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Woolf Online - Project Introduction

Welcome to Woolf Online, a resource for research and study of Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse. This project was planned and begun by the late Professor Julia Briggs at the Centre for Textual Scholarship at De Montfort University, Leicester, UK. After her untimely death, the project was managed by co-directors Professors Marilyn Deegan of King’s College London and Peter Shillingsburg of Loyola University Chicago.
This website focuses on the central passage of Virginia Woolf's novel, To the Lighthouse -- the passage known as "Time Passes"--that provides a bridge between the first part of the novel, recounting the Ramsay family visits to the summer house when the children were young and Mrs. Ramsay was still living, and the last part of the novel, when, ten years later, the surviving family returns and the two younger children finally reach the lighthouse with their father. The "Time Passes" section, a stylistic tour de force, is highly reflective, meditative, and philosophical in its sense of the nature of being, the passage of time, the processes of decay and dissolution, and the interplay of class, family, nature, space, and time.
The website was designed by Julia Briggs and her assistant and co-worker, Dr. Nicholas Hayward, as both a research site and field for criticism and teaching. It provides high definition virtual images of documents and photographs, and the tools to examine and compare them. And it provides space and tools for criticism, teaching, and learning. It was never an intention to oversimplify any aspect of Virginia Woolf's work; and yet it has been important that its riches be accessible to students and researchers alike. Many difficult design issues were debated and tested. This is a complex site with a great many inter-related materials. It is not expected that anyone will in two or three minutes understand its riches. Tutorials are available throughout in the top bar of the web pages.
Although the menus make it possible with one or two clicks to move from any one spot in the site to any other spot, and although many of the linked parts suggest critical relationships, for the most part the navigation system provides easy movement among the materials rather than charting pre-planned tours or offering conclusions about the critical significance of the materials. There is much room for a user to exercise critical faculties on these materials, which would be very difficult otherwise to assemble and examine together.
The "Time Passes" section of the novel was written during a twenty-two day period, during which Woolf produced 40 manuscript pages. Each morning she began at the top of a new page. Each day she reworked her draft, producing a typescript totalling, in the end, 26 pages. Although Woolf Online currently focuses on the bridge passage rather than on the whole of To the Lighthouse, this site brings to bear on that writing activity a rich array of contextual material, so that one can almost literally watch Virginia Woolf each day, write the manuscript, write in her diary, pen letters, and compose other things, such as her essay on the cinema, and, just a click away, one finds accounts of the general strike that was going on practically outside the writer's windows.
In addition, one can watch or at least trace the evidence of Virginia Woolf typing up her manuscript, reading proofs, and making revisions that showed up in differences between the American and English editions of the novel.
Moreover, because the Ramsay family bears such striking resemblances to Virginia Woolf's own family, the Stephens, the site provides biographical and visual materials about her family.
It was important to Professor Briggs that the "Time Passes" project offer the basic evidence that would allow students and scholars to see the writing as a fluid process taking place in particular locations and at particular times in relation to other contemporaneous events. It is not required that anyone believe that such historical contextual materials are necessary to an understanding of the novel; it was enough that readers often find such material more useful to an understanding of the novel than any enabling contexts that they can conjure up from their imaginations or general knowledge.
Finally, it was Professor Briggs's expressed hope that the array of original materials and linked relationships provided in Woolf Online would serve as a basis for two on-going activities that she intended to jump-start with her own contributions--contributions that, unfortunately, she did not live to provide. First was a new and growing body of critical explanations of the "Time Passes" section, of the novel as a whole, and of Virginia Woolf's unique accomplishments as a novelist. And second was an account of Virginia Woolf's reading and thinking about philosophy, about time, being, progress, purpose, consciousness, and thought.
After the untimely and sad death of Professor Briggs, it was gratifying to see ten well-known Virginia Woolf scholars around the world offer commentary, essays, bibliographies, and helpful advice in our attempt to fulfill the objectives of Professor Briggs's project. The collaborative work that went into this project opened new possibilities for user participation in the annotation, scrapbook, and commentary sections that readers can utilise, in the first instance, privately, and when such work merits publication, submit to the site for the benefit of other students and scholars.
The project is not what it might have been, no doubt, had Julia been able to complete her vision for the work, but it has flourished in its own way, largely due to the dedicated labour and technical skills of Dr. Nick Hayward, the able support and assistance of Dr. Marilyn Deegan, and the advisory and coordinating role of Dr. Mark Hussey and his team of Woolf scholars.
Peter Shillingsburg.