After a shamefully long period of time, the country of her birth at last has a literary society devoted to its greatest writer of the twentieth century. We now realise that when we formed the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain in June 1998 our expectations were extremely modest. We hoped for 200 members in the first 12 months but anticipated a more realistic figure of around 150. Now we have about 300 members from Britain, Europe and around the world. We take this as confirmation of Woolf’s literary stature and of her seemingly endless fascination for scholars and ‘common readers’ alike.
Virginia Woolf Bulletin
The first edition of the Society’s journal, the Virginia Woolf Bulletin, was published on Woolf’s 117th birthday, 25 January 1999. She was represented in this first issue by her previously unpublished short story entitled ‘A Scene from the Past’, as well as by two unpublished letters.
We were greatly encouraged by the positive reaction to that first issue (now out of print) and we pride ourselves on the fact that, in almost every issue, we have managed to include previously unpublished material by Woolf. These have mostly taken the form of letters, and include correspondence from Woolf to the Spiras (refugees), Margery Olivier, the publisher Crosby Gaige, Pernel Strachey, the editors J. C. Squire and Helen MacAfee, Leigh Ashton, Helena Swanwick and Frances Cornford. Issue 15 (January 2004) contained the complete extant correspondence between Christabel McLaren (Lady Aberconway) and Leonard & Virginia Woolf, including 44 letters from Virginia, 40 of which were previously unpublished.
The Virginia Woolf Bulletin is published three times each year and is issued free to members. Our Editorial Committee, headed by Stuart N. Clarke, is always keen to encourage members to contribute or to suggest ideas for the Bulletin‘s contents. Most issues have a variety of essays, articles and reviews addressing differing aspects of Woolf’s work and life.
The Society holds events during the course of the year, organised by our Activities Secretary. On the Saturday nearest to Woolf’s birthday in January we hold the Annual Virginia Woolf Birthday Lecture. This has become a popular and well-attended event, owing in no small part to our speakers’ reputation for excellence: thus far they have numbered Gillian Beer, Julia Briggs, Maggie Humm, David Bradshaw, Lyndall Gordon, Anna Snaith, Sybil Oldfield, Alison Light, Henrietta Garnett, Jane de Gay, Laura Marcus, Sue Roe, Michael Whitworth, Jane Goldman, Hermione Lee, Alexandra Harris, Frances Spalding, Susan Sellers and Stephen Barkway. A copy of the printed lecture is included in the ticket price, and is also available from the Society (see Society Publications).
Other events include the Annual General Meeting (usually the first Saturday in April) where the formal business of the Society is discussed (members only). There is also an informal Reading Group, which meets in central London every every two months or so to discuss a work by Woolf (free to members).
Virginia Woolf Memorial
In January 2003 the Society launched the Virginia Woolf Memorial Appeal (Patron: the late Nigel Nicolson) whereby it was hoped to raise sufficient funds to purchase and erect a memorial to Woolf in Tavistock Square. At the AGM in April 2004 I was delighted to be able to report that due to the fantastic generosity of our members the target had been reached, and the memorial was unveiled by Anne Olivier Bell on 26 June 2004.
This type of achievement exactly illustrates one of the main aims of the Society: to present Virginia Woolf in her true light as a great novelist, essayist, publisher and woman of letters. We are sure Woolfians everywhere will appreciate having this focal point in the heart of Bloomsbury that publicly proclaims the high standing in which they continue to hold Virginia Woolf. The Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain is proud to have played its part in helping to maintain that stature, and it intends, with the help of its members, to continue to do so.