chestnut book blog

Read. Recommend. Revel.

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Virginia Woolf at the National Portrait Gallery

A few weeks ago, my friend Cristina and I met after work and spent a blissful evening wandering around the Virginia Woolf exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. Evenings like that are one of my favourite things about living in London…it is like the opportunity to dive into a different world for a few hours.

The exhibition itself was intimate and detailed, with a mixture of portraits, books, letters, articles, ephemera and objects. Whilst I was slightly surprised by the small-scale of the exhibition at first, I came to the conclusion that it suited the subject matter perfectly. Virginia Woolf was a fascinating, but private and complex woman. Her books were detailed and intimate, concentrating on individual feelings and thoughts, just like this exhibition. A particularly intriguing part of the exhibition was two portraits of Woolf, painted on what I presume was the same day (she is wearing the same clothes), but by two different artists. The similarities and differences kept Cristina and I transfixed for some time.

Portrait of Virginia Woolf by Roger Fry, 1917

Virginia Woolf by Roger Fry, 1917

The exhibition ends with the story of her suicide of course and so I left with mixed feelings. Grateful for her work and her life, but also sad because, despite her talent, the exhibition showed a very unhappy and unstable person for significant periods. She suffered personal tragedies like the early loss of her mother and an adored brother, but also had so many positive things in her life (her work, her much-loved husband, her sister) that her untimely death felt like such a waste to me.

I’ve not read too much of Woolf, always wary of her reputation for difficulty. What I have read though, To the Lighthouse, Mrs Dalloway and A Room of One’s Own, I love and this exhibition inspired two more purchases! I remember recently that one of my very favourite books (sorry for harping on about it!), Howard’s End is on the Landing, references Woolf’s diaries as ‘well worn, much-loved, a constant inspiration’ so I purchased my own copy after seeing the exhibition. I will let you know if I find the same. The other purchase was a little more accidental. I went to Prague last week with work for a few days and had one evening to myself (a huge relief after a day or two of being forcibly sociable!). I spent a lovely August evening walking for hours around the city, eager to get my bearings and see the beautiful buildings on foot. I stumbled across two wonderful English language book shops, The Globe and Shakespeare & Sons. In one of them, propped up by the till, was a second-hand volume of all Woolf’s major works and I couldn’t resist it.

This autumn there will inevitably be a few more posts about Virginia Woolf so be prepared! Have you read much Woolf? Do you like her style?

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Five Favourite Things

Here are my favourite things this month:

1. The Bees by Laline Paull

Ever wondered what it is like to be a bee in a hive? Bizarrely, I actually have and now I have my answer! Not only does Paull have a beautiful and vivid imagination, but she has clearly done a lot of research into bee behaviour as well. The two together make this a brilliant story. I couldn’t put it down and, since finishing it, I have recommended it to everyone I talk to! Interesting fact: Laline was the name my brother called me when we were little, before he could pronounce Caroline…

2. Books and Quills

Since getting back from holiday, I’ve discovered ‘Book-Tubers’ on YouTube. I have read book blogs for many years, but had been a bit sceptical about how that would translate into videos. In general, I have to say that I still prefer my blogs, but Books and Quills is an exception. Sanne, the ‘YouTuber’ in question, has a varied and interesting taste in books. Her Dutch / American accent is very easy to listen to and her enthusiasm for books is infectious. Here is her wonderful book shelf tour, which sent me scurrying to the nearest book shop to check out her recommendations!

3. Quits

This is surprising as I am not much of a crafter. I am left-handed, which meant both my Grandma and Mum’s many attempts to teach me to knit have failed spectacularly over the years. If I am honest, I’d also just rather be reading a book, which is another reason I’ve not managed to learn basic sewing / knitting etc life skills. Despite this, on our recent holiday to the U.S, I became a little bit obsessed with quilts and quilting. It started with a tour of Louisa May Alcott’s home in Concord , Massachusetts (which was amazing and I will do a post on that soon), where a ‘Flying Geese’ quilt was pointed out as a potential sign that the Alcotts were part of the underground railroad. By the time we had reached Bar Harbour in Maine, by way of a few roadside quilt shops in New Hampshire, I was fascinated. Since then, I have purchased a few books on the history of quilting, which I will share with you shortly, and I am seriously considering booking myself on a sewing course!

4. Flat peaches

Have you tried flat peaches? I absolutely adore them. An even more delicate and delicious flavour than a normal peach, but also with a much more convenient design for eating!

5. London in the summer

I’ve also fallen a little bit back in love with London this summer. A country girl at heart, I often see only the negatives in this city I live in. However, I am back working in the very centre of London with my new job and as I walk up to Piccadilly Circus and through Trafalgar Square each evening, I do reflect on how lucky I am to live in this amazing place. With a trip to the Proms to hear Elgar’s beautiful Enigma Variations just behind us and a tour of the Virginia Woolf exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery planned, my renewed appreciation for London will continue.

So there are my favourite things from the last month. I am sorry my posting has been a bit sporadic. It is likely to continue to be so for the remainder of the summer, as life is a bit busy at the moment. In the Autumn I’ll return to my usual schedule of two posts a week though. In the meantime, I hope you are having a wonderful summer as well!