Virginia Woolf, Horace and Rectories : The Ilkley Literature Festival 2013

October is the month of The Ilkley Literature Festival. I remember when ‘all’ the events took place in one venue – a children’s weekend of ‘literary’ entertainment- poetry, puppets, that sort of thing – and a weekend of talks for adults. But that is going back nearly 30 years and I noticed that this year celebrates the 40th anniversary with 17 days of talks, walks, visits and entertainment with even free Fringe events.

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I usually pick a couple of talks or events to attend each year and this year was no different. On the first Saturday I chose to hear Alexandra Harris talk about her book “Virginia Woolf“.

Liverpool University cultural historian Alexandra Harris’s hugely acclaimed Romantic Moderns (Guardian First Book and Somerset Maugham Awards) overturned our picture of modernist culture. Now Harris discusses the life and work of Virginia Woolf, revealing a passionate, determined woman full of wit, vivacity and fun, whose life was shaped by her defiant refusal to submit to literary convention, social constraints and mental illness.” [ILF Programme]

The Sitting Room at Monk's House, East Sussex

The Sitting Room at Monk’s House. The armchair was one of Virginia Woolf’s favourite reading chairs. It is upholstered in a fabric designed by her sister, Vanessa Bell. ©NTPL/Eric Crichton [As seen here]

I’m expecting to get to Monk’s House next year (and felt the need to learn more about VW) with a friend and bought the book and had Ms Harris sign it for her. She hopes we will also have a chance to walk on The Downs whilst we are there … and I hope so too!

Later that afternoon I went to a Question and Answer format event featuring the FT ‘Slow Lane’ journalist and poet Harry Eyres who has recently published a book ‘Horace and me‘ a fascinating subject about whom I knew very little.

Horace

Harry Eyres, theatre critic, wine writer, poet and ‘Slow Lane’ columnist for the Financial Times, journeys into the work of the Roman poet Horace, exploring his lessons for our time. The humble son of a freed slave, Horace championed modest pleasures in the face of imperial Rome’s wealth and expansion. A celebrity in his own time, Horace influenced writers from Voltaire to Hardy – and Boris Johnson!” [ILF Programme]

And finally last Saturday it was Deborah Alun-Jones who gave a short talk, then took questions from the presenter and then from the audience on the subject of her book (which I had read earlier this year) ‘The Wry Romance of the Literary Rectory‘.

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Author Deborah Alun-Jones strips away the idyllic exterior of the village rectory to reveal the lives of writers like Tennyson and Betjeman who lived and worked in them. She investigates hidden desire, domestic drama, bitterness and isolation – and the secrets of the highly creative environments from which some of the greatest English poetry and literature has emerged.

Ms Alun-Jones had travelled the country visiting rectories (and vicarages, parsonages and the like) and although she mentions Jane Austen and the Brontes they are not included in this book. A future book will look at women in the rectory. The only woman to feature in this publication is Dorothy L. Sayers. The male authors are Sydney Smith (at Foston in Yorkshire); Alfred Tennyson (at Somersby in Lincolnshire); Rupert Brooke (at Granchester – also now home to Lord Archer); John Betjeman (at Farnborough); R.S.Thomas (at Manafon); George Herbert and Vikram Seth (at Bemerton) and The Benson and de Waal families (at Lincoln). I haven’t visited any of these places and I don’t think any are open to the public. Such a lively speaker and interesting topic it was a pity that the room was only half full. But those of us that were there were very appreciative of the talk.

Shandy Hall

Here is Shandy Hall in North Yorkshire and former home of Lawrence Sterne vicar of Coxwold – also not included in The Wry Romance

I wonder if Simon at Stuck-in-a-book has a comment to make about the wry romance of being brought up in vicarage?

7 comments on “Virginia Woolf, Horace and Rectories : The Ilkley Literature Festival 2013

  1. Rhona says:

    This is so interesting – and topical: a new exhibition will open tomorrow in Berlin: Life After Luther, A Cultural history of the Evangelical Parsonage. It traces the same questions in Germany. One famous daughter of the parsonage is of course, the current Chancellor, Angela Merkel. Should be an interesting exhibition.

    Rhona

  2. Julie Stivers says:

    I’ve been reading The Years — is that the one you bought for me at the sale in Whitehall? I do like it very much, but have found myself putting it down for something a little more “plot-driven”. But I’ve been soldiering on with it for the past few days and think I’m in the home stretch now. It’s so atmospheric — feeding the longing to re-visit London. I think it’s the last of her books I haven’t read, so now it’s time to start over. The festival sounds wonderful.

  3. honoria plum says:

    What a terrific piece. Thanks so much. I visited Monk’s House this summer and it left a lasting impression.

  4. […] well-founded belief is that a frequent guest, if not an early owner, was the poet Horace. Across the ravine thunders the water of Anio, with temples of Vesta and the Sibyl poised above it. […]

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