Virginia Woolf Reading Group

Mercantile Library

New York City



Virginia Woolf in her essay, “Hours in a Library,” distinguishes between people who read because they love learning and people who read because they love reading. With this distinction in mind—for Woolf always honored “the common reader”-- this  Woolf Reading Seminar at the Mercantile Library will read the works below.

Though a Woolf and Bloomsbury specialist who reads as Woolf says, “on a system” and in search of “some particular grain of truth,” I have taught readers, young and old, over many years as a tenured professor at City College and now, adjunct professor, at Brooklyn College. This course is for readers who are motivated by simple curiosity about this brilliant, and now popular writer who has become a literary icon. For these “true readers,” Woolf would say, reading is like taking “brisk exercise in open air” not like reading in a study cubicle.

If we add the element of gender, we note in her polemic essay, A Room of One’s Own that Woolf was unable to enter the Trinity College Library to look at Milton’s manuscript of “Lycidas” because she was not accompanied by a college fellow or furnished with a letter of introduction. She asserts in that essay “that a famous library has been cursed by a woman is a matter of complete indifference to a famous library.” Woolf, of course, was an avid reader in her father’s library (all the education she had), and was a contributor to the Millicent Fawcett Library, the oldest library of women’s writings in London. She said that she supported this library, and had a private subscription to the London Library, because “books have always been so prolific in my life that I can’t help being shocked that there are those who go without.” It’s particularly appropriate then that such a course as this be offered at the Mercantile Library to enhance a women’s tradition here with a course open to all readers. Since some of Woolf’s writings are more accessible than others, I propose the following tentative reading list for 2005-2006:

  • September 2005: Women/ Reading and Libraries: Room of One’s Own and selection of essays, “Hours in a Library,” 'How to Read a Book”….
  • October: Autobiographical sketches from Sketch of the Past, ed. Jeanne Schulkind, and selections from A Writer’s Diary, ed. Leonard Woolf.
  • Nov.-Dec.: To the Lighthouse
  • Jan.-Feb.: Jacob’s Room
  • March-April: Mrs. Dalloway
  • May-June: Orlando
  • July: Three Guineas
  • August-September: Between the Acts

Throughout the course, excerpts from Woolf’s A Writer’s Diary, Essays, Letters, and short stories will be offered as a supplement.


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