Susan Sellers, Senior Member at Robinson College, Professor of English Literature and Creative Writing at St Andrews University, has published her new book Firebird: A Bloomsbury Love Story. Susan explains how inspirational women and feminism influenced her writing.
‘It is a hundred years since Virginia Woolf published her radically experimental novel Jacob’s Room on her own hand-printing press, with a cover designed by her sister Vanessa Bell. When I was a student most of the texts on the syllabus were by male authors, and Virginia Woolf was a revelation. One of my current academic projects is overseeing a new edition of Virginia Woolf’s writing for Cambridge University Press, which draws together all the exciting feminist research of recent decades.
My first novel was about sisters Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell and their close but sometimes fraught relationship, as they struggled to carve out lives for themselves as artists at a time when women were subject to discriminatory laws and stifling social conventions. Virginia Woolf’s essay A Room of One’s Own – which began as a series of lectures to the women of Girton and Newnham Colleges in 1928 – is a brilliant piece of feminist polemic, pointing out, for example, how impossible it would have been for Shakespeare to succeed had he been a woman.
My new novel Firebird: A Bloomsbury Love Story tells the story of another pioneering woman artist: the Russian dancer Lydia Lopokova who came to Europe in 1910 with Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, moved into Bloomsbury in 1922, and married the economist Maynard Keynes in 1925. I was intrigued by the controversy this marriage caused – Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf feared it would be the ruination of their friend Maynard Keynes. Fiction is the ideal medium for exploring controversy because it allows you to hypothesise and imagine in all those places where the historical record is blank.
I have been Professor of English Literature and Creative Writing at St Andrews since 1998 and was delighted to be made a Senior Member of Robinson in 2020. My connection with Robinson dates all the way back to 2001, when I spent a glorious year as a Leverhulme Research Fellow living in flat 12.’
You can read more on Firebird: A Bloomsbury Love Story here.