The Feminism of Virginia Woolf

Ilyass Chetouani
2023 / 4 / 18

In her notable work A Room of her Own, Virginia Woolf continues on the same line of struggle against patriarchy, but this time she insists that "a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction"(4(. She mainly associates women s emancipation to financial, material, and social independence. She claims that women are admitted into libraries only if recommended by a man of intellect´-or-accompanied with a citation. "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? There were some photographs on the mantlepiece"(18).´-or-better yet, what have women achieved through marriage except shackling themselves even more and pleasing man even farther‼-;---;-- "First there are nine months before the baby is born. Then the baby is born. Then there are three´-or-four months spent in feeding the baby. After the baby is fed there are certainly five years spent in playing with the baby"(19).
In the same sense, Woolf draws on the poor contribution of women in the fields of literature, and simultaneously reveals how woman has been the most enticing topic for men to write about. "Have you any notion of how many books are written about women in the course of one year? Have you any notion how many are written by men? Are you aware that you are, perhaps, the most discussed animal in the universe?" (23). Woolf writes that women do not write books about men, and wonders why are women so much more alluring to men than men are to women. While she affirms that "England is under the rule of a patriarchy"(29), she explains it at a grass-root level. The patriarchs, she claims, obtained a faulty education. Despite their apparent wealth, they establish borders, build warships, and gage their lives for naught. Woolf relates these life conditions to women s position and fiction. She writes that "Fiction is a like a spider s web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners"(35). A life that has been extremely harsh for women, as Woolf explores the history of women, she recounts:
I went, therefore, to the shelf where the histories stand and took down one of the latest, Professor Travelyan s History of England. Once more I looked up Women, found position of and turned to the pages indicated. Wife Beating , I read, was a recognized right of man, and was practiced without shame by high as well as low… Similarly, the historian goes on, 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 on public opinion. Marriage was not an affair of personal affection, but of family avarice, particularly in the "chivalrous" upper classes… Betrothal often took place while one´-or-both of the parties was in the cradle, and marriage when they were scarcely out of the nurses charges (35).
Woolf tackles a very striking contradiction. Symbolically, woman is of utmost presence, yet practically she is of no significance. "Some of the most inspired words, some of the most profound thoughts in literature fall from her lips--;-- in real life she could hardly read, could scarcely spell, and was the property of her husband"(36). That basically means that "nothing is known about women before the eighteenth century"(38). Woolf stresses another key aspect of her analysis, that s of social circumstances. Great literati like Shakespeare, Flaubert, Proust, and Tolstoy could not have emerged in a poor and working class. Social and economic circumstances go hand in hand with a prolific state of mind. "Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who minded beyond reason the opinions of others"(47). That s how Woolf sums up the entire course of literature, a purview dominated and monopolized entirely by man. However, "girls could go to their parents and say, you need not give me an allowance--;-- I can make money by my pen"(54). It all starts through one woman, yet carried on by coming generations. Achievements, particularly in the works of literature, poetry and art, are a constellation of efforts and the result of many years of thinking in common ways, and carried out by a mass of people that share the same experience and voice.
The effect of sex on writing´-or-on the mindset of the novelist is highly worth-noting. As seen as poorer, weaker, and akin to animality, women have been denied access to the symbolic world. "Literature is open to everybody. I refuse to allow you, Beadle though you are, to turn me off the grass. Lock up your libraries if you like--;-- but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt, that you can set upon the freedom of my mind"(63). Despite its import, novels are not to be taken as a latibule´-or-remedy for women s status. Books resume each another, yet actual continuance lies in practical exertions to earn material and social independence, that s because "novels so often provide an anodyne and not an antidote"(67). In praxis, uniqueness is demanded. Women are not to think, write, live,´-or-dress like men. That s partly because "virility has now become self-conscious—men, that is to say, are now writing only with the male side of their brains"(85). When a woman writes, she must have suggestive power. Unlike men, "they lack suggestive power. And when a book lacks suggestive power, however hard it hits the surface of the mind it cannot penetrate within"(86). This means that a good writer must, regardless of sex, be androgynous. "It is fatal to be a man´-or-woman pure and simple--;-- one must be woman-manly´-or-man-womanly"(87). This includes circumventing dualistic mindsets and the claiming of superiority over each another, and between women themselves. Women must learn not to hate each another, but to help one another. They must not think in influencing men, but in things and structures themselves--;-- In reflecting upon their experiences, struggle, and their quest for liberation. Also, most importantly taking action in the social and political fields. But above all, "it is necessary to have five hundred a year and a room with a lock on the door if you are to write fiction´-or-poetry"(88).

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