Jan 252016
 

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Today is the birthday (1882) of Adeline Virginia Woolf (née Stephen), an English writer who was one of the foremost modernists of the early 20th century. During the interwar period, Woolf was a significant figure in London literary society and a central figure in the influential Bloomsbury Group. Her most famous works include the novels Mrs Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927) and Orlando (1928), and the book-length essay A Room of One’s Own (1929), with its famous dictum, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

Woolf was educated by her parents in their literate and well-connected household. Her parents had each been married previously and been widowed, and, consequently, the household contained the children of three marriages. Her mother, Julia, had three children by her first husband, Herbert Duckworth: George, Stella, and Gerald Duckworth. Her father, Leslie Stephen, had first married Harriet Marian (Minny) Thackeray (1840–1875), the daughter of William Thackeray, and they had one daughter: Laura Makepeace Stephen, who was declared mentally disabled and lived with the family until she was institutionalized in 1891. Leslie and Julia had four children together: Vanessa (later known as Vanessa Bell) (1879), Thoby (1880), Virginia (1882), and Adrian (1883).

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Leslie Stephen’s eminence as an editor, critic, and biographer, and his connection to William Thackeray, meant that his children were raised in an environment filled with the influences of Victorian literary society. Henry James, George Henry Lewes, and Virginia’s honorary godfather, James Russell Lowell, were among the visitors to the house. Julia Stephen was equally well connected. She came from a family of beauties who left their mark on Victorian society as models for Pre-Raphaelite artists and early photographers, including her aunt Julia Margaret Cameron who was also a visitor to the Stephen household. Supplementing these influences was the immense library at the Stephens’ house, from which Virginia and Vanessa were taught the classics and English literature. Unlike the girls, their brothers Adrian and Julian (Thoby) were formally educated and sent to Cambridge, a difference that Virginia would resent. The sisters did, however, benefit indirectly from their brothers’ Cambridge contacts, as the boys often brought their new intellectual friends home.

According to Woolf’s memoirs, her most vivid childhood memories were not of London but of St Ives, Cornwall, where the family spent every summer until 1895. The Stephens’ summer home, Talland House, looked out over Porthminster Bay, and is still standing, though somewhat altered. Memories of these family holidays and impressions of the landscape, especially the Godrevy Lighthouse, informed the fiction Woolf wrote in later years, most notably To the Lighthouse.

The sudden death of her mother in 1895, when Virginia was 13, and that of her half-sister Stella two years later, led to the first of Virginia’s several nervous breakdowns. She was, however, able to take courses of study (some at degree level) in Ancient Greek, Latin, German and history at the Ladies’ Department of King’s College London between 1897 and 1901. This brought her into contact with some of the early reformers of women’s higher education such as the principal of the Ladies’ Department, Lilian Faithfull (one of the so-called Steamboat ladies), Clara Pater (sister of the more famous Walter, George Warr. Her sister Vanessa also studied Latin, Italian, art and architecture at King’s Ladies’ Department.

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The death of her father in 1904 provoked a serious mental crisis and she was briefly institutionalized. Modern scholars (including her nephew and biographer, Quentin Bell) have suggested her breakdowns and subsequent recurring depressive periods were influenced by the sexual abuse to which she and her sister Vanessa were subjected by their half-brothers George and Gerald Duckworth (which Woolf recalls in her autobiographical essays A Sketch of the Past and 22 Hyde Park Gate).

Throughout her life, Woolf was plagued by periodic mood swings and associated illnesses. She spent three short periods in 1910, 1912 and 1913 at Burley House, 15 Cambridge Park, Twickenham, described as “a private nursing home for women with nervous disorder.” Though this instability often affected her social life, her literary productivity continued with few breaks throughout her life.

After the death of their father and Virginia’s second nervous breakdown, Vanessa and Adrian sold 22 Hyde Park Gate and bought a house at 46 Gordon Square in Bloomsbury. Woolf came to know Lytton Strachey, Clive Bell, Rupert Brooke, Saxon Sydney-Turner, Duncan Grant, Leonard Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, David Garnett, and Roger Fry, who together formed the nucleus of the intellectual circle of writers and artists known as the Bloomsbury Group. In 1907 Vanessa married Clive Bell, and the couple’s interest in modern art had an important influence on Woolf’s development as an author.

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Virginia married the writer Leonard Woolf on 10 August 1912. Despite his low material status (Woolf referring to Leonard during their engagement as a “penniless Jew”) the couple shared a close bond. She wrote at the time:

First he is a Jew; second he is 31; third, he spent 7 years in Ceylon, governing natives, inventing ploughs, shooting tigers, and did so well that they offered him a very high place, which he refused, wishing to marry me, and gave up his entire career there on the chance that I would agree. He has no money of his own… but from the first I have found him the one person to talk to.

We analyse each other’s idiosyncrasies in the light of psycho-analysis walking round the square. My reports, however, are apt to twist up into balls what is really amicable, serious, disinterested, and almost wholly affectionate. It’s true that Leonard sees my faults.

The two also collaborated professionally, in 1917 founding the Hogarth Press, which subsequently published Virginia’s novels along with works by T. S. Eliot, Laurens van der Post, and translations of Freud’s works. The Press also commissioned works by contemporary artists, including Dora Carrington and Vanessa Bell.

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The ethos of the Bloomsbury group encouraged a liberal approach to sexuality, and in 1922 Virginia met the writer and landscape gardener Vita Sackville-West, wife of Harold Nicolson. After a tentative start, they began a sexual relationship, which, according to Sackville-West in a letter to her husband dated August 17, 1926, was only twice consummated. However, Virginia’s intimacy with Vita seems to have continued into the early 1930s. In 1928, Woolf presented Sackville-West with Orlando, a fantastical biography in which the eponymous hero’s life spans three centuries and both sexes. Nigel Nicolson, Vita Sackville-West’s son, wrote, “The effect of Vita on Virginia is all contained in Orlando, the longest and most charming love letter in literature, in which she explores Vita, weaves her in and out of the centuries, tosses her from one sex to the other, plays with her, dresses her in furs, lace and emeralds, teases her, flirts with her, drops a veil of mist around her.”

Woolf began writing professionally in 1900, initially for the Times Literary Supplement with a journalistic piece about Haworth, home of the Brontë family. Her first novel, The Voyage Out, was published in 1915 by her half-brother’s imprint, Gerald Duckworth and Company Ltd. Woolf went on to publish novels and essays to both critical and popular success. Much of her work was self-published through the Hogarth Press, because she struggled dealing with external criticism and rejection.

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Woolf is considered a major innovator in the English language. In her works she experimented with stream of consciousness and the underlying psychological as well as emotional motives of characters. Woolf’s reputation declined sharply after World War II, but her importance was re-established with the growth of feminist criticism in the 1970s.

Here’s the only known recording of Woolf talking about the art of writing and language:

I taught Woolf for about 10 years as part of a general course for freshmen. To The Lighthouse was required reading for all first year students in the spring semester. I never felt I could do much with the text for a whole host of reasons. The Freudian/Oedipal theme between James and Mr Ramsay that runs through the entire novel seems heavy handed nowadays, although when the book was first published I expect it was novel and engaging.

I do grasp the idea that by using a stream-of-consciousness writing style Woolf was trying to paint a picture of what a day in the life of the Ramsays and entourage in their summer house was like, and I find it well enough done for what it is. Obviously the whole scene is heavily autobiographical; Woolf could well be describing a summer in St Ives with her family and their glitterati friends in the 1920s. The reason I find it well enough done is that I find the writing about the events as tiresome as I would have found the events themselves. Sitting around day after day reading or discussing “good” literature with a bunch of rich and “important” people, would drive me up the wall.

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Therein lies the heart of the problem for me. Woolf was brought up in, and lived among, the privileged of England’s society. Their interests and problems are not mine. I am, however, sympathetic to Woolf’s mental illness. People very close to me have suffered from depression and bipolar disorder, so I know the details intimately. Just before she weighted herself down with stones and drowned herself in the River Ouse she wrote this gut-wrenching note to Leonard:

Dearest,

I feel certain I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don’t think two people could have been happier till this terrible disease came. I can’t fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can’t even write this properly. I can’t read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that – everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer.

I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been.

These sentiments are soul searing. Trying to convey their meaning to 18 year olds in New York in the 1980s was impossible.

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The final chapters of the first part of To the Lighthouse describe a formal dinner party which Mrs Ramsay hosts. The soup course is of particular concern for many reasons. The full text of the book is here if you want to delve the mysteries of Mrs Ramsay and her ladling of the soup: http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks01/0100101.txt There is no mention of what kind of soup it is, nor any other details about the meal, only that the soup was worth seconds for one guest – and that caused a stir. So here’s a soup that was popular at the time, Royal Cheddar Cheese Soup.

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Royal Cheddar Cheese Soup

Ingredients

1 tablespoon butter
2 yellow onions, peeled and chopped
2 potatoes, peeled and chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
6 cups chicken stock
½ tsp dry English mustard
1 cup heavy cream
2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
½ tsp hot pepper sauce
3 tbsp minced chives

Instructions

Melt the butter over medium heat in a heavy pan. Add the onions, potatoes, and garlic and sauté 10 minutes.

Add the chicken stock and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook for 20 minutes.

Using a food processor or blender purée the stock and vegetables .

Whisk together the dry mustard and heavy cream in the pan over medium heat. Then add back the purée and heat through, stirring to avoid sticking.

Stir in the cheese and hot sauce and keep stirring until the cheese has melted.

Ladle into serving bowls and garnish with some chives.

Jan 302014
 

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Today is the birthday (1615) of Thomas Pepsironemeh Rolfe, the only child of Pocahontas by her English husband, John Rolfe. His maternal grandfather was Wahunsunacock, paramount chief of the Powhatan confederacy in Virginia, and, therefore, also known simply as Powhatan. Thomas Rolfe (and his two marriages) made it possible for following generations, both in North America and in England, to trace descent from Pocahontas (including Nancy Reagan and astronomer Percival Lowell).

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Pocahontas (born Matoaka, known as Amonute, and later known as Rebecca Rolfe, c. 1595 – March 1617) was captured by the English during hostilities in 1613, and held for ransom. During her captivity, she converted to Christianity and took the name Rebecca. When the opportunity arose for her to return to her people, she chose to remain with the English. In April 1614, she married tobacco planter John Rolfe.

Thomas Rolfe was born in Virginia and named after Governor Sir Thomas Dale, who accompanied Thomas Rolfe and his parents on their trip to England aboard the Treasurer in 1616. He was a year old during this voyage, and (being half Native American) was not necessarily immune to the diseases and hardships of the voyage. Thomas survived, but a year later in spring 1617 was stricken with a severe fever, as was his mother. Pocahontas was presented to English society as an example of the civilized “savage” in hopes of stimulating investment in the Jamestown settlement. She became something of a celebrity, was elegantly fêted, and attended a masque at Whitehall Palace.

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Just as the family was preparing to re-embark on the George for Virginia (while still in Gravesend in Kent), Pocahontas died of a fever (possibly tuberculosis). Thomas was left in Plymouth in England with Sir Lewis Stukley, and was later transferred into the care of his uncle, Henry Rolfe. His father, however, sailed without him to Virginia (after being persuaded by Admiral Argall and other members of the journey that his son was too sick to continue the voyage) and this was the last time that the father and son saw one another. Thomas remained in his uncle’s care in England until he reached roughly 20 years of age, by which time his father had already died. As Henry had raised Thomas, he felt he deserved compensation from his brother, and therefore petitioned the Virginia Council in October 1622, claiming entitlement to a portion of John Rolfe’s land. It is assumed that Thomas Rolfe returned to Virginia in 1635, and there is no further mention of Rolfe’s whereabouts or doings until 1641.

Once established in Virginia again, Thomas Rolfe fostered both his reputation as a plantation owner, and as a member of his mother’s lineage. As Thomas Rolfe was a child of a European man and a Native American woman, some aspects of his life were particularly controversial. Thomas expressed interest in rekindling relations with his Native American relatives, despite societal ridicule and laws that forbade such contact. In 1641, Rolfe petitioned the governor for permission to visit his “aunt, Cleopatra, and his kinsman Opecanaugh.”

Thomas married Elizabeth Washington in September 1632 at St James’s Church, Clerkenwell and they had a daughter named Anne Rolfe in 1633. Elizabeth died shortly after Anne’s birth. Anne Rolfe married Peter Elwin (or Elwyn) and through that line many people claim descent from Pocahontas and John Rolfe. Thomas later married a woman named Jane Poythress, who was the daughter of Captain Francis Poythress, a prosperous landowner in Virginia. They had a daughter together (who was named Jane after her mother). Thomas left his daughter with his cousin Anthony Rolfe to claim his inheritance. In 1698, Thomas Rolfe’s grandson John Bolling (Jane’s son) released to William Browne his rights in the land, in a deed in which Bolling is identified as “…son and heir of Jane, late wife of Robert Bolling of Charles City County, Gent., which Jane was the only daughter of Thomas Rolf, dec’d…” As confirmed by the 1698 deed quoted above, his daughter Jane married Robert Bolling. Robert Bolling and Jane Rolfe Bolling had one child; their son John was born January 26, 1676.

While Thomas did receive land from his father, it is believed that a fair percentage of his land came from the Native Americans, as well. There were rumors in 1618 that when Thomas came of age, he would inherit a sizable portion of Powhatan territory; this information was transmitted through Argall to London, stating, “‘Opechanano and the Natives have given their Country to Rolfe’s Child and that they will reserve it from all others till he comes of yeares….” Thomas’s step-grandfather, named Captain William Peirce, received a grant of 2000 acres of land on June 22, 1635 for the “transportation of 40 persons among whom was Thomas Rolfe.” He then listed Thomas as heir to his father’s land. Prior to March 1640, Thomas took possession of this land which was located on the lower side of the James River.

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Thomas also inherited a tract of around 150 acres on June 10, 1654 in Surry County, across from Jamestown; the land was described in a later deed as “Smith’s Fort old field and the Devil’s Woodyard swamp being due unto the said Rolfe by Gift from the Indian King.”

The year after the 1644 attack on the colony by Native Americans, four forts were established to defend the frontier: Fort Henry, Fort Royal, Fort James, and Fort Charles. Fort James was to be under the command of Thomas Rolfe as lieutenant as of October 5, 1646. He was given six men, and was instructed to fight against the Powhatan — his own people:

And it is further enacted and granted, That left.[Lieutenant] Thomas Rolfe shall have and enjoy for himselfe and his heires for ever ffort James alias Chickahominy fort with fowre hundred acres of land adjoyning to the same, with all houses and edifices belonging to the said forte and all boats and amunition at present belonging to the said ffort; Provided that he the said Leift. Rolfe doe keepe and maintaine sixe men vpon the place duringe the terme and time of three yeares, for which tyme he the said Leift. Rolfe for himselfe and the said sixe men are exempted from publique taxes.

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Then, on October 6, 1646, Thomas was put in charge of building a fort at Moysenac, for which he received 400 acres of land. This fort was located on the west side of Diascund Creek. Several years later, Rolfe patented 525 acres on August 8, 1653, “…lying upon the North side of Chickahominy river commonly called and known by the name of James fort…”, apparently including the 400 acres he had received in 1646. This Fort James land was repatented by William Browne on April 23, 1681. The tract was described in the patent as “formerly belonging to Mr Thomas Rolfe, dec’d”, thus establishing that Rolfe had died before that date. The exact year and place of his death are unknown.

Pocahontas did not leave any fully Native American descendants. However, many non-Native people in the United States claim descent from her through her son, Thomas Rolfe, and Thomas’s daughter, Jane. Moreover, many people in Great Britain also claim descent from Pocahontas through Thomas’s daughter, Anne, by his wife Elizabeth Washington.

The birth of Thomas Rolfe, as he was both European and Native American, reinstated peace between the Powhatans and the European settlements. Early in his career as deputy governor, Argall reported in a letter published within the Virginia Company Records that Powhatan “goes from place to place visiting his country taking his pleasure in good friendship with us laments his daughter’s death but glad her child is living so doth opachank.”

I think it is rather a shame that fictionalized accounts of Pocahontas, which usually play fast and loose with the historic facts (especially Disney), do not say much, if anything, about her son.  To my mind he represents a hope that never materialized of unity and accord between indigenous peoples and European colonists in North America.

As I have mentioned several times before, the settlement of the Americas led to the importation of myriad fruits and vegetables into Europe.  In Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor Falstaff shouts deliriously, “Let the sky rain potatoes” as a sign of the joy at these new arrivals. Potatoes were initially aristocratic food only, and the potato flower was used as an ornament on high quality china.  The pumpkin was also apparently very popular quite early on among the nobility, and also appears in Shakespeare:  “It pleased them to think me worthy of pompion” (Love’s Labour’s Lost: V, ii).  The word “pumpkin” originates from the word “pepon” which is Greek for “large melon,” or, more generally, something round and large. The French adapted this word to “pompon,” which the English changed to “pompion” or “pumpion,” and later American colonists changed that to the word that is used today, “pumpkin.”

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Related recipes for pumpion pye (i.e. pumpkin pie) start showing up in various editions of two cookbooks in the 1650’s onward, The Compleat Cook by Nathaniel Brook, and The Accomplisht Cook by Robert May, such as this one from Brook in 1671:

To make a Pumpion Pye.

Take about halfe a pound of Pumpion and slice it, a handfull of Tyme, a little Rosemary, Parsley and sweet Marjoram slipped off the stalks, and chop them smal, then take Cinamon, Nutmeg, Pepper, and six Cloves, and beat them; take ten Eggs and beat them; then mix them, and beat them altogether, and put in as much Sugar as you think fit, then fry them like a froiz; after it is fryed, let it stand till it be cold, then fill your Pye, take sliced Apples thinne round wayes, and lay a row of the Froiz, and a layer of Apples with Currans betwixt the layer while your Pye is fitted, and put in a good deal of sweet butter before you close it; when the Pye is baked, take six yolks of Eggs, some white-wine or Verjuyce, & make a Caudle of this, but not too thick; cut up the Lid and put it in, stir them well together whilst the Eggs and Pumpions be not perceived, and so serve it up.

It is a fascinating dish, and because it combines English apples and North American pumpkin, is a worthy dish to celebrate Thomas Rolfe.  The pie has three layers, apples on the bottom, a sort of thick pancake (froiz) of mashed pumpkin and eggs, and then another layer of apples and currants, bathed in a sweet and sour syrup (caudle) of verjuice and egg yolks.  Very complex.  Deana Sidney in her excellent blog, Lost Past Remembered, recreated this pie and it looks wonderful.  The image here is hers.

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A full account of her recreation of the pie can be found here, and is well worth a visit:

http://lostpastremembered.blogspot.com.ar/2009/11/i-cant-be-only-person-who-is-haunted-by.html

This pie would certainly make a talking point at Thanksgiving dinner, or at any dinner for that matter. Sidney does note that 10 eggs seems like a lot for ½ pound of pumpkin, and, in fact, May’s recipe, quite similar to Brook’s, calls for 1 pound.  You’d need to experiment. The flavorings are also interesting: thyme, rosemary, parsley, marjoram, cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, and cloves.  Without the sugar this would make a superb gravy for beef, and, in fact, I have frequently experimented with similar combinations. The herbs and spices marry well together.