Writer and academic, Dr Alexandra Harris follows in the footsteps of novelist Virginia Woolf for a new BBC Radio 4 series.
Dr Harris, who was named a Radio 3 New Generation Thinker in 2011, begins her four part series: A Walk of One’s Own: Virginia Woolf on Foot in the Alpujarra, Spain. She visits the house the author travelled to in 1923 to stay with her friend and fellow writer, Gerald Brenan, in the tiny village of Yegen.
Dr Harris, a Senior Lecturer in the University of Liverpool’s Department of English, said: “The woman who now lives in the house where Woolf stayed told us that Woolf went every afternoon to read and sunbathe in a certain grove of figs.
“How did she know?
“Her mother-in-law had watched in 1923 as the English novelist sat alone in the sun, with a book. It was magic to hear that; a scene not written anywhere, not edited or mythologized – Virginia Woolf sunbathing.”
The series then takes the listener through a selection of Woolf’s most loved locations, with one episode each dedicated to Kensington Gardens, Cornwall and Sussex; “places she wrote and re-wrote all her life”, says Dr Harris, who is joined along the way by writers Dame Hermione Lee, Chris Stewart, Michael Bird and Scarlett Baron.
The emphasis on walking is key to the series. Dr Harris, who has written a book and many essays on Woolf as well as winning the Guardian First Book prize for her title, Romantic Moderns: English Writers, Artists and the Imagination from Virginia Woolf to John Piper, said: “I wanted to think about the way Woolf used images of walking to describe the processes of writing (for example when she clinches a moment in The Waves it’s ‘like breaking through gorse’), and how the rhythms of walking set the pace of her prose.
“The habit of thinking while walking was something she inherited from her mountaineer father Leslie Stephen, so I wanted to explore that influence. Woolf quoted with approval her father’s bold instruction that when you see a sign saying ‘trespassers will be prosecuted’, you should trespass at once.
“Woolf took that advice – in her reading, her politics, and certainly her writing.”
A Walk of One’s Own: Virginia Woolf on Foot begins on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday August 11 at 9.30am and continues each Tuesday at the same time before concluding on Tuesday September 1 with Woolf in Sussex. To find out more, please visit http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b064yjm6