About the book.
A highly-anticipated and richly evocative historical novel by leading Virginia Woolf expert Maggie Humm that tells the story behind the scenes of To the Lighthouse
An engrossing period historical novel that tells the story of one of the most iconic literary heroines, Lily Briscoe, outside of the confines of Woolf’s novel. The book also solves the literary mystery of Ms Ramsay’s sudden death, only briefly mentioned in To the Lighthouse.
Written with skill and in-depth knowledge by one of today’s leading experts on Virginia Woolf. Maggie Humm is an Emeritus Professor of Cultural Studies University of East London and the author of numerous acclaimed books on Woolf and feminist theory. She is also a media consultant and expert on Woolf for BBC programmes and other media worldwide.
Talland House, where Virginia Woolf (and Lily Briscoe in Humm’s novel) spent much of her youth is a real house in St Ives, Cornwall. Author Maggie Humm is an expert on the history of the house and can talk about it and other locations in detail.
What others are saying about this book.
“Maggie Humm has brilliantly filled in the edges beyond Woolf’s canvas; she has a deep, awe-inspiring understanding of Woolf’s work, and has created something new, that has its own imaginative life, from that understanding.” ― Lauren Elkin, award-winning author of Flâneuse
“The primary setting of St Ives in Cornwall is beautifully depicted and subtly realised, without resorting to clich. or relying on Woolf’s vivid descriptions, creating a language of the writer’s own.” ― Historical Writers Associa8on
“Evocative and engaging… picturesque Cornwall and busy London are the backdrops for a young woman growing up, and an older woman reflecting back. We’re treated to details about the captivating Lily Briscoe and her relationship with herself, her art, and the people in her life. It’s a great read, from a clearly very knowledgeable writer.” ―Francesca Baker, AndSoSheThinks.co.uk
1919: The Royal Academy, London
Plucking a glass of champagne from a passing waiter, Lily was desperate for a cigarette, but none of the ladies were smoking.
“Can you see my painting?”
“There it is, Lily,” Eliza said. “Look—they’ve placed it at eye level! Not skied at all.”
“Goodness. I imagined the Royal Academy would hate my colours.”
“You’re a revolutionary,” Eliza said, smiling, as she rearranged the French lace around her shoulders. “Clashing colours are the thing. It’s a new era.”
Lily raised her glass to Eliza. She knew she could paint and Delphiniums might change things; she felt this with a brilliant intensity, like holding a nugget of gold. The blooms in the painting were almost alive. But never as much as in Talland House garden, where her beloved Mrs. Ramsay’s favourite flowers stood glorious in front of a purple escallonia hedge.
The gallery was too crowded and hot to think clearly. Painting was the one thing she thought about, and she couldn’t hide the joy she got from it, a sense of completeness, of being herself, of feeling as if she’d taken wing and everything else was insignificant. And it was the one thing she’d ever been good at.
Draining her glass, Lily strode after Eliza to the end of the high-ceilinged room. It was full of men in top hats dressed in black frock coats stretched over fat stomachs, but their clothes weren’t for mourning. They weren’t examining the pictures much at all, looking for their own kind, their own “set,” with flushed red faces, moustaches grown into noses, waistcoats dotted with shiny buttons.
“A new era? So why do men claim they won the Great War,” she said, wondering where the waiters had gone with the champagne, “when they’ve only won it for half the population, and the other half have taken a step backwards?”
“Don’t bother about them,” Eliza said. “Let’s see who else is at eye level.” During the war, what with the nursing, there’d been a few hours snatched here and there for painting in the small studio close to Father’s study, but the moments after painting were liberating. Those Sunday evenings had made her feel free, walking alone to Victoria and the tram back to the hospital, sometimes as late as midnight. Trees appeared taller in the shadows; houses haunting in the blackout, no glints allowed from windows. With iron railings torn from their sockets to be melted down for guns, the remaining rounded shapes along the perimeters of houses were like animal footprints, making her imagine black leopards prowling the streets of South Kensington. There was beauty and adventure in London’s wartime streets.
In the next gallery, Lily could feel her face becoming shiny. “I’m thirsty,” she said, smiling at Eliza. “Let’s go and have tea.”
The crowd parted, and in front stood two men, one older with a younger companion, declaring a painting’s surface was too flat. It was his rich tenor voice Lily recognized first. Her memories hadn’t faded over the years. She could feel her face flushing, and, with a stomach twist of embarrassment, she turned to Eliza.
“It’s Louis Grier and Hilary Hunt,” she whispered.
It was the effect of Louis’s smile and the touch of his hand Lily most remembered, and somehow, for a moment, the gallery seemed to be as vibrant as its art. He was well dressed in a three-piece suit rather than the old rough trousers spattered with paint she was used to, but he still wore the same jaunty hat he’d always worn. The hair peeking out was almost completely grey; he wasn’t wearing a wedding ring. Hunt hadn’t aged so well, seemingly settled into a suit like a stout businessman. Lily felt pulled back to St Ives, but she wasn’t an indecisive young girl any longer. If only she’d been braver, more honest then about her feelings for Louis. Was it too late? She stood behind him, scrutinizing the painting. The image was too conventional, not true of her memories of Cornwall’s dramatic seas, and she nodded in silent agreement with him. Both men turned, smiled broadly in recognition and doffed their hats.
“Miss Briscoe, such a pleasure to see you and Miss Stillman again,” Louis said, and Hunt smiled. “I saw your name in the catalogue. Many congratulations! We hoped you might want to see Cornish scenes in the exhibition, and here you are.”
His eyes were steady, looking intently at her before gesturing at the painting, and she felt her spine prickle under his gaze.
*** Shortlisted for the Impress Prize, Fresher Fiction Prize, Retreat West Prize and Eyelands Prize***
*** Longlisted for the 2019 Historical Writers’ Association / Sharpe Books Unpublished Novel Award ***
Talland House was published yesterday, 3 September 2020 by publishers Cameron publicity and marketing.
Talland House was also published on 18 Aug 2020 by She Writes Press and will be available in paperback and ebook editions.
A massive Thank you to the author Maggie Humm, publishers Cameron Publicity and Marketing and Random Things Tours for my copy of this book in exchange for my part in the blog tour, providing an extract taken from the book.