and adapter respectively of the recent Mrs Dalloway play at the Arcola Theatre in Hackney, Uzma Hameed, dramaturge for Wayne McGregor’s Woolf Works for the Royal Ballet, and chair, literary critic and reviewer Lucy Scholes. There was a lively exchange between the participants, who found common experiences in adapting Woolf’s novels for a different medium, and questions from the audience prompted further conversation about how adapters chose what to include and what to leave out.

Photo Sarah M. Hall
Uza Hameed, Thomas Bailey and Hal Coase on ‘Adapting Mrs Dalloway’ (Lucy Scholes is out of shot). Photo Sarah M. Hall

Another refreshment break offered participants wine and savoury nibbles, before the 6 pm slot on ‘Queer Bloomsbury’, chaired by Maggie Humm. Nino Strachey, author of Rooms of Their Own and Head of Research at the National Trust, spoke about her book on Bloomsbury houses and displayed pictures of sumptuous interiors. Anne Chisholm, editor of Carrington’s Letters, read a selection of extracts from different periods in Carrington’s life. Among points discussed were the different lifestyles chosen by gay members of Bloomsbury: Eddy’s series of affairs with men, Vita’s open marriage to a homosexual man, Carrington and Lytton’s ménage à trois with Ralph Partridge, then later à deux, when Ralph married Frances Marshall. Nino and Anne kindly stayed behind to sign their books afterwards.

Photo Sarah M. Hall
Nino Strachey, Anne Chisholm and Maggie Humm on ‘Queer Bloomsbury’. Photo Sarah M. Hall

We would like to thank all our speakers and panellists for their time, expertise and enthusiasm. Special thanks are due to the VWSGB’s own Stuart N. Clarke and Claire Nicholson, who were very gracious in the face of last-minute changes of plan.