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A Room of One's Own
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Virginia Woolf's highly influential essay on women and literature, which considers both literary history and future opportunity.
In 1928 Woolf gave two lectures at Cambridge University about women and fiction. In front of an audience at Newnham College, she delivered the following words: “All I could do was offer you an opinion upon one minor point - a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction; and that, as you will see, leaves the great problem of the true nature of woman and the true nature of fiction unsolved”.
These lectures formed the basis of a book she published the following year, and Woolf chose A Room Of One’s Own for its title. It is a text that set the scene for the study of women’s writing for the rest of the 20th century. Arguably, it initiated the discipline of women’s history too.
Emeritus Professor of English Literature at the University of Oxford
Emeritus Professor of Modern Literary and Cultural Theory at Queen Mary, University of London
Professor of English at the University of Birmingham
Producer Luke Mulhall
In 1957 Stevie Smith published a poetry collection called Not Waving But Drowning – and its title poem gave us a phrase which has entered the language.
Its success has overshadowed her wider work as the author of more than half a dozen collections of poetry and three novels, mostly written while she worked as a secretary. Her poems, printed with her pen and ink sketches, can seem simple and comical, but often beneath the surface lurk themes of melancholy, loneliness, love and death.
Associate Professor in the School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia
Lecturer in Twentieth Century Literature at the University of Bristol
Professor of Modern and Contemporary Literature at the University of Southampton
The photograph above shows Stevie Smith recording her story Sunday at Home, a finalist in the BBC Third Programme Short Story competition in 1949.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Donne (1573-1631), known now as one of England’s finest poets of love and notable in his own time as an astonishing preacher. He was born a Catholic in a Protestant country and, when he married Anne More without her father's knowledge, Donne lost his job in the government circle and fell into a poverty that only ended once he became a priest in the Church of England. As Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, his sermons were celebrated, perhaps none more than his final one in 1631 when he was plainly in his dying days, as if preaching at his own funeral.
The image above is from a miniature in the Royal Collection and was painted in 1616 by Isaac Oliver (1565-1617)
Mary Ann Lund
Associate Professor in Renaissance English Literature at the University of Leicester
Professor of Seventeenth Century Literature at Birkbeck, University of London
Professor of English Literature at the University of Birmingham
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Jane Austen’s last complete novel, which was published just before Christmas in 1817, five months after her death. It is the story of Anne Elliot, now 27 and (so we are told), losing her bloom, and of her feelings for Captain Wentworth who she was engaged to, 8 years before – an engagement she broke off under pressure from her father and godmother. When Wentworth, by chance, comes back into Anne Elliot's life, he is still angry with her and neither she nor Austen's readers can know whether it is now too late for their thwarted love to have a second chance.
The image above is from a 1995 BBC adaptation of the novel, with Amanda Root and Ciarán Hinds
Vice-Chancellor of Durham University
Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Oxford
Associate Professor of English Literature and Book History at the University of Reading
Producer: Simon Tillotson
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Orson Welles' film, released in 1941, which is widely acclaimed as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, films yet made. Welles plays the lead role of Charles Foster Kane, a newspaper magnate, and Welles directed, produced and co-wrote this story of loneliness at the heart of a megalomaniac. The plot was partly inspired by the life of William Randolph Hearst, who then used the power of his own newspapers to try to suppress the film’s release. It was to take some years before Citizen Kane reached a fuller audience and, from that point, become so celebrated.
The image above is of Kane addressing a public meeting while running for Governor.
Professor of Film and Dean of Arts and Humanities at University College London
Professor of Film and Media History at Birkbeck, University of London
John David Rhodes
Professor of Film Studies and Visual Culture at the University of Cambridge
Producer: Simon Tillotson