Novelist and essayist, Virginia Woolf (1882–1941)

We are very glad to announce that Stuart N. Clarke has been made an Honorary Fellow of the Centre for Modernist Cultures in recognition of his exceptional contribution to the study of Virginia Woolf. Clarke co-founded the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain in 1998 and served as editor of the Virginia Woolf Bulletin for 23 years before stepping down in 2022. His work as a distinguished textual editor includes volumes 5 and 6 of The Essays of Virginia Woolf (Hogarth Press, 2009 and 2011), A Room of One’s Own with David Bradshaw (Shakespeare Head Press, 2015), and Jacob’s Room for The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Virginia Woolf (Cambridge University Press, 2020).

CMC member Alexandra Harris comments:

The Virginia Woolf Bulletin is a remarkable phenomenon, closer to a full-scale journal than its title modestly implies, though it’s a rare journal that brings previously unpublished primary sources into print with each and every issue. No fewer than seventy Bulletins (cause for alternative platinum jubilee celebrations) have opened with a group of uncollected Woolf letters or other writings, meticulously researched and edited by either Stuart or his long-term collaborator Stephen Barkway. Bulletin 65, for example, arrived in September 2020 despite the lockdowns, containing the texts of 102 letters and cards from Woolf to Mary Hutchinson, familiar only to the few scholars who had read them at the Harry Ransom Centre. With his encyclopaedic knowledge and well-honed methods of literary detection, Clarke had managed to date and contextualize even the most elusive scraps.

The Bulletin was established as a ‘forum for all varieties of common readers’ and has proceeded on the understanding that such readers are likely not only to be passionate but exacting and widely-informed. The tone is set by Clarke’s style and critical approach: no gush, no first-name-terms with Virginia, precise and closely-evidenced writing with the occasional dash of irony, and always an emphasis on primary material.

Clarke himself has remained determinedly an independent scholar, sharing Woolf’s confidence in the vitality of serious reading outside the particular frameworks of university English studies, and reminding us all that professional academia is only one of the many contexts in which ground-breaking literary scholarship is pursued. At the same time, Clarke has worked in collaboration with many academics, and in particular with the late, much-missed David Bradshaw. Clarke and Bradshaw were united in their conviction that the dense weave of allusion, association, and historical reference in Woolf’s writing repays the kind of attention that had previously been accorded to the work of Joyce, Eliot, and Shakespeare but not Woolf.

Clarke’s assiduous tracing of references has been especially significant in establishing the extent and complex character of Woolf’s political engagement. In far-reaching work on Jacob’s Room he probed Woolf’s depiction of the ‘dominant culture’, its figures of authority, and the fate of individual bids for freedom. Delivering the Annual Virginia Woolf Birthday Lecture in 2019, Clarke concentrated on Woolf’s letters to the press (a full catalogue of which he compiled), particularly those concerned with the most effective forms of resistance to fascism.

As editor of the final two volumes of the six-volumes Essays, Clarke gave to readers the inestimable gift of the essays and reviews written by Woolf between 1929 and 1941, judiciously footnoted and chronologically ordered, in a format to be held in the hand and read from cover to cover, as well as to be repeatedly consulted. Many essays had not been in print since their first appearance in 1930s newspapers; some had not been published at all, and some existed in widely varying drafts (Clarke presented the different texts for comparison). Here is the long and challenging 'Phases of Fiction', the drafts of Woolf’s late history of literature, a fantasised letter to ‘A Lady in Paraguay’, and Peter the Porpoise pursuing his own untold quest around the aquarium at Brighton.

Clarke’s ample and scrupulous annotations have helped to set the standard for contemporary editions of Modernist texts. His method has long been to set out information that might be significant and let readers make up their own minds. Students, scholars, and common readers will indeed be making up their own minds for decades to come. The Modernist Studies community is much in Clarke’s debt.