As one of the most iconic female authors of the 20th century, Virginia Woolf has been a fixture on reading lists for English literature courses for decades. But lately she’s been spotted somewhere new: in popular entertainment.
In 2018, the British-born Woolf will be played by Elizabeth Debicki (The Night Manager, Guardians Of The Galaxy Volume 2) in the upcoming film Vita and Virginia, which explores the romantic relationship between Woolf and socialite Vita Sackville-West (played by Gemma Arterton) over the period from 1927-28. The film is based on a stage play of the same name by actress and playwright Dame Eileen Atkins, that delves into the love affair and 20-year friendship between the two women, largely based on the the pair’s poetic letters to one another.
Though it’s widely accepted that the relationship with Sackville-West was the inspiration for Woolf’s novel, Orlando, echoes of this real-life relationship can also be seen in many the themes of Woolf’s 1927 novel To the Lighthouse, which is the basis for ATP’s upcoming production To the Light (Oct. 17 – Nov. 4) by Oscar-nominated playwright and actress Evelyne de la Chenlière (Monsieur Lazhar).
In Chenelière’s play, though they’re not romantically involved (at least overtly) the characters of Lily Briscoe and Mrs. Ramsay are foils – at once drawn together and torn apart by the roles they have embraced as women in the early 20th century, one a mother and society wife, the other an ambitious but struggling career woman, not unlike the real-life Woolf and Sackville-West.
The resulting play is a dream-like experience that doesn’t obey the strict laws of time, but rather inhabits the realm of memory and emotion and takes us directly into both of the characters inner thoughts, much like Woolf’s famous stream-of-consciousness style of writing. Marriage, duty, motherhood, ambition – the women’s thoughts on everything that affect their lives and even their thoughts about each other are laid bare in this affecting portrait of their complex friendship. The result is unforgettable.