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The New York Public Library Celebrates Virginia Woolf: When Is a Printed Book as Good as a Manuscript?: The Proof Copy of A Room of One's Own

October 20, 2010

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Isaac Gewirtz, Curator of the New York Public Library’s Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature, will present "When Is a Printed Book as Good as a Manuscript?: The Proof Copy of A Room of One's Own".  This lecture compares key passages in the text of the newly acquired proof copy of A Room of One's Own, long regarded as being lost to posterity, to the first edition text. Prior to the work's publication, Woolf emended the proof text in hundreds of instances, primarily, but not exclusively, in the form of excisions from this proof state. Woolf referred to this process frequently in her diaries during the summer of 1929. On August 19, 1929 she declared “the blessed fact that for good or bad I have just set the final correction to Women & Fiction, or A Room of One’s Own. I shall never read it again I suppose. Good or bad? Has an uneasy life in it I think: you feel the creature arching its back & galloping on, though as usual much is watery & flimsy & pitched in too high a voice.”  This extended essay is Woolf’s most influential work of non-fiction, though it is presented in a fictional framework (the “action” occurs in the university town of “Oxbridge”— Woolf was not the first to use the term, but this work popularized it) and contains several fictional characters. Arguably, it has proven more influential in our own day than most of her novels. Many of Woolf’s changes render the passages in which they occur more elegant or concise. But the advantage of the somewhat clumsier or lengthier renderings is that different shades of her meanings are more explicitly revealed and explained. In other instances, the passage excised from the proof is the mention of a person or place, and its replacement with a lengthier, expository phrase casts light on what that person or place meant to Woolf. Scholarly study of the proof copy will deepen and help complete our understanding of the evolution of Woolf’s thought on the network of issues embedded in the relationship of gender and literary expression, and of gender and artistic creativity in general.

Isaac Gewirtz has served as Curator of the New York Public Library’s Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature since September 2000. After studying in the University of Virginia’s doctoral program in English, he attended Columbia University’s School of Library Service, and received his M.L.S. in 1984, with a specialization in rare books. In 2003, he was awarded a Ph.D. in Early Modern History, also from Columbia (dissertation: The Prefaces of Badius Ascensius: The Humanist Printer as Arbiter of French Humanism and of the Medieval Tradition in France). He served as a librarian in the New York Public Library’s Jewish Division and Rare Book Room from 1984 to 1989, and as Curator of Special Collections at Southern Methodist University’s Bridwell Library from 1990 to 1996. He was Director of Special Collections at the St. Mark’s Library of the General Theological Seminary, in Manhattan, from 1996 until his arrival at the Berg. Dr. Gewirtz has curated numerous exhibitions, including, at the New York Public Library, Victorians, Moderns, and Beats; Passion’s Discipline: A History of the Sonnet in the British Isles and America; “I am With You”: Walt Whiman’s Leaves of Grass, 1855-2005, with an accompanying volume of the same title; and Beatific Souls: Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, 1957-2007, accompanied by a volume of the same title, and a volume that also emerged out of the exhibition, Kerouac At Bat: Fantasy Sports and the King of the Beats (2009). In September 2010, he co-curated an exhibition at the Morgan Museum and Library entitled Mark Twain: A Skeptic’s Progress, which was accompanied a by a volume of the same title.