Conference Contribution Details
Mandatory Fields
Anne Byrne
International Conference on Narrative
Writing to Leonard (1943-1968): the exemplary significance of writing a woman’s life in letters.
Manchester Metropolitan University, UK
Invited Paper
Optional Fields
27-JUN-13
29-JUN-13
Writing to Leonard (1943-1968):  the exemplary significance of writing a woman’s life in letters. Abstract This paper consider’s the letters of Nancy Nolan to Leonard Woolf, publisher, political theorist, civil servant and husband to Virginia Woolf. A fan of Virginia Woolfs’ essays and books, Mrs Nolan began a long term correspondence (1943-1968) with Leonard Woolf after Virginia died. Leonard became a trusted correspondent, one who was willing to receive, read and respond to the lengthy missives sent. Though Nolan’s correspondence is archived as ‘fan mail’, it comprises an intimate insight into the daily life of a Dublin based housewife, writing to an English man for the three decades during and after World War 2. Nancy Nolan was ambitious for her children, managed family relationships and economies while creating a life of her own in and through books. Writing in and of the domestic space, Nancy Nolan writes out a literary aesthetic in her letters to Woolf. This aesthetic sense it is argued is an expression of the search for an alternative self and identity. How this self and life are composed and expressed through letters is explored through narrative inquiry in a sociological biography frame. While sociological biography it not without critics, it is particularly suited to the analysis and interpretation of ‘ordinary’ lives as diversely demonstrated in the work of Bourdieu (1999) and Shostak (1981. The challenge as Rustin (2000) posed is to find the ‘exemplary significance’ that demonstrates the power of  any individual’s story. Virginia Woolf observed that writings things down somehow helps one to get hold of them. Combining a focus on letters, the dynamics of epistolary relationships in women’s personal narratives and the reach of social, political and economic processes on ordinary lives, this paper considers the impact of ‘writing things down’ on one woman’s life in times of transition and transformation.   QUESTION How can we work with letters in sociological inquiry as biographical ‘texts pertaining to women’s lives?’ 
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