Each year, the IVWS runs the annual Angelica Garnett Undergraduate Essay Prize contest. The winner traditionally wins a cash prize and publication in a future issue of Virginia Woolf Miscellany. This year, the field was incredibly competitive. The judges recommended a winner, but the second and third place essays were so excellent that they also recommended that both be named runners-up. The IVWS is also planning a Spring 2023 event to celebrate this year’s winners.
Here are the results:
Winner: Eleanor Clark (Merton College, U of Oxford)
Eleanor Clark’s essay is entitled, “Breaking the silence?”: Talking, Speaking and the Dissipation of Meaning in Virginia Woolf’s Novels. Eleanor is a second-year undergraduate reading English at Merton College, Oxford, and was raised in rural Devon in the south-west of England. She has particular interests in twentieth-century women’s writing, the novel, and literatures of place and landscape.
Her winning essay contends that Woolf establishes a distinction between talk and speech. Talking imparts language and is heard, whereas speaking imparts meaning and is listened to. In talk, meaning dissipates, weakening communication to produce the familiar alienated modernist subject. Unlike T.S. Eliot and Jospeh Conrad, who are preoccupied with this (usually male) figure, Woolf’s characters evade the dissipation of meaning because they speak. This distinction stands against simplistic developmental readings of Woolf: she may move formally from external dialogue to internal monologue, but The Voyage Out and Night and Day are speaking to The Waves and Between the Acts.
Runners Up: Saskia May (U of Sussex) and Jasmine Woodcock (Huddersfield U)
Saskia May’s essay is entitled, Abandoned, Domestic Objects ‘continuing without us’ in Ecological Landscapes in Virginia Woolf’s “Solid Objects.“ Saskia completed her undergraduate studies in English literature at the University of Sussex and is currently studying her Masters in English literature at University College London. She is the winner of the 2021 Doris Lessing Essay Prize for her essay titled “Maternal Ambivalence in Doris Lessing’s Letters,” an archival research project using Lessing’s letters to her friend, Leonard Smith (“Smithie”) archived at the Keep, University of Sussex. Saskia is presenting at the 2023 MLA Convention and is delivering a paper on “Working Motherhood – Maternal Ambivalence and Writing Conditions in Doris Lessing’s Letters.” Saskia has particular interests in motherhood, forms of life writing, the intersections of class and race in Post-war Britain, and eco-critical literature
Saskia’s essay explores Woolf’s consideration of abandoned, domestic objects decaying in ecological landscapes in her short story “Solid Objects” (1920). Saskia is interested in how Woolf depicts objects aside from their anthropocentric use and history, and her essay contends that objects, especially in the context of the current climate crisis, must be conceived of from a biocentric as opposed to an anthropocentric perspective, for their permanence affects all life on earth.
Jasmine Woodcock’s essay is entitled, Predicting the Present: Orlando is Trans*. Jasmine is currently studying for a Master’s in English Literature at the University of Huddersfield. Her prize submission is an adaptation of her undergraduate dissertation.
“Predicting the Present” reads Orlando as a trans*—that is, in essence, non-binary—character, and Orlando as advocating for expression of gender fluidity through the use of the ‘they’ pronoun. The essay points to gender fluid identities as a newly-mainstream understanding which the novel engages with. The essay argues that Woolf’s Orlando is a presentist text in that its dialogue with gender has resounded with several conceptions of gender throughout its critical history (and its various presents), including its engagement with our present notions of gender. However, presentist theory also acknowledges the influence of contemporary understandings on modern readings, as readers inevitably approach a text from their present context — in this case, impacting our reading of gender.