|September 20, 2005
Mike Stepanovich, 661/654-2456, email@example.com,
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An English professor at California State University, Bakersfield has created one of the foremost centers in the United States for the study of British author Virginia Woolf.
Merry Pawlowski, who has been at CSUB since 1990, is one of the few people permitted to visit and study the Virginia Woolf archives in Great Britain and copy Woolf’s papers and display them in the United States.
She wants The Center for Virginia Woolf Studies at CSUB to be “as freely accessible to the Woolf scholar and student as possible. I envision it being used by researchers around the country.”
The website has a large collection of manuscripts and other papers from the Woolf archive in the manuscripts library at the University of Sussex near Brighton, about 50 miles south of London. Pawlowski has created extensive notes that provide context for the manuscripts and other papers, including newspaper clippings, that comprise the collection.
Professor Merry Pawlowski
“It’s all her typing and handwriting,” Pawlowski said. “I have available three volumes of notes, clippings, other items. It’s fascinating stuff.”
The online archive, at www.csub.edu/woolf_center, consists of photographs Pawlowski took of the actual documents in Sussex. She was granted copyright permission to photograph the documents, which can be viewed at the CSUB site by subscription only. Subscriptions cost $15 annually; CSUB students, faculty and staff have free access.
The archives provide a fascinating glimpse into a troubled time in world history and into the mind of a woman “who was incredibly prescient of what was happening in her society and so involved in her time,” Pawlowski said.
Some of Woolf’s archive frustrates Pawlowski. In a number of instances, she said, Woolf “failed to identify the newspaper the clipping came from or the date. Sometimes she would just clip parts of stories.”
The rise of Nazi Germany overshadowed the 1930s, and much of what Pawlowski found relates to Woolf’s growing concern about what was happening in Europe and the insidiousness of Fascism.
For example, Woolf clipped many small newspaper stories, some no more than a few paragraphs. One from 1935 describes a young woman in Nazi Germany who is arrested and charged with “insulting and slandering the state and Nazi movement.” Her crime? She thought it was OK to do business with Jews, and said the “thorn of hatred” had been driven deep enough.
Another describes how the Germans were rewriting their history to conform with Nazi ideology.
A pamphlet written by a French correspondent who was in Madrid during the Spanish civil war, describes in graphic detail the fall of Madrid, and bodies of women and babies decaying on bombed-out streets.
Woolf’s concern about the rise of Nazism led Pawlowski to write a book titled “Virginia Woolf and Fascism.” “Hitler proclaimed that ‘We are a nation of men.’” Pawlowski said. “There was a strong anti-women sentiment in Europe then.” The Nazis were well aware of Woolf’s writings and views; additionally, her husband was Jewish. “Leonard and Virginia Woolf were on Hitler’s hit-list,” she said.
Woolf has fascinated Pawlowski for a long time. A complex woman, Woolf was born in January 1882, and committed suicide in March 1941. “She says in her suicide note that she was going mad again and couldn’t bear to go through it,” Pawlowski said.
Woolf’s bouts of madness “were brought on by the pressures of the world around her,” Pawlowski said. “The Woolfs’ house was bombed in London during the blitz. They had fled London and were in their country home in Sussex when their house was bombed.
“She was very gifted and very frustrated because she was denied an education because she was a girl. Her father was a leading intellectual of his day, and taught her at home; additionally she read extensively, educating herself. But the issues were clear: there was a lack of higher education for women. That was one of the reasons women’s colleges were formed. They were poorly endowed and didn’t offer the same level of education as other universities. But for women they were the only choice.”
Woolf became a champion of women’s rights. “She traveled and collected information on women in other countries,” Pawlowski said. “She was a social scientist. She studied women living in democracies, and women under totalitarianism. She found that the Nazis were doing the same thing to women as they did to the Jews: women were the scapegoats.”
Her two best-known novels were “Mrs. Dalloway,” written in 1925, a critique of the shallowness and superficial conventionality of upper-class English society; and “To The Lighthouse,” written in 1927, an experimentation with psychoanalysis.
Woolf also published many works of nonfiction, including two extended essays exploring the roles of women in history and society, “A room of one’s own,” (1929) and “Three Guineas,” (1938) where she examined the necessity for women to make a claim for their own history and literature.
She was a prolific essayist, and wrote more than 500 essays.
With such a body of work to study, Pawlowski says she still has much research ahead of her, but is very excited about it. “A lot more needs to be done,” said Pawlowski, who earned her doctorate from Tulane University in her hometown of New Orleans. “I must locate books she read and took notes from.”
She’s made five trips to England since 1995 to conduct her research. “I’ve spent time at the Sussex library and the British Library in London. I’m looking forward to returning and learning more.”