Virginia Woolf and the Writing of History

International Conference
8-10 November 2018
University of Rouen Normandie

Organised by Dr. Anne Besnault-Levita, Dr. Marie Laniel, Dr. Anne-Marie Smith-di Biasio HDR
With the collaboration of the University of Picardie – Jules Verne
And the Société d’Études Woolfiennes



We propose to examine Virginia Woolf’s relationship to history by reflecting on her reading and writing of history,[1] be that the history of her own time, of the past, women’s history or literary history. This will involve analysing how the literary and historicity are interlinked not only in her novels, but also in the essays, letters and journals. This in turn might lead us to consider the question of anteriority and tradition, engaging both the po-ethical and political dimensions of a Woolfian writing of history and of pre-history, such as that which informs her late essay “Anon,” but is also present throughout her writing in the attention it accords to a cultural unconscious, subtending the present of language like a sometimes conscious, sometimes not yet conscious memory of the past.[2] We might also be led to see Woolfian historiography from the perspective of materialist revisionism, a feminist rewriting of the past, or an infinite working through the library of her father, Leslie Stephen. Other possible perspectives would be to consider her work as that of an archivist writing against the archives of patriarchy in search of her own arkhe,[3] or examining how she reinvents the historiographical, biographical and literary traditions. Woolf’s engagement in the history of Modernity might in turn be considered from a Benjaminian perspective, as a form of historiographical reconfiguration anticipating post-modern philosophy.

The question of Woolf’s hermeneutics of history might lead us to define the different forms of her engagement in women’s history, in the history of class, of her queering of history, her heterodoxy. We can also read her writing as a form of archeology delving into the written and non-written traces of history, attentive to the emergence of spectres and forms of survival or survivance[4] but also as a response to what Woolf herself called, in Three Guineas, “history in the raw.” Thus addressing how Woolf arrests the kairos of historical moment, her own inscription of two world wars as if in negative, might lead us furthermore to consider her writing as a form of resistance, nonetheless steeped in the Real of history, the present and the body.

We invite papers which address these questions among others from a variety of theoretical, literary and cultural approaches.

Possible topics may include:

  • Virginia Woolf as a reader and interpreter of history
  • Virginia Woolf as an apprentice historian
  • Virginia Woolf’s revisionist historiography
  • Virginia Woolf’s counter literary histories
  • Virginia Woolf’s complex relations to past and present historiographical traditions
  • Virginia Woolf, Historicism and New Historicism
  • Virginia Woolf, historicity and the new biography
  • Virginia Woolf’s feminist take on history and literary history
  • Virginia Woolf, history and its “effect upon mind and body” (Three Guineas)
  • Virginia Woolf’s writing of history and pre-history
  • Memory, the immemorial, oral tradition
  • History, historiography and chronotopes in Virginia Woolf’s works (libraries, museums, monuments…)
  • Archeology, material artifacts and the archive


Paper proposals (a 300-word abstract with a title plus a separate biographical statement) should be sent by January 30th 2018 to Anne Besnault-Levita (

Anne-Marie Smith-Di Biasio ( and Marie Laniel (

Organising Committee

Anne Besnault-Levita, University of Rouen,

Dr Anne Besnault-Levita is Senior Lecturer at the University of Rouen. She is also the Vice-president of the French Virginia Woolf Society. She is the author of Katherine Mansfield: La Voix du Moment (Paris: Messène, 1997), and co-editor of Construire le sujet. Textes réunis et édités par Anne Besnault-Levita, Natalie Depraz et Rolf Wintermeyer (Limoges: Lambert Lucas, 2014) and The Journal of the Short Story in English 64 (Spring 2015), Part One: The Modernist Short Story (Mathijs Duyck, Michael Basseler, Anne Besnault-Levita, Christine Reynier and Bart Van Den Bossche, eds.). She has written several articles on Katherine Mansfield, Virginia Woolf, feminist criticism, the modernist short story and modernist criticism.

Anne-Marie Di Biasio, Institut Catholique de Paris,  

Dr Anne-Marie Smith-Di Biasio (HDR) teaches Modernist literature and Translation Studies at the Catholic University of Paris and the Centre Européen de Traduction Littéraire. Her research explores the interface between Modernism and Modernity, Literature and Psychoanalysis, especially in the context of European Modernisms. At present she is finishing a book: Le Palimpseste mémoriel, based on the subject of her 2013 habilitation research synthesis. President of the French Virginia Woolf Society, she is the author of Virginia Woolf, la hantise de l’écriture, editions Indigo & Côté-femmes 2010, and co-editor with Claire Davison, of Trans-Woolf. Thinking Across Borders, forthcoming Morlacchi Press, 2017; Contemporary Woolf/Woolf contemporaine, Presses universitaires de la Méditerranée, 2014 and with Catherine Bernard and Claire Davison of Crossing into otherness – Outlanding Woolf, in Etudes britanniques contemporaines, n° 48, 2015. In 1998 she published Julia Kristeva; Speaking the Unspeakable in the Pluto Press series Modern European Thinkers. The author of several recent articles on intertextual memory and film semiotics, she has also written entries for the dictionary of psychoanalysis, Imprécis de Psychanalyse, serialised in CarnetPSY 2017-2019, a collaborative work by the Séminaire Babylone, Arts Littérature, Psychanalyse.

Marie Laniel, University of Picardie,

Dr Marie Laniel is Senior Lecturer at the University of Picardie – Jules Verne (France). She is the secretary of the French Virginia Woolf Society. Her research focuses on Victorian subtexts in the works of Virginia Woolf. She is currently preparing a book on this topic to be published by Presses Universitaires de Rennes. She is the author of several articles on Virginia Woolf and Thomas Carlyle (‘Revisiting a Great Man’s House: Virginia Woolf’s Carlylean Pilgrimages’), Alfred Tennyson (‘“The name escapes me”: Virginia Woolf’s Dislocation of Patrilineal Memory in A Room of One’s Own’), John Ruskin (‘“Reading the Two Things at the Same Time”: Victorian Modernism in To the Lighthouse’), Matthew Arnold (‘Virginia Woolf, lectrice de Matthew Arnold: la fortune littéraire du “scholar-gipsy” dans les essais et la fiction’) and Leslie Stephen (‘Généalogies de l’essai: de Leslie Stephen à Virginia Woolf’). She is a member of the editorial board of L’Atelier and the editor of Polysèmes, a journal of intertextual and intermedial studies (

Advisory Committee

  • Prof. Michael Bentley, University of St Andrews
  • Dr. Anne Besnault-Levita, University of Rouen
  • Prof. Catherine Bernard, University of Paris 7
  • Dr. Nicolas Boileau, University of Aix-Marseille
  • Prof. Melba Cuddy-Keane, University of Toronto
  • Prof. Claire Davison, University of Paris 3 – Sorbonne Nouvelle
  • Dr. Anne-Marie Di Biasio, Institut Catholique de Paris
  • Prof. Camille Fort, University of Picardie
  • Prof. Trevor Harris, University of Picardie
  • Dr. Marie Laniel, University of Picardie
  • Prof. Scott McCracken, Queen Mary, University of London
  • Dr. Caroline Pollentier, University of Paris 3 – Sorbonne Nouvelle
  • Dr. Floriane Reviron-Piégay, University of St Etienne
  • Dr. Angeliki Spiropoulou, University of the Peloponnese

Selected Bibliography

Beer, Gillian, “Virginia Woolf and Prehistory”, Virginia Woolf: The Common Ground, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1996, 6-28.

Bentley, Michael, “Introduction: Approaches to Modernity: Western Historiography since the Enlightenment”, Companion to Historiography, Michael Bentley (ed.), London and New York: Routledge, 1997, 395-506.

—, “The Evolution and Dissemination of Historical Knowledge”, The Organisation of Knowledge in Victorian Britain, Martin Daunton (ed.), Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005, 173-198.

—, Modernizing England’s Past: English Historiography in the Age of Modernism: 1870-1970, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Blakeney-Williams, Louise, Modernism and the Ideology of History: Literature, Politics, and the Past, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Cuddy Keane, Melba,  “Virginia Woolf and the Varieties of Historicist Experience”, Virginia Woolf and the Essay, B. C. Rosenberg and J. Dubino (eds.), New York: St. Martin’s press, 1997, 59-77.

—, Virginia Woolf, the Intellectual and the Public Sphere, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

De Certeau, Michel, The Writing of History (1975), trans. from the French Tom Conley, New York: Columbia University Press, 1988.

De Gay, Jane, Virginia Woolf’s Novels and the Literary Past, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006.

De Gay, Jane, “Virginia Woolf’s Feminist Historiography in Orlando”, Critical Survey 19.1 (2007): 62-72.

Foucault, Michel, “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History” [1971], The Foucault Reader, Paul Rabinow (ed.), New York: Pantheon, 1984.

Gättens, Marie-Luise, Women Writers and Fascism: Reconstructing History, Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1995.

Gualtieri, Elena, Virginia Woolf’s Essays: Sketching the Past, London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2000.

—, “The Impossible Art: Virginia Woolf on Modern Biography”, Cambridge Quarterly 29.4 (2000): 349-361.

Hotho-Jackson, Sabine, “Virginia Woolf on History: Between Tradition and Modernity”, Forum of Modern Language Studies 27.4 (1991): 293-313.

Kore Schröder, Leena, “Who’s Afraid of Rosamond Merridew, Reading Medieval History I ‘The Journal of Mistress Joan Martyn’”, The Journal of the Short Story in English 50 (Spring 2008): 103-119.

Lilenfeld, Jane, Lisa Low, and Jeffrey Oxford (eds.), Virginia Woolf and Literary History, Woolf Studies Annual 9, New York: Pace UP, 2003.

Longenbach, James, Modernist Poetics of History: Pound, Eliot and the Sense of Past, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987.

Marcus, Jane, “Thinking back through our mothers”, New Feminist Essays on Virginia Woolf, Jane Marcus (ed.), London: Macmillan, 1-30.

McIntire, Gabrielle, Modernism, Memory, and Desire: T. S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

O’Malley, Seamus, Making History New: Modernism and Historical Narrative, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.

Peach, Linden, Virginia Woolf and New Historicism, London: Macmillan, 2000.

Rosenberg, Beth Carole, “Virginia Woolf’s Postmodern Literary History”, MLN 115.5 (2000): 1112-130.

Southgate, Beverley, ‘A new Type of History’: Fictional Proposals for Dealing with the Past, Oxon: Routledge, 2015.

Spiropoulou, Angeliki, Virginia Woolf, Modernity and History: Constellations with Walter Benjamin, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

Westerman, Molly, Narrating Historians: Crises of Historical Authority in Twentieth Century British Fiction, A Dissertation submitted to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2008.

Westman, Karin E., “Virginia Woolf in Dialogue with History’s Audience”, Clio 28.1 (1998): 1-27.

Zemgulys, Andrea, Modernism and the Locations of Literary Heritage, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.


[1] ‘The War from the Street’ (1919), Essays III (1919-1924), 3-4.

[2] ‘Anon’ (1940), Essays VI (1933-1941), 580-607.

[3] Jacques Derrida, Mal d’Archive, Paris : Galilée, 1995.

[4] Georges Didi-Huberman, L’Image survivante, Paris : Minuit, 2002. ‘Abbeys and Cathedrals’ (1932), Essays V (1929-1932), 301-306.