The title of the 2010 Conference, “Virginia Woolf and the Natural World,” offers a promising direction for both modernist studies and our understanding of Virginia Woolf. There have been harbingers of this theme for many years. Natural images, in phrases provided by Woolf herself, have long interested Woolf scholars and editors, going back to Aileen Pippett's 1955 biography of Woolf, The Moth and the Star. Granite and Rainbow graced the title page of a 1958 collection of Woolf's essays and later Mitchell Leaska's biography of Woolf. Ellen Tremper argued for Woolf'connections to the Romantics, including their interest in nature, in her 1998 study, Who Lived at Alfoxton ? Gillian Beer, whose titles Common Ground and Open Fields suggest the power of landscapes as liberating discourse, has provided numerous essays that connect Woolf to Darwinian plots, the discourse of physics, and the new geographic perspectives afforded by the technology of the airplane. Holly Henry took on Woolf and the scientific discourse of astronomy. Both she and Jane Goldman have demonstrated that Woolf's aesthetics and her sensitivity to the environment definitely mix.
Woolf has also taken an environmental turn in recent conferences. In 2010, as in previous conferences, Elisa Kay Sparks led us down garden paths to a new appreciation of fl oral and horticultural dimensions of Woolf. The 2003 Conference “Woolf in the Real World” at Smith College offered an amazing exhibit, “Virginia Woolf: A Botanical Perspective.” In recent proceedings we find Sparks, Goldman, Christina Alt, Alice Staveley, Pamela Caughie, and the author, among others, bringing flowers, insects, dogs, birds, landscapes, and scientific discourses to our attention, often allied to intersectional analyses of gender, race, and colonialism. Carrie Rohman has stalked animals as subjects of modernism, demonstrating that in this Woolf had important modernist company. Marianne DeKoven led off a recent issue of PMLA by taking stock of the growing field of animal studies, including examples that relate to modernism.
In her own familial and historical contexts, young Virginia Stephen found numerous approaches to nature. Leslie Stephen encouraged natural history pursuits.