Talks

Forthcoming Talks

Lyndall giving a talk

Selected Talks

  • DISCUSSION OF ELIOT’S ‘FOUR QUARTETS’ ON RADIO, WITH LORD HARRIES AND THE REVD JOHN VALENTINE: ‘FOCUS ON TS ELIOT’ www.premier.org.uk/poetry
  • Virginia Woolf’s Diaries
  • The Problems and Possibilities of Biography
  • 'THIS LOOSE, DRIFTING MATERIAL OF ART': VIRGINIA WOOLF AND BIOGRAPHY A drawing of Virginia Woolf absorbed in her writing by Richard Kennedy

    This talk looks at Bloomsbury's obsession with memoir, and then contrasts the loose, drifting material of the writer's diary with composed portraits in her fiction, asking two questions: how did Woolf record her own life, and what is her legacy to future biographers?

    VW's novels as well as essays and stories are suffused with innovative ideas for the future of biography. The greater her fiction, the more it revolutionises - potentially - the way we present lives. Her emphasis on the inward life and its 'moments of being' calls into question our biographic conventions: the straight road from pedigree to grave. She alerts us, instead, to the prime importance of obscurity - the gaps, the silence, the faint trace of hidden action which lurks in all lives beneath the platform of public action.

  • 'THE TRUE NATURE OF WOMAN': FROM MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT TO VIRGINIA WOOLF The quotation is from 'A Room of One's Own'. At the outset Virginia Woolf challenges students with 'the great problem of the true nature of woman' as a deeper challenge to the future than the immediate possibilities of rights and means. Mary Wollstonecraft's idea of herself as 'the first of a new genus', followed by ideas of woman's nature in Elizabeth Barrett Browning, George Eliot, Henry James, and in Woolf herself are pertinent to the question what women at full strength will contribute to civilisation. [This was one of the annual 'Birthday Lectures' for the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain; repeated at Smith College, Northampton, MA; and at the Dartington literary festival in Totnes, Devon in July 2007]
  • LIVES FOR WOMEN

    Looks at Charlotte Brontë, Emily Dickinson, Olive Schreiner , Minny Temple (Henry James's cousin and model for his American girl) and Virginia Woolf with a view to the ways we might reshape biography so as to bring out the hidden aspects of women's lives. Exploring the gaps and looking into the shadow between the facts, biography must venture into that unseen space in which able women of the past were forced to live.

    'From Life', a painting by Victoria Brookland

    'From Life', a painting by Victoria Brookland

    [20-minute versions of this talk, on CHARLOTTE BRONTË and VIRGINIA WOOLF, have been devised for book groups, an international women's club in London, and Oxford University's reunion of senior members in 2007.]

  • BLOOMSBURY'S CREATIONS: VIRGINIA WOOLF & CO

    'Bloomsbury', as Virginia Woolf's circle was known - comprising 'Old Bloomsbury' and later adherents - was not a philosophy in any rigorous sense, more a set of values, a way of life, and a circle of friends. This talk is in part about the intellectual background to Bloomsbury: the anti-slavery movement; Victorian humanism; G.E Moore at Cambridge; silence and unstated suggestion; opposition to Great Men and men of action, particularly brutes, power, war, and worldly opinion. The Group delighted in their sense of the ridiculous and in nostalgia for the past - addicted to the act of recollection. Above all, friendship mattered – what EM Forster calls the secret understanding of the heart. The talk ranges over the creativity of several members of the Group, drawing on Virginia Woolf and her masterpiece 'The Waves' as a celebration of an idealised Bloomsbury. Above all the talk stresses the Group's attention to living and to time passing, manifest in the diaries and letter-writing which held it together, and preserving what Virginia Woolf termed 'moments of being'.

    [talk for Oxford's External Studies in May 2006: attended by general readers who come to Saturday 'day schools' , many from outside Oxford, eg London.]

  • THE PROBLEMS AND POSSIBILITIES OF BIOGRAPHY

    Discusses methods and issues. The questions of openings, narrative voice, and advocacy; the setting up of a story; subjectivity versus objectivity; and the increasingly suggestive question of where a life ends. I'd like to encourage alertness to the inner life combined with narrative momentum, taking biography closer to the inwardness and readability of fiction without sacrificing the advantage of authenticity.

    [lecture at international literary festivals in Adelaide and Wellington, New Zealand]

  • BIOGRAPHY VERSUS THE AUTONOMY OF ART Eliot and Woolf together

    Opposes TS Eliot's view of the "impersonality" of art, drawing largely on Eliot's own poetry, Virginia Woolf, Henry James and Yeats.

    [A lecture for Oxford finalists taking Hermione Lee's course in biography.]

  • MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT'S AMERICA

    [Lecture at Smith College, MA and Notre Dame College, Indiana]

  • 'THE LASH RESOUNDS': MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT ON SLAVES AND WOMEN poster for the talk 'The Lash Resounds'

    [lecture for the Center for Research on Women, the Africana Studies Program, and the English Department, Barnard College, New York]

  • 'WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN AND WHAT HAS BEEN': ELIOT'S SEARCH FOR PERFECTION
    On the pattern in the carpet of Eliot's life and his ideas of biography in 'Four Quartets'. This talk looks at a man who had the mind to conceive a perfect life, and the honesty to admit that he could not meet it. Testing a variety of lives, the poet asks how do writers, or risk-takers like his seventeenth-century ancestor, Andrew Eliot, or city commuters, or Londoners during the Blitz, or ordered lives in a spiritual community, hold up against the pattern of the perfect life - 'a lifetime burning in every moment'?
    [The first annual TS Eliot lecture for the Royal Society of Literature, 2003]
  • 'WIFE WITHOUT THE SIGN': EMILY DICKINSON'S MASTER LETTERS
    [Guest lecture (2007) for the Writing Seminars, Bennington College, Vermont]
  • Talk on 'THE WORLD WITHIN': THE BRONTËS AND EMILY DICKINSON. Brontë Parsonage Museum, Haworth.
  • Guest lecture on THE FRONTIERS OF BIOGRAPHY for an Arvon course on biography, run by biographers Carole Angier and Sally Cline.
  • THE BRONTËS AND PASSION [Ilkley Festival, 2008].
  • Master-class on biography (two hours).