A Room of Ones Own
A Room of One’s Own:The 100 Best Nonfiction Books: No 45
A room of one’s ownIntroduction In 1928 Virginia Woolf was invited by a college to deliver lecturers. She delivered lecturer on the issue of women and fiction. She expended her lecturers and revised them into an essay ‘A Room Of One’s Own’ which was printed in 1929. In ths essay she is speaking through a fictional narrator which is ‘Marry Beton’.Major points:She says that women must have room of her own, in which she can live freely without any kind of fear and without obeying any order.In this essay Marry was not allowed to walk on grass in the university campus and was interrupted by university guard.
Through this point Woolf tried to show that how this patrihearcial society behave with women. Marry was even denied to enter in the library of university. Then she visited the british Museum, and try to understand more about her past days at women’s college and Men’s University and she end up knowin they were so different. She tried to get information about women. Surprisingly she got many books to consult. She discover that most of these books were written by angry men, she was unable to find and useful thing abut women. Then she checked some history books in her shelf. She end up finding that no one has ener bothered to write any history about women. She tried to tells the story about Shakespear’s ‘Judith’, who was very genius like Shakespear but she did not have any opportunity.
Actually she tries to show an image of male dominated society. This society provide every possible opportunity to men but they ignore the legal rights of women. We see a women in doutful eyes if she is out of the boundry of house. For example if a boy came late at night in home and he says that i was studying with my friends, then his father would beleive his words. But is same is the case with girl then no one will beleive her even if she is saying truth.Then she tells about actual writers for example Jane Austen’s every book was ruined by the bitterness and anger of male writers. She ends up telling that maybe genius work of literature need to be gender neutral, each person would have a male and a femal in her/his mind.
Was It Possible for a Woman to Be Successful in the Victorian Age?
Virginia Woolf’s books are great examples of showing what women go through when trying to be successful in the world, especially aspiring female role models. In A Room of One’s Own she discusses a typical Victorian woman’s relationship with the men around her and how she is so often interrupted, leaving her unable to think or do for herself and prove her worth. This book serves the purpose of exposing readers to the cruel ways that women were treated. In order to get that message across, the book focuses mostly on the negative aspects of women’s lives and can be somewhat exaggerated and unrealistic at times. Another book by Woolf, titled To the Lighthouse, uses more specific characters and a story with a plot to demonstrate interactions between the sexes. It incorporates some positive aspects of women’s lives that come with the way they are treated by men which also makes it more believable. Because these books have such similar topics, are written by the same author, and were published within less than two years of each other, one can expect to see many overlapping topics. Some of these include the male figures’ willingness to prove a woman wrong or deny her something, the manner in which males constantly seem to be putting women down, and the way that Woolf speaks about females’ lack of education in this time period. Those ideas are basic truths which is why they appear consistently throughout both books. However the more conflicting ideas such as those about interruption and protection of the opposite sex vary between the two books because they are more opinionated ideas. The idea of interruption in A Room of One’s Own correlates with a certain negativity that Woolf purposely uses to get her point across whereas she uses protection in To the Lighthouse with a positive undertone that is more realistic.
Throughout both of these books we can see that there is a trend where the men try to seem more powerful – they are straightforward with their answers and quick to say “no” to women. They have a certain willingness to prove a woman wrong or deny her something. In the very beginning of A Room of One’s Own, we already see the female narrator being told that she is not to be walking about on the turf because she is a woman. She, being a woman in this time, understands her role and notes “only the Fellows and the Scholars are allowed here; the gravel is the place for me” (8). Shortly after, when trying to access a library where she could search for some novels, the narrator is yet again prohibited from doing something that she could do if she were with a man. The man at the door “wave[s her] back that ladies are only admitted to the library if accompanied by a Fellow of the College or furnished with a letter of introduction” (9). If the narrator were a man she would never have been stopped from entering. We can see that this is not only something that happens between a single man and woman; rather it seems to be an issue for groups of them at a time. We learn about women trying to raise money to start a women’s college but it is noted that “Mr — won’t give a penny” because none of the males were willing to help the females progress in any way (22). The males yearn to be the dominant sex with more knowledge and access to the world around them. This same idea of dominance for the males and prohibition for the females is also present in Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. Throughout this book we see a husband, Mr.Ramsay, constantly warning his wife and son, James, that the weather will not be suitable to visit the lighthouse that James wants to see. Mrs. Ramsay seems to know that it will not be good weather but she tries to hide that from her son, whereas Mr. Ramsay finds it necessary to constantly say things like “But it won’t be fine” (TtL 4), “No going to the Lighthouse, James” (14), and that “There [is]n’t the slightest possible chance that they c[an] go to the Lighthouse tomorrow” (31). Again, we see the female figure learning her proper role and simply obeying or agreeing with the male, in this case Mrs. Ramsay telling her husband “You were right” (124). If she were a man, she would not have to be constantly told no, nor would she need to fall back and be inferior.
Another similarity that can be observed between these two texts is the way that men are constantly putting women down. This is one of the main reasons that females of this time seem to have such a difficult time trying to succeed at anything. Woolf talks about how “wife-beating was a recognized right of man” (43) because a female in that time was thought of as “property of her husband” (45). Men, especially fathers, controlled their daughters’ decisions regarding whom they married and were comfortable with the idea that they could be subject to be “locked up, beaten and flung about the room” (44). The author expresses this suppression of respect for women more thoroughly through the example of Shakespeare’s imaginary, metaphorical sister. She says that “it is unthinkable that any woman in Shakespeare’s day should have had Shakespeare’s genius. For genius like Shakespeare’s is not born among labouring, uneducated, servile people” (50). It is worth noting these last three phrases that Virginia Woolf used to describe women; “labouring, uneducated, servile” (50). Because of the way that women are expected to stay at home and care for their children, as well as cook and clean and please their husband, they do not have the opportunity to thrive like their male counterparts. They are stripped of their rights – although, it is difficult to have something that never existed taken from you – and it makes it a great deal harder for them to progress than for men to. On top of their lack of freedom, the fact that women are aware of their image to the opposite sex is another large part of what stops them from doing great things. “There [is] an enormous body of masculine opinion to the effect that nothing could be expected of women intellectually. Even if her father did not read out loud these opinions, any girl could read them for herself; and the reading, even in the nineteenth century, must have lowered her vitality, and told profoundly upon her work” (55-56). The men in To the Lighthouse have a very similar outlook on the female sex, which is expected because these books were written in the same time period. Mr. Ramsay, arguably the most dominant man in this book – or so he likes to think – mentions his opinion that “the vagueness of [women’s] minds is hopeless” (167). Simply because the women around him think in a different way than him, he decides that it could be of no advantage toward their sex because they have not progressed much in the past so, clearly -at least, in his opinion, – the way that women are thinking is the wrong way to think.
Due to the fact that both of these book by Virginia Woolf were written and published in the late 1920’s, it is clear that women were not then nearly equal to their seemingly superior counterparts, men. Women were far less educated than men, another large reason as to why it was so hard for them to succeed. However, women did not have a choice in the matter. When trying to fund a women’s college, as mentioned earlier, the men provide no help. Women were not sent to school which meant that they had almost no chance to succeed, unlike men. They were expected to have certain skills, like making clothes ,cooking, and learning to please their arranged husbands. Woolf, going back to the example of Shakespeare’s metaphorical sister, discusses how “she picked up a book now and then, one of her brother’s perhaps, and read a few pages. But then her parents came in and told her to mend the stockings or mind the stew and not moon about with books and papers.” Her father would try to get her to marry but “she cried out that marriage was hateful to her, and for that she was severely beaten by her father.” When she tried any activities, whether it be reading or theatre, that were not thought of as proper for a woman, “men laughed in her face” (ARoOO 49). Any success that could have come out of a woman wandering out and doing unique tasks was feared by the men for they were afraid of progress and inferiority. However, the males knew that even a successful woman could be stripped of her earnings. “In the first place, to earn money was impossible for them, and in the second, had it been possible, the law denied them the right to possess what money they earned.” The males took it upon themselves to declare that women were not responsible or worthy enough to have the money that they earned themselves. A woman’s money “will be taken from [her] and disposed of according to [her] husband’s wisdom” because he is thought of as more capable of spending it in a useful way because he is more educated (ARoOO 24). We see this trend of uneducated women carry on in To the Lighthouse when Mrs. Ramsay is speaking with a man but, after hearing what he had to say, she “did not quite catch the meaning, only the words, here and there… dissertation… fellowship… readership… lectureship” (TtL 12). We can tell that not much has changed between these two books and that is not very helpful for the females.
In terms of differences between the two books, A Room of One’s Own focuses on the idea that the women are always the ones being interrupted and it exaggerates to demonstrate the struggle that women have in everyday life whereas, in To the Lighthouse, men and women alike both see several opportunities to interrupt but interestingly decide and learn to hold back those urges, which is why this is the more realistic of the two books. We see the female narrator in A Room of One’s Own being told she cannot walk on the grass and must instead be on the turf, as mentioned earlier, which interrupts her train of thought while watching the fish. She is also interrupted while trying to enter the library. The men in this book seem not to care much about the harsh effect that these interruptions have on the female mind. This is different in To the Lighthouse when, at one point, Mr. Ramsay notes his wife’s pure beauty and claims that “he could not interrupt her[…] for he wished to protect her” (TtL 65). This would have been very out of place, had we seen it in A Room of One’s Own, because the men there seem very willing, if not eager, to constantly interrupt women in a manner to prove their superiority. The same thing happens again but conversely when Mrs. Ramsay looks at her husband “and s[ees] that he d[oes] not want to be interrupted – that [is] clear” (TtL 117). In the other text, neither men nor women took the time or effort to think about whether the person they are about to interrupt wants to be disturbed. Additionally, women were never even given the opportunity to interrupt in the other book but the same does not apply here. Interrupting – a sign of superiority in some cases – is offered to both sexes in To the Lighthouse.
Another aspect of Woolf’s writing in these two book that differs relates to the deeper relationships that characters of the opposite sex have towards one another. In A Room of One’s Own men care more about themselves than they do about women and neither sex tries to protect the other. Obviously this could not have been the case for every person but Woolf really emphasizes it in this text in an attempt to show the neglect that women of this time felt. However, in To the Lighthouse, both sexes occasionally try helping and understanding each other in one way or another, which is much more realistic. In A Room of One’s Own the men make it clear that they think more about themselves in comparison to females than about females themselves. “When the professor insisted a little too emphatically upon the inferiority of women, he was concerned not with their inferiority, but with his own superiority” which shows us that the men here do not necessarily put down women simply to put them down; it has a deeper effect which, in turn, makes themselves look more dominant (ARoOO 36). Woolf further discusses this image by talking about reflections. She says that “women have served all these centuries as looking glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size” (ARoOO 37). Because the male characters in this book seem so concerned with their own dominance in comparison to that of women, they pay very little attention to the females. Woolf uses an analogy to better explain this when she says that “if opinions upon any of these matters [regarding the treatment of women] had been chalked on the pavement, nobody would have stooped to read them” (ARoOO 94). Although the women and men in To the Lighthouse have a mutual understanding that the men are viewed as having a larger, more important role in the world, they go about it in a much different way than we see in A Room of One’s Own. In Lighthouse the men and women think twice before acting upon or hurting one another, and they do not always try to ruin one another’s image. At one point, Mr. Ramsay seems to soften his character which is not expected of men and would actually be shunned if anyone were to find out because it is very feminine of him. “That discomposed her; for then people said he depended on her, when they must know that of the two he was infinitely the more important” (TtL 39). Mrs. Ramsay takes it upon herself to make sure the people around her and her husband know that she is still inferior to him so as to not ruin his masculine reputation. Relating back to the part of the book where Mr. Ramsay himself chooses not to interrupt her “for he wishe[s] to protect her” we see here that he refrains from hurting his wife because she has done the same for her (TtL 65). This is not something that occurs in A Room of One’s Own. The two sexes are much harsher towards each other and are not willing to help protect each other at all. Another time we see the men and women having closer relationships in Lighthouse is when Mr and Mrs. Ramsay are looking at stars. Mrs. Ramsay admires them but decides not to bother her husband by asking him to look. However, he decides to say ““Very fine,” to please her” (TtL 71). Several times they will refrain from saying anything so as to not upset each other. There is more communication regarding this in To the Lighthouse than in A Room of One’s Own. At one point, Mr and Mrs. Ramsay’s “eyes me[e]t for a second; but they d[o] not want to speak to each other[….] Don’t interrupt me, he seem[s] to be saying, don’t say anything; just sit there” (TtL 119). The exact same thing happens, yet again, at the end of the book. “They had not needed to speak. They had been thinking the same things and he had answered her without her asking him anything” (TtL 208). The relationships in this book were friendlier – at times – and more realistic.
As you can see, the fact that these books were written by the same author, in the same time period, and with the same goal in mind – to inform readers of the oppression that females faced in this era – there are many similarities. However, the way that these messages are conveyed results in some varying aspects of each book. Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own and To the Lighthouse clearly relate in aspects regarding dominance of the male sex and the lack of education for females whereas they differ when speaking about the way that men may or may not interrupt and/or care for women and vice versa.
A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf: a Creative Response
This essay is a creative response to Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own”. In this piece of writing I aimed to recreate certain aspects of Woolf’s writing as well as bringing up some of the ideas she discusses in her book. I am incomparable to Woolf and so at times my essay may seem fragmented or not to the point. The long (or short) sentences were intentional as they are my attempt at trying to recreate Woolf’s stream of consciousness as my own. While using Woolf’s style, this essay is still mine. I felt that it is important to show some of “me” in the essay instead of straight up copying everything Woolf does. Some things, that may be important in an academic essay, are left out on purpose. I mention very little about who the women are in my essay, I instead only focus on what is relevant to me and to the essay. I furthermore used some instances from the book, like going to library or having dinner to further link my essay to “A Room of One’s Own”
Have been faced with the great challenge of writing an essay about women in science or women and science or perhaps the science of women, and so I think it is only fitting that I try to do just that. You might righteously expect autobiographies of Marie Curie or Rosalind Franklin or a list of female Nobel prize winners , but these things, although very important, are not the sole focus of this essay. Instead, I will give my own opinion about some great women in science, and I will attempt to answer the question: Had these women have a lab of their own?
Admittedly, I have had quite a bit of trouble with this essay. While I had some basic ideas I found that I was staring at a blank piece of paper for hours on end. So really, before I even began thinking about women in science I could not help but think about women in literature and Virginia Woolf’s “A room of one’s own” . Mainly, because I started working on this essay after I went to get dinner and since dined well I thought I should be able to overcome my writer’s block and begin producing something. I assumed that some food would do me good as “one cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well” (page 18). And thus, sitting at a desk in the library, it became apparent to me, that I should not have trouble with this essay at all, for I have all the conditions needed to be able to produce good quality writing. After all, I have a room of my own and “500 pounds a year” to be able to do art – so why am I still struggling?
Contemplating my struggle to write a good an effective essay, I decided to go for a walk, all the while thinking of all the privileges that I have but that women my age a 100 years ago did not. I walked through the lawn in front of my residence hall, being thankful that I could walkthrough the lawn in the first place. As I walked around campus no one asked for my papers or ask what I was doing or who I was with. I blended into the vivid life on campus, I did not feel locked out of anywhere (or locked in). As I was walking I realized that the struggle is inevitable, or rather that the struggle is necessary. Because it is the struggle that makes for good art, or good science. It is not up for debate that Marie Curie and Rosalind Franklin also struggled, that they certainly encountered something similar to a writer’s block – in a scientific interpretation of course. However, the conclusions of their lives could not be any more different. Marie Curie, a symbol of feminism in science, a well accomplished physicist and chemist with two Nobel prizes, a loving husband and the ability to say that she revolutionized physics and chemistry. And there is Rosalind Franklin, robbed of her discovery of the structure of DNA, never rewarded, never acknowledged while she lived.
I began my research for this essay by reading a few autobiographic pieces on the aforementioned women. I found that Marie Curie was the first woman to get a doctorate in Science, the first female professor at the University of Paris and she was the first person – not just the first woman – to receive a Nobel prize in two disciplines: Chemistry and Physics. She became the only woman buried for her own merits in the Pantheon of Paris.3 She was undeniably a genius, a reformer, but most importantly to this essay: a woman. She quickly became someone I idolized and looked up to, especially since I am also a female who is dreaming of succeeding in science.
However, my opinion of Marie Curie quickly changed as I read “A room of one’s own”. Curie was not a woman independent of the world, independent of men, she was a daughter and she was a wife. I realized that she might not have had a lab of her own and that she might not have achieved what she did if it had not been for her husband: Pierre Curie. Pierre was a Parisian physicist who had a lab of his own . It was at this lab where, exposing themselves to high levels of radiation, in the face of certain death and sickness caused by their own experiments, they worked. To me, it is clear that Marie needed Pierre for her success. At the same time, I think Pierre needed Marie just as much. It was this symbiotic relationship between a man and a woman united by marriage that lead to the discovery of radioactivity, leading to reform medicine, providing power and changing the fundamentals of atomic physics. As I sat in my chair pondering about marriage, science, atoms, the Curies and Paris I felt that we should not talk about women in science or women in literature or men in science or men in literature but rather about men and women, for independent of the field of study, men and women need each other, to reflect, to provide insight and thought, to inspire.
I, of course, acknowledge the oppression of women in science (and in literature and in God knows how many other areas of study and life) and so as I was getting of my train of thought about the Curies my mind ventured to another woman in science: Rosalind Franklin. There is probably no better example of how men oppressed women (and honesty) in science than the story of Franklin. The saddest part is that Rosalind did everything right and she also had a lab of her own, a lab she used to discover what the structure of DNA looked liked – the infamous double helix – using x-ray crystallography, something she was a master of. Instead of publishing her findings she decided that she would consult other scientists and would not publish until she was absolutely sure of herself. Another team of researchers, consisting of Francis Circk and James Watson created the model of DNA first and indeed published first but they relied heavily on Franklin’s data. To say this using more common terms, they stole Rosalind Franklin’s glory from her. They went to win the Nobel prize later on, but by this time Rosalind Franklin had died.
It became apparent to me that perhaps success, on any scale, depends less on whether someone has a lab or a room of her own, but much rather on something else. But what is that something? Ability and opportunity must certainly play a part. But ultimately what was the difference between Marie Curie and Rosalind Franklin? Marie Curie lived in poverty while Rosalind Franklin belonged to a wealthy family. Curie was married, Franklin was not, in fact Franklin was someone who avoided any type of sexual contact with the opposite sex all throughout her life , while Curie was known to have numerous relationships with men. Some of these relationships were not very welcomed by the community, for instance when she began a relationship with her dead husband’s postgraduate student. So I pondered further: what makes a woman a good and accomplished scientist? It is certainly not possessing a lab of her own, it is not even the symbiotic relationship between men and women, it is undefinable.
I know, that might be a good enough conclusion for you, for I am sure you were seeking an answer a bit more ‘to the point’ to say the least. Now, that is not to say that there is no conclusion at all, for you might look at this and see that the conclusion is that there is no conclusion. One cannot talk about women in science without mentioning their relationships, their abilities and opportunities. You have also seen that none of these things are the sole factors for why women do or do not succeed in science. So I feel that I cannot conclude my essay with anything else but the thought, that perhaps we must accept that there is not always an answer. Sometimes there is no destination, but what we want to know we can perhaps find during our journey.
Gender Stereotypes in a Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
Most of these two chapters is about the many ways in which women are kept out (of power, of education, of the British Museum, etc…), but there is also a subtle argument being made about whether or not women should really want to get in. Is Woolf arguing that women should be able to to all the things that men can do? Or is her point that there are not necessarily things worth aspiring to?
Throughout the first chapter, some of the ways in which we see Virginia Woolf, being female, is treated differently from men are when she is told not to walk on the grass and rather on the gravel by the lake, when she is told she cannot go into the library without a man, and in her discussion of how difficult it is for women’s colleges to raise money yet how simple it is for the men to do so. When she was pondering some thoughts and staring at a fish in the lake, a man came up to Woolf. “He was a Beadle; I was a woman. This was the turf; there was the path. Only the Fellows and Scholars are allowed here; the gravel is the place for me” (8).
Readers of this common time would see this and think of how cruel that sounds, how unjust it is, but through Woolf’s reaction to the matter we can see how normal of an act it was to the women of her time. It seemed expected and she knew that she was the one at fault. The, a short while later, when she is on her way to the library at Oxbridge, a name that seems to be derived by combining the names of two universities named Oxford and Cambridge, she is told not to enter the library. “Instantly there issued, like a guardian angel barring the way with a flutter of a black gown instead of white wings, a deprecating, silvery, kindly gentleman, who regretted in a low voice as he waved me back that ladies are only admitted to the library if accompanied by a Fellow of the College or furnished with a letter of introduction” (9). She seems to take this rule a bit more sternly as she says “Never will I take those echoes, never will I ask for hat hospitality again” (10). The next time we see Woolf – and women in general – treated differently due to gender is in the discussion of women’s colleges. When talking to her aunt, Mary Seton, she hears her say “Mr — won’t give a penny…. How can we raise a fund to pay for offices” (22)? It is quite interesting how it seemed unnecessary to even include a person’s name in that sentence; the fact alone that this person would have to be a man is enough to convey the point that they women are trying to make about how little power they have in this time. At this part of the story it seems as though Wolf starts wondering what it would be like, had women acted more like men. “If only Mrs Seton and her mother and her mother before her had learnt the great art of making money and had left their money, like their fathers and their grandfathers before them… appropriated to the use of their own sex” (23).
The fact that Virginia Woolf is saying this makes me wonder if she thinks women should be able to do things that the men do. However, her argument soon seems to change when she begins speaking about how women can’t work in order to save money to pass down because they are the bearers and caretakers of their children. She speaks to how long a mother must stay with her child and how that prohibits her from working. “In the first place, to earn money was impossible for [women], and in the second, had it been possible, the law denied them the right to possess what money they earned” (24). This second chapter is when Woolf starts to ask a lot of questions regarding the differences in power between genders and the reasons men write about women and splits them entirely into two halves of the human race. One of the questions she asks is “Why are women … so much more interesting to men than men are to women” (29). At first glance, Woolf is quite flattered by the idea of this but then she started trying to answer the questions. She comes upon the conclusion that men do this to make themselves look better than women in comparison.
Using a professor to represent the male figure at that time, Woolf mentions how he “insisted a little too emphatically upon the inferiority of women, he was concerned not with their inferiority, but with his own superiority” (36). Now her perspective on wanting women to be more like men is clearly changing when she says “I need not hate any man; he cannot hurt me. I need not flatter any man; he has nothing to give me. So imperceptibly I found myself adopting a new attitude towards the other half of the human race” (23). At this point, close to the end of the second chapter, Woolf ends by talking about the bad aspects of life that come along with being a man. They include the “instinct for possession, the rage for acquisition which drives them to desire other people’s fields and goods perpetually; to make frontiers and fags; battleships and poison as; to offer up their own lives and their children’s lives”(40) and she ends that by saying “these are unpleasant instincts to harbour ” and comes to the realization that “these drawbacks, by degrees fear and bitterness modified them selves into pity and toleration” (40). After reading this, we can assume that Woolf would no longer want women, including herself, to be like men. It is not worth aspiring to be something that takes along with it such a bitterness and so many disadvantages.
The Hindrances of Female Writers as Depicted in Virginia Woolf’s Book, a Room Of One’s Own
In Chapter 3, Woolf takes up the question of why have there not been many great female writers, starting with the Elizabethan age. What are the external obstacles that stand in the way of a woman who might want to write? What are the internal obstacles? How are these two sets of obstacles related?
In the previous chapter, chapter 2, Virginia Woolf came upon the realization that there were very few books written by women about men however the contrary was quite popular. She starts questioning why it might be that men write so much about women and comes up with the idea that men use women to make themselves look greater in comparison. In chapter 3, Woolf seems to broaden her question and ask why is is that women in general just do not write as much? She mentions many obstacles that women face when it comes to creating their own forms of literature. These include both external and internal ones. The external obstacles deal with the way that women of this time are viewed and treated by men.
For example, on pages 43 and 44 Woolf speaks about the way women were treated like objects that men could treat in any way the pleased. She quotes Trevelyan where he says “Wife beating was a recognized right of man, and was practised without shame by high as well as low…. Similarly, the daughter who refused to marry the gentleman of her parents’ choice was liable to be locked up, beaten and flung about the room, without any shock being inflicted upon public opinion.” Woolf comments on this saying that a woman was to be considered “property of her husband” (45). This external obstacle must have played an internal role as well, contributing to the discouragement that women were shown in terms of going against social normalities, which is what a woman writing literature would be considered to be doing. That was not something that the average woman of the time would have been seen doing and it is not at all what they were expected to be doing. Rather, as Woolf said in previous chapters, they were to stay at home, having children and taking care of them while their husbands made all the money. A large external obstacle presented to women of this time was their inability to gain the knowledge necessary to become great writers, the way that men did. When talking about Shakespeare’s metaphorical sister, Woolf says that she “remained at home. She was as adventurous, as imaginative, as agog to see the world as he was. But she was not sent to school. She had no chance of learning” (48-49). On page 50, Woolf seems to sum up three of the main obstacles that women had that were preventing them from writing when she says “it is unthinkable that any woman in Shakespeare’s day should have had Shakespeare’s genius. For genius like Shakespeare’s is not born among labouring, uneducated, servile people.”
In addition to their lack of education and expected duty to serve and work for their family from home, the other important obstacle the women faced were interruptions that seem so common in this book. “Dogs will bark; people will interrupt; money must be made; health will break down” (53).The interruptions that women are faced with are results of their restrictions in life because of their sex. These interruptions, as we see, are almost always by men. Men provided the greater internal obstacles that women were faced with in this time because they thought of women as so much lesser. It was needless to say this outloud because that was something so commonly known, understood, and accepted. Woolf says that “there was an enormous body of masculine opinion to the effect that nothing could be done by women intellectually. Even if her father did not read out loud these opinions, any girl could read them for herself; and the reading, even in the nineteenth century, must have lowered her vitality, and told profoundly upon her work. There would always have been that assertion – you cannot do this, you are incapable of doing that – to protest against, to overcome” (55-56). The fact that women were immediately viewed of as incapable of performing the tasks that men could is what must have discouraged them so much from writing.
Understanding the Illustration of Passive Aggressive Behavior in, a Room Of One’s Own, By Virginia Woolf
If You Don’t Have Anything Nice To Say, Say It Passive Aggressively
Virginia Woolf’s essay, A Room of One’s Own, discusses the importance of money, food, and privacy when it comes to an individual’s success. More importantly, she shines a light on the idea that a woman can have the same talent and intelligence as a man, but points out that her circumstances have made it almost impossible to have successful career as a writer. Although Woolf’s ideas are very straight forward, the tone of her essay is what strengthens her argument the most. A Room of One’s Own contains a passive aggressive attitude, which allows Woolf to indirectly criticize the reasons behind the unfortunate conditions with which many women are faced to deal with, and allows her to use sarcasm to add a sense of humor to her writing. Speaking passive aggressively allows her to hide her anger, and expresses her hostility through indirect methods. This cautious and reserved attitude is what allows her to fully explore all aspects of her argument, and makes her case more effective than if she were to go on a rant about how men have access to better opportunities than women.
There are several instances in which Woolf says something profound, but then quickly diverts attention away from her point, which allows the idea to sit with the reader. When Woolf says, “If through their incapacity to play football women are not going to be allowed to practice medicine – Happily my thoughts were now given another turn” (78), she brings up a startling fact, and then quickly cuts herself off before she ventures into dangerous territory and makes a claim that would seem like an attack towards men. Woolf seems to coyly suggest that it is foolish to associate physical capacity with intellectual ability, but then changes the topic. This allows to readers to draw their own conclusions about the attitude towards women, which is ultimately what Woolf wants.
Woolf does not advocate for forcing her ideas onto others, which is a point that she makes clear. Woolf says, “I find myself saying briefly and prosaically that it is much more important to be oneself than anything else. Do not dream of influencing other people, I would say, if I knew how to make it sound exalted. Think of things in themselves” (111). By not forcing her opinion on others, Woolf employs an effective tactic, because it causes the reader to think about the words she’s saying and formulate his/her own ideas. This allows her opinions to have more of an effect than if she were to just tell people what to think. On the same note, Woolf also mentions two great female writers, Emily Bronte and Jane Austen, and says “Of all the thousand women who wrote novels then, they entirely ignored the perpetual admonitions of the eternal pedagogue – write this, think that” (74-75). Clearly, these women did exactly what Woolf advocated for, which means that they wrote without letting others influence them or tell them what to think. Woolf admires that these women were original and thought for themselves, and she seems to be advocating this quality to her audience. Although Woolf is complimenting these two women, at the same time she has some hidden judgment in her comment. On the surface it seems as if she is merely complimenting the two women writers, but a closer analysis reveals that she is commenting on a flaw in the writings of other women during that time period since they were not able to overcome the criticism that they faced. She blames this on the patriarchal society (74), but at the same time she is still emphasizing what the other female writers failed to accomplish. Woolf once again has that passive aggressive tone, in which she uses a compliment to bring attention towards an underlying problem.
Two other tactics that are passive aggressive that Woolf uses effectively are sarcasm and irony. When Woolf says, “We burst out in scorn at the reprehensible poverty of our sex. What had our mothers been doing then that they had no wealth to leave us? Powdering their noses? Looking in at shop windows? Flaunting in the sun at Monte Carlo” (21), she tucks in both sarcasm and irony into her outburst. The sarcastic rhetorical questions about what women were doing are actually a statement of stereotypical ladylike actions, and help emphasize the anger that is experienced by the narrator. These sarcastic questions portray women as vain creatures who only care about beauty and shopping, and it is this shallow misconception that seems to anger Woolf. If women are told that these are the only things that they can amount to, then how will they be expected to accomplish anything worthwhile? Woolf explores this idea further when she says, “Young women, . . . you are, in my opinion, disgracefully ignorant. You have never made a discovery of any sort of importance. You have never shaken an empire or led an army into battle. The plays of Shakespeare are not by you, and you have never made introduced a barbarous race to the blessings of civilization. What is your excuse” (112)? Although these comments seem a little bit too harsh to be entirely sarcastic, it would be foolish to assume that Virginia Woolf is trying to tell women that they are inferior. In fact, it seems as if Woolf is belittling the accomplishments of men. If there is anything that should be taken away from Woolf’s advice, it is that women need to pave their own path to success, instead of trying to follow in the footsteps of men. Woolf actually proposes a similar idea when she says, “It is fatal to be a man or woman pure and simple; one must be women-manly or man-womanly” (104). The sarcasm that Woolf tucks into her writing provokes the reader to think critically about what her actual message is, and also adds a flare to her writing.
Although there are moments when Virginia Woolf reveals how passionate she feels about her topic, she does a pretty good job at keeping an aloof and calm attitude. This attitude, combined with the assertiveness of her ideas, is what creates the passive aggressive tone in Woolf’s essay. Although passive aggressiveness can sometimes be viewed as a negative quality, it brings life to A Room of One’s Own. This attitude allows Woolf to get her point across without her stuffing her ideas down the reader’s throat. Clearly, Woolf has mastered the art of passive aggressiveness and uses it to her advantage to create a radical and revolutionary essay.
The refusal to recognize both genders in A room of One’s own
A Room of One’s Own explores the relationship between women and literature, and offers advice to aspiring female authors. According to Virginia Woolf “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction” (4). Woolf’s opinion stems from the presence of the educational, financial, and social disadvantages that hinder the success of women aspiring for careers during her lifetime and throughout the course of history. Woolf advocates for women to obtain the rooms of their own and financial stability necessary for the realization of the feminine literary potential and the transformation of literature into an art form free of the constraints of the gender binary. Woolf feels that the presence of this binary hurts the quality of literature as a whole, stating that “it is fatal for anyone who writes to think of their sex” (104). In A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf notes how the gender binary system serves as the main cause of the lack of feminine success in literature and believes that the erasure of this oppressive construct would improve the overall value of the art of literature by allowing for works to be judged by quality rather than through the lens of gender.
Virginia Woolf views the presence of the gender construct rather than lack of skill as the main source of the lack of quality literature by female authors. Men and women have equal potential for creating great works of literature but unequal circumstances and opportunities. Woolf begins this argument by noting the inequalities of the educational system. According to Woolf, if women had been able to earn money to invest in education, then there would be more “fellowships and lectureships and prizes and scholarships appropriated to the use of their own sex” (21). This gender based discrepancy in educational opportunity causes women to fall short in all areas, including literature. To further illustrate gender based opportunities as the source of feminine literary disadvantage, Woolf raises the question of “what would have happened had Shakespeare had a wonderfully gifted sister, called Judith” (46). Woolf proposes this possibility in order to illustrate the equal potential of feminine and masculine authors. She describes the hypothetical sibling as “gifted” and “just as adventurous, as imaginative, [and] as agog to see the world as he was” (47). The only difference Woolf presents between the pair lies in gender. Woolf uses this example to focus the root of the problem of the lack of female authors as being based in gender discrimination rather than a simple lack of skill. She later describes the careers of Currer Bell, George Eliot, and George Sand, female authors who published literature under male pseudonyms, describing them as “the victims of inner strife” who “sought ineffectively to veil themselves by using the name of a man” (50). These authors produced highly revered works of literature, proving that women indeed have the skill necessary for writing fiction. Woolf’s examples of women who wrote under masculine pseudonyms prove the lack of innate difference in the quality of male and female writing. Had these women published the same works under their given names, they would have likely gone unread. This fact highlights Woolf’s realization of the gender binary system being the source of the lack of literature by women both during her own time period and throughout the course of history.
Woolf most effectively supports her case for genderless literature by pointing out the fact that the best writers do not focus on their sex and/or gender in their work. She cites Samuel Coleridge’s belief that “a great mind is androgynous” (98). Woolf forms the opinion that “a mind that is purely masculine cannot create, any more than a mind that is purely feminine” (98). In other words, a mind that is focused on fulfilling the expectations of gender fails to utilize its full potential. This reality hinders literature due to the fact that it lessens the quality of the work produced by both men and women. If writers learn to write in a way that ignores the gender construct, better works will be produced. Virginia Woolf then points to William Shakespeare, arguably the most well-known and successful writer in history, as an example of the adoption of this idea by describing his mind as “androgynous” and “man-womanly” (99). She credits his success to his ability to use the entirety of his mind in writing rather than picking and choosing amongst the characteristics assigned to males. According to Woolf, the blending of all traits regardless of where they are aligned along the gender spectrum allows for better writing overall. She stresses that a writer should “use both sides of his mind equally” in order to produce the highest quality work (103). Woolf further preaches the advantages of genderless literature by praising William Shakespeare’s and Jane Austen’s ability to separate their personal identities from their writing (68). She proclaims that Austen’s ability to produce “writing without hate, without bitterness, without fear, without protest, [and] without preaching” led to her production of higher quality work (68). Woolf feels that an author “should write of her characters” rather than personal circumstances such as their own sex and/or gender (70). The ability to write without thinking of one’s gender produces more well-rounded and high quality literature.
Woolf further pushes for the removal of the gender binary system from the art of literature by discouraging the divisive gender influenced writing style that reinforces the division. She points to the descriptions of women by male scholars and authors noting that “they had been written in the red light of emotion and not in the white light of truth” (32-33). Woolf believes that the divisiveness of the gender binary system harbors hostility between the opposing groups it creates and feels that the placement of anger and blame onto the opposing group hinders literature by causes it to reflect emotion over reflecting reality. She declares that “it is absurd to blame any class or any sex, as a whole” (38). Woolf feels that both genders are responsible for the hostility that is present throughout literature, but also believes that it hurts both sides. Woolf views writing in a way that places anger and blame on either gender as irrational due to the fact that the viewpoints that inform this style of writing “are driven by instincts which are not within their control”, or in other words, social constructs (38). Woolf reinforces this idea by pondering the reason why the female author, Mary Carmichael, was able to produce literature despite the fact that “she was no ‘genius’”. She concludes that Carmichael’s success results from the fact that “men are no longer to her ‘the opposing faction’” (92). Carmichael’s freedom from the war between genders allowed her to spend less time “railing against them” and more time to focus her work on literary elements such as plot and character (92). Woolf uses this example as an advertisement of the possibilities of removing the gendered approach to literature. She presents Carmichael’s abandonment of opposition to men as freeing and as allowing for broader subject matter and more engaging work.
In A Room of One’s Own Virginia Woolf highlights the disadvantages endured by aspiring female authors and focuses the blame for these disadvantages on the gender binary system. Woolf urges for the erasure of the gender construct, especially within the realm of literature. The removal of the expectations of this system would allow for the production of overall better literary creations by allowing authors to be judged upon the quality of their writing rather that by their gender. A Room of One’s Own points out the success of authors who embody the idea of genderless literature and encourages authors of all sexual and gendered identifications to focus on the art rather than the social construct that fosters disadvantage and division amongst writers.
On Importance of a Room of One’s Own
A Room of One's Own is an extended essay by Virginia Woolf, which was first published on 24 October 1929 (FAQ, 1998). The essay was based on a series of lectures she delivered at Newnham College and Girton College, two women's colleges at Cambridge University in October 1928. While this extended essay in fact employs a fictional narrator and narrative to explore women both as writers of and characters in fiction, the manuscript for the delivery of the series of lectures, entitled Women and Fiction, which was published in Forum in March 1929, and hence the essay, are considered non-fiction (Lavender, 1999). The essay is generally seen as a feminist text and is noted in its argument for both a literal and figurative space for women writers within a literary tradition dominated by men.
The title of the essay comes from Woolf's conception that "a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction” (Woolf, 1989). Woolf notes that women have been kept from writing because of their relative poverty, and financial freedom will bring women the freedom to write: "In the first place, to have a room of her own… was out of the question, unless her parents were exceptionally rich or very noble" (52). The title also refers to any author's need for poetic licence and the personal liberty to create art.
The essay examines whether women were capable of producing, and in fact free to produce work of the quality of William Shakespeare, addressing the limitations that past and present women writers face.
Woolf's father, Sir Leslie Stephen, in line with the thinking of the era, believed that only the boys of the family should be sent to school. In delivering the lectures outlined in the essay, Woolf is speaking to women who have the opportunity to learn in a formal, communal setting. Woolf lets her audience know the importance of their education at the same time warning them of the precariousness of their position in society.
In one section, Woolf invented a fictional character, Judith, "Shakespeare's sister," to illustrate that a woman with Shakespeare's gifts would have been denied the same opportunities to develop them because of the doors that were closed to women. Like Woolf, who stayed at home while her brothers went off to school, Judith stays at home while William goes off to school. Judith is trapped in the home: "She was as adventurous, as imaginative, as agog to see the world as he was. But she was not sent to school" (47). Woolf's prose holds all the hopes of Judith Shakespeare against her brother's hopes in the first sentence, then abruptly curtails Judith's chances of fulfilling her promise with "but." While William learns, Judith is chastised by her parents should she happen to pick up a book, as she is inevitably abandoning some household chore to which she could be attending. Judith is betrothed, and when she does not want to marry, she is beaten and then shamed into marriage by her father. While Shakespeare establishes himself, Judith is trapped by the confines of the expectations of women. Judith kills herself, and her genius goes unexpressed, while Shakespeare lives on and establishes his legacy.
In the essay, Woolf constructs a critical and historical account of women writers thus far. Woolf examines the careers of several female authors, including Aphra Behn, Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea, and George Eliot. In addition to female authors, Woolf also discusses and draws inspiration from noted scholar and feminist Jane Ellen Harrison (Shiach, 1998). Harrison is presented in the essay only by her initials separated by long dashes, and Woolf first introduces Harrison as "the famous scholar… J —- H—- herself" (17).
Woolf also discusses Rebecca West, questioning Desmond MacCarthy's (referred to as "Z") uncompromising dismissal of West as an ”arrant feminist” (35). Among the men attacked for their views on women, F. E. Smith, 1st Earl of Birkenhead (referred to as "Lord Birkenhead") is mentioned, though Woolf further rebukes his ideas in stating she will not "trouble to copy out Lord Birkenhead's opinion upon the writing of women" (53). Birkenhead was an opponent of suffrage (Freeman, 2010). The essay quotes Oscar Browning through the words of his (possibly inaccurate) biographer H. E. Wortham (Moad, 2003): "'… the impression left on his mind, after looking over any set of examination papers, was that…the best woman was intellectually the inferior of the worst man.'"(53). In addition to these mentions, Woolf subtly refers to several of the most prominent intellectuals of the time, and her hybrid name from the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge—Oxbridge—has become a well-known term, although she was not the first to use it.
The narrator of the work is at one point identified as "Mary Beaton, Mary Seton, or Mary Carmichael", alluding to the sixteenth century ballad Mary Hamilton (5). In referencing the tale of a woman about to be hanged for existing outside of marriage and rejecting motherhood, the narrator identifies women writers such as herself as outsiders who exist in a potentially dangerous space. It is important to note that Woolf's heroine, Judith Shakespeare, dies by her own hand, after she becomes pregnant with the child of an actor. Like the woman in the Four Marys, she is pregnant and trapped in a life imposed on her. Woolf sees Judith Shakespeare, Mary Beaton, Mary Seton, Mary Carmichael, as powerless, impoverished women everywhere as threatened by the spectre of death.
In another section, describing the work of a fictional woman writer, Mary Carmichael, Woolf deliberately invokes lesbianism: "Then may I tell you that the very next words I read were these – 'Chloe liked Olivia…' Do not start. Do not blush. Let us admit in the privacy of our own society that these things sometimes happen. Sometimes women do like women" (82). Woolf references the obscenity trial and public uproar resulting from the publishing of Radclyffe Hall's lesbian-themed novel, The Well of Loneliness published in 1928. Before she can discuss Chloe liking Olivia, the narrator, has to be assured that Sir Chartres Biron, the magistrate of Hall's obscenity trial is not in the audience: "Are there no men present? Do you promise the figure of Sir Chartres Biron is not concealed? We are all women, you assure me? Then I may tell you…"(82).
Woolf scholar and feminist critic Jane Marcus believes Woolf was giving Radclyffe Hall and other writers a demonstration of how to discuss lesbianism discreetly enough to avoid obscenity trials; "Woolf was offering her besieged fellow writer a lesson in how to give a lesbian talk and write a lesbian work and get away with it"(Marcus, 1996). Marcus describes the atmosphere of Woolf's arrival and presence at the women's college with her lover Vita Sackville-West as "sapphic." Woolf is comfortable discussing lesbianism in her talks with the women students because she feels a women's college is a safe and essential place for such discussions.
The role of influence and freedom in A Room of One’s Own and Three Guineas
Both Virginia Woolf’s critical essay A Room of One’s Own (1929) and her polemic Three Guineas (1938) explore feminist issues of freedom and influence. Despite being written almost a decade later, Three Guineas further explores the ideas and values of A Room of One’s Own, thus highlighting how, despite their different contexts, there has been little change. Whilst A Room of One’s Own focuses on the financial and intellectual freedom of women, Three Guineas explores notions of educational freedom for women. Comparing the contexts of the two texts also provides us with insights into the influence of societal views and the power that educational opportunities can provide women.
Both A Room of One’s Own (A Room) and Three Guineas explore the theme of freedom through a call for progress of women’s intellectual and financial rights. In A Room, the financial restrictions on a woman’s literary potential are expressed in Woolf’s overarching argument that, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction”. The room acts as a symbol of financial and intellectual independence, whilst the frequent repetition of the words “a room” throughout the essay emphasizes how women lack the necessary freedom to write. A woman’s intellectual restrictions are illustrated when Woolf’s narrative persona is refused entry into the Oxbridge library by a man who looked, “like a guardian angel barring the way with a flutter of black gown instead of white wings”. The man acts as a metaphor for the blocked opportunities and societal barriers that have been imposed on women by men, the imagery emphasizing the role of men in restricting woman’s intellectual freedom. Woolf conjures the imaginary character of “Judith Shakespeare”, to further demonstrate the inequality of women. This literary allusion and the allegory of Judith demonstrate how the talents of women are being lost because they are not allowed to be creative. Despite Judith sharing the same genetic makeup, and thus the same potential, she achieved nothing due to lack of education and freedom. The three centuries between Shakespeare’s and Woolf’s contexts highlights the almost nonexistent change in woman’s intellectual freedom. Thus A Room explores restrictions the gender plays on a woman’s intellectual, creative and financial freedom. In the context of a troubled 1938 Europe, the later essay Three Guineas similarly explores the theme of freedom, focusing on educational freedom and the role that educated women can play in preventing war.
Similarly to A Room; Three Guineas also explores the role of men in preventing the educational freedom of women. The freedom from male financial reliance that education can provide woman’s with is highlighted through the metaphor of woman’s being slaves to their fathers: “to depend upon a profession is a less odious form of slavery than to depend upon a father.” Having a career and earning income, she argues, is more rewarding than being financial and intellectually reliant on the men in one’s life. This idea is further emphasized metaphorically by the truncated sentence, “You [men] are fighting with us, not against us”. The ‘war’ represents the ‘war’ between women and men in literature and the professions. Three Guineas thus highlights the limitations of a woman’s educational rights. Both essays also discuss more broadly the effects of society’s attitude towards women. A Room explores the influence of strict early 20th century societal views on women and their role in society. The long history of disrespect towards women in the literary profession is illustrated by alluding to Dr Johnson, the renowned 18th century English writer: “a woman’s composing is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well”. The simile reflects the general male disrespect towards women, whilst further emphasizing the negative influence societal disregard of women writers. Woolf’s argument that societal influences have restricted women from literature composition is further portrayed when Woolf comments that “even a woman…has brought herself to believe that to write a book was to be ridiculous”. The narrator’s disappointed tone emphasizes the impact of societal constraints, further illustrating how a lack of a literary legacy allows women no goals to aim for. Woolf also explores the disheartening impact that a negative and often cruel reception of women writers has on women: “She was afraid of something; afraid of being called ‘sentimental’ perhaps”, the repetition of the adjective ‘afraid’ reflecting potential women writers’ entrenched fears and discouragement. The play on the adjective ‘sentimental’ reflects the pre-Depression view, that women, due to their perceived softer nature are incapable of producing good literature. A Room consequently provides us with a unique insight into the overarching influence of early 20th century, pre-Depression English society on women writers.
In contrast, Three Guineas, reflecting its pre-WW2 context, explores the theme of empowerment of women through education and the professions. A woman’s limited role in society due to lack of educational opportunities is reflected in the rhetorical question, “What does ‘our country’ mean to me an outsider?” emphasizing that because women lack influence and don’t have a voice, they consider themselves outsiders. Woolf quotes Sir Ernest Wild, a British Royal Naval seaman, to validate her argument that, without education, women have to rely on manipulation to influence a man: “A man liked to think he was doing his job…[a] wise woman always let him think he was running the show when he was not.” The alliterative “wise woman” suggests the general view in male dominated society that the usefulness of women is based on their natural feminine talent rather than real skills acquired through education. It is also argues that in a changing society, an “educated man’s daughter has now at her disposal an influence which is different from any influence that she has possessed before”. The repetition of ‘influence’ stresses that, through education, women have a newfound strength. They no longer have to resort to using “whatever charm or beauty…[they] possess to flatter and cajole the busy men”. Three Guineas thus demonstrates the role that education and participation in the professions can play in a woman’s influence over both the men in her personal life and the events of society in the broadest sense.
A Room of One’s Own and Three Guineas have explored different aspects relating to women’s financial, creative and intellectual freedom and resultant influence. Woolf’s call for intellectual and financial freedom in A Room of One’s Own is complemented by a stronger and more urgent call given the context and the passage of time in her later discussion of the importance of educational freedom in Three Guineas.
Looking at women from the eyes of God as illustrated in A Room of One’s Own
“When you’re down on the lower levels of this pyramid, you will be either on one side or on the other. But when you get up to the top, the points all come together, and there the eye of God opens” (Campbell, 31). Joseph Campbell presents this description of the Masonic symbol of the pyramid, which is an appropriate analogy of a reoccurring goal in Bloomsbury artistic creation. This goal is a detached, disinterested artistic vision, one free of a personal bias that places a persons’ vision on a side of the pyramid. This artistic integrity was highly valued in Bloomsbury creation. Virginia Woolf explores this phenomenon through gender in her essay A Room of One’s Own, as well as through the art of Lily Briscoe in the novel To the Lighthouse. This vision is not limited to creation, but applies also to experiencing art, as presented by Roger Fry in “An Essay in Aesthetics.” Likewise, Lytton Strachey, in his biography of Florence Nightingale in Eminent Victorians, exhibits the importance of detachment and a degree of objectivity when striving for a goal, by describing the aftermath that incurs when she has to overcompensate for the societal limitations of her gender.
“What one means by integrity, in the case of the novelist, is the conviction that he gives one that this is the truth” (Woolf, 72). In A Room of One’s Own, Woolf is attempting to define that artistic vision that each person, or at least people of genius, seem to be endowed with. Unfortunately, the ability to achieve this integrity is fragile, and the torch that illuminates the “invisible ink on the walls of the mind” is easily smothered (72). Woolf’s primary suspect for this is the effect of society on gender, specifically the treatment of women by men. To continue the analogy, this treatment put women’s artistic vision on one side of the pyramid. According to Woolf, especially before her own era, women wrote underneath a cloud of anger that prevented them from achieving artistic integrity. Woolf uses Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre as an example: “She left her story, to which her entire devotion was due, to attend to some personal grievance” (73). This personal grievance is the anger that Bronte had toward men.
Woolf does not limit this tainted vision to women. She describes men’s reaction to women’s demand for social equality. Men had always been superior, “And when one is challenged, even by a few women in black bonnets, one retaliates, if one has never been challenged before, rather excessively” (99). This motive of retaliation then has the clouding effect on men’s writing:
But why was I bored? Partly because of the dominance of the letter “I” and the aridity, which, like the giant beech tree, it casts within its shade. Nothing will grow there …There seemed to be some obstacle, some impediment of Mr. A’s mind which blocked the fountain of creative energy and shored it within narrow limits. (100)
The letter “I” here that Woolf refers to is the personal vestment that the artist has in the writing. Woolf asserts the importance of the detached “I”, and when she uses it she limits it to “a convenient term for somebody who has no real being” (4). The “I” she prizes is the detached one, one not limited by the filter of anger, and one that presents vision with artistic integrity. This is what is meant by the eye at the top of the pyramid, which sees all four corners.
Bloomsbury valued this detachment in other fields than writing. Strachey reiterates this in Eminent Victorians. He presents Florence Nightingale’s achievements, and stresses the necessity of her rebellion against the limitations of society on women. He begins by describing Florence’s unhappiness and boredom with the traditional life, satirically stating, “It was very odd; what could be the matter with dear Flo?” for there was “plenty to do in any case, in the ordinary way, at home. There was the china to look after, and there was her father to be read to after dinner” (137). Subject to these restrictions, Florence overcompensated by becoming authoritarian, controlling, and worst of all, by destroying her femininity. It is because of this that she was no longer objectively detached from her visions of proper healthcare. Her personal motives and views become irreversibly intertwined with the originally honest and sincere inclination to help others. For instance, because of her adaptive stubbornness, she insists that the windows need to remain open. She ignores the medical fact that this meant that disease would flow in the air to patients. She had to have that stubbornness to get where she was in life, but it permanently clouded her judgment. This problem was the same one that extended to the female writers Woolf cited. According to J. B. Batchelor, Woolf specifically denounces this reaction to oppression:
[Woolf] is indignant with women such as head-mistresses and heads of colleges because they have abdicated the specialized role for which their femaleness equips them by adopting male standards. Women must not emulate men; they have a better role of their own. (172)
Only by embracing her natural femaleness could Nightingale have been able to remain detached from her aspirations, and this is something that society would not allow.
Another character in literature, Lily Briscoe, in Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, demonstrates that need to break free of social conventions. Throughout the book she is plagued by criticism by Tansley that, because she is a women, she cannot paint. She is also limited by the idea that her art “would be hung in attics … it would be destroyed” (208). It is only when she ignores these clouding issues and looks for her true artistic vision that she is able to finish. “With a sudden intensity, as if she saw it clear for a second, she drew a line there, in the centre. It was done” (209). She was finally able to look past those limiting factors and achieve her vision.
The Bloomsbury group’s emphasis of detachment is further supported by Fry’s “Essay in Aesthetics.” This approach is different, but still rooted in experiencing or creating art without personal bias. In this case, detachment occurs because we are not required to react to what we are seeing. Fry gives an example of this, stating that the detachment “can be obtained by watching a mirror in which a street scene is reflected. If we look at the street itself we are almost sure to adjust ourselves in some way to its actual existence” (19). The experience of the audience of art that Fry is refering to is similar to the experience that a writer with artistic integrity will have. “It must in the first place be adapted to that disinterested intensity of contemplation, which we have found to be the effect of cutting off the responsive action” (29). The disinterested contemplation that Fry refers to regarding a viewer is the same that Woolf asserts a writer needs to have.
Clearly, the members of the Bloomsbury group valued an untainted, pure artistic vision, the “eye of God.” The question is then, what is pureness of vision? In Florence’s case, it would allow for undivided attention toward helping people in nursing. What, then, comes from being able to see something with artistic integrity? Referring to creators of “higher works of art”, Fry states, “We feel that he has expressed something which was latent in us all the time, but which we never realized, that he has revealed us to ourselves in revealing himself.” Woolf’s description is strikingly similar: “When one so exposes it and sees it come to life one exclaims in rapture, But this is what I have always felt and known and desired!” (72). Whether this level purity is attainable is debatable, as Woolf herself admits:
Are not all novels about the writer’s self? It is only as he sees people that we can see them; his fortunes colour and his oddities shape his vision until what we see is not the thing itself, but the thing seen and the seer inextricably mixed. (Woolf as quoted in Temple, 90)
Nonetheless, the members of Bloomsbury certainly strived for artistic integrity, and perhaps that is the reason so much of their work is still read today.
Fry, Roger. “An essay in Aesthetics.” Vision and Design. London: Chatto and Windus, 1920.
Batchlor, J. B. “Feminism in Virginia Woolf.” Virginia Woolf. Ed. Claire Sprague. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1971. 169-179
Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One’s Own. San Diego: Harcourt, Inc., 1929.
Woolf, Virginia. To the Lighthouse. San Diego: Harcourt, Inc., 1927.
Strachey, Lytton. Eminent Victorians. San Diego: Harcourt, Inc., 1918.
Campbell, Joseph. The Power of Myth. New York: Random House, 1991.
Temple, Ruth Z. “Never Say “I”: To The Lighthouse as Vision and Confession.” Ed. Claire Sprague. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1971. 90