Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Julia Briggs, 1943-2007

I met Julia Briggs through friends. So, I would run into her at Woolf conferences from time to time. She would be there as a keynote speaker; I would be trailing behind her, the good friend of one of her advisees. At one in particular, she asked me what I was at work on & I explained my project of picking a period of literary history and explicating the lessons--literary and feminist--that Woolf seemed to draw from it. But I was at the very beginning & it was all rather vague.

"Well, if you're going to do the Romantics," she said, "it has to be Byron, doesn't it?" I didn't know why, but I trusted her completely and followed that lead, occasionally amused to think that, if one's surname was Briggs one might well have recognized the Byronic in Woolf: Woolf wrote an essay called "Byron and Mr. Briggs" after all. Years later, my book nearly complete, I went to a celebration of her Woolf biography in New York and reminded her of the story and that she had set me off on the hare that was to become my Byron chapter. She laughed, didn't remember it, but was pleased, I think.

Julia was beautiful--the Independent’s obituary (odd remark about her “darkly Jewish” looks notwithstanding) does a lovely job of explaining the kind of light bohemian grace with which she wore that beauty--and it was a great, thorough beauty of body, mind, spirit all rolled into one. I did not know her well but she always struck me as someone who had the hang of life. It’s not that life was easy for her. Often, when I saw her, she was or had been sad. But still she was so beautiful, such fun, so funny, so loving and generous. She just seemed to have the knack for being alive. That has long inspired me as it will continue to do. I know so few feminist academics who are so openly happy in both their work and their children and so knowing Julia was for me, a tremendous gift.

And then, even in death, she had a gift of bringing people together. I learned that she was in hospice just before I left for London. So much for my fleeting thoughts of asking her to lunch… But, in one of several emails I received from her family and friends, an old friend & I saw each other’s information, we got in touch and had dinner in Oxford last week. That, in itself, struck me as the perfect tribute to a woman who was so good at being a friend.

There's a nice tribute here. And, really, you should be paying more attention to Paula Maggio's lovely new Woolf blog!


Anonymous said...

Anne, what a wonderful post about Julia Briggs. I'm happy to see a post from someone who knew her personally. I'll link to it on my blog. And a million thanks for your kind words about Blogging Woolf.

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