Book Festival: Maggie Humm and Lesley McDowell

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Maggie Humm, Lesley McDowell (writers), Peter Guttridge (presenter)
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The private lives and published work of ten of the best known 20th century women writers was the topic of discussion at this event, chaired by Peter Guttridge.

Maggie Humm has edited an anthology of essays which celebrates Virginia Woolf’s extraordinary passion for all modernist culture which inspired her fiction and articles.  Tackling a different literary investigation,  “Between the Sheets” by Lesley McDowell delves into the romantic relationships and creative marriages of nine writers, novelists and poets.

Maggie Humm first gave an enlightening introduction to her book, “Virginia Woolf and the Arts” with illustrations shown on screen. As well as writing novels and literary criticism, Woolf was extremely knowledgeable on the visual arts, theatre, dance, publishing, design, fashion, gardens and music. As part of the iconic Bloomsbury Group, she was friends with the great artists and writers of the day.

She wrote articles about every subject, including Oxford Street shops, parties (a hostess is an artist), and with her sister Vanessa Bell, she designed book jackets for the Hogarth Press. A curious snippet of information too: Angelina Jolie has a Virginia Woolf quotation tattoo. “As a woman my country is the whole world.”

Lesley McDowell then explained her fascination with women writers and how their relationships may inspire, affect or even damage their work.  After mentioning key literary affairs, Plath and Hughes, Smart and Barker, she read from the chapter on Rebecca West and H.G. Wells, which revealed an emotionally disturbing relationship.

This second introduction and reading was well over 15 minutes, which I felt was too long when we just needed a brief background  and then the opportunity for lively conversation about both of these books. But as time was short for discussion and questions, (most addressed to McDowell), no real debate developed about these pioneering writers, each with a unique feminist voice and attitude to life and love.

"After a while, I suppose I'll get used to the ideal of marriage and children. If only it doesn't swallow up my desires to express myself in a smug, sensuous haze."  Sylvia Plath, 1950.

Virginia Woolf and the Arts, Maggie Humm, (EUP).

Between the Sheets, Lesley McDowell (Duckworth)