Writing on Women Writers

A site for college students to write about women writers.

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The Big, Bad (Bold) Woolf

virginia_woolf-a In Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf mentions many precarious topics.  Most of the essay is spent dissecting why women have not had success in writing, how they are oppressed by men, what she thinks they can do to become successful writers.  Woolf also brings up issues surrounding gender, sex, and homosexuality.  In today’s world, these topics and analyzed and discussed through and through, but that was not so in Woolf’s world.

Woolf writes about her experience with a fictional book, Life’s Adventures, by a fictional author, Mary Carmichael.  She begins by saying that, Mary has potential to be a good writer, but she has not yet figured it out.  Her sentences are interrupted, unlike the sentences of Jane Austen.  However, Woolf reaches an interesting sentence, “Chloe likes Olivia…” (56) At first glance the relationship seems nothing more than a friendship.  This is still odd because at that time, especially in novels, women were not friends.  Woolf mentions later that in most fictional relationships between women, the women are opposing each other.  We know that in the Early 1900’s women were expected to stay home, care for children, the home, and their husband.  Their relationships and interactions with other women were scarce.  So for these two women to be in the same room together, alone, with no male present, it was a big deal.  This had the potential to change the view on women’s writing.

Upon further reading, one may notice a foot note regarding the mention of Sir Chartres Biron and his opposition of one of the first lesbian novels by Radclyffe Hall.  This foot note brings a whole other aspect to the relationship between Chloe and Olivia.

Woolf says, “For if Chloe likes Olivia and Mary Carmichael knows how to express it she will light a torch in that vast chamber where nobody has yet been.” (84) Homosexuality was and still tends to be a taboo topic.  Around the time of Woolf’s essay, homosexuality was pretty much not spoken of, ever.  The history of sexuality in general was very much changing in the time of Virginia Woolf.  Especially in the 1920’s and the emergence of the “flapper,” a women’s sexuality was more apparent than ever.  This was a scary occurrence for many and threatened everything that they have ever known.  From that time forward terms and different movements have evolved both supporting and opposing homosexuality


Woolf seems to find faith and hope in this new perspective provided by Mary Carmichael.  She wrote boldly about topics that we less discussed and many that were controversial.  What would Virginia Woolf think about of the great women authors there are today and the amount of fictional novels written about woman and women relations?   I believe that women today have found what Woolf had described many years ago in A Room of One’s Own. I think that if she was to come back into our lives, she would be impressed, but who knows?Well of Loneliness Virago


Mary Beton, Mary Seton, Mary Carmichael, and Me

Virginia Woolf, born Adeline Virginia Stephen, was one of the great modernist English writers of the twentieth century. She is credited with numerous novels, short stories, and essays but is most well-known for her experimental novel,  “A Room of One’s Own.

VirginiaWoolf                                             340793

In the novel, “A Room of One’s Own”, Woolf utilized a modern, stream-of-consciousness writing style. This contemporary method of prose was shocking in the way that it represented human thought in its blatant, raw form; contrasting greatly with the traditional, detached ways of composing literature. Although Woolf’s method of writing did have an innovative edge, its newness did not distract from her innate ability to hook her readers and make them genuinely interested in what she had to say. Woolf wrote as if she was speaking directly to the reader; in fact, she was speaking to a direct audience, as “A Room of One’s Own” was originally a combination of speeches that she gave at woman-supporting Girton and Newnham Colleges, both in Cambridge, England. Ideas in her narrative flow in a natural, colloquial form, as Woolf seamlessly references past literary works, authors, and important thinkers to support her argument for the necessities of woman writers. One reference that I found particularly interesting was to an anonymously written poem entitled “The Ballad of Mary Hamilton”.  (I found a video of a contemporary vocal rendition of the ballad, happy listening!) 🙂

This ballad begins by introducing four Marys; Mary Beaton, Mary Seaton, Mary Carmichael, and Mary Hamilton. It goes on to describe the account of  Mary Hamilton, a servant to the Queen of Scotland, who, through a secret relationship with the King, becomes pregnant. In an act of desperation, Mary kills her child as she cannot support the burden of caring for it. The crime is uncovered and Mary is sentenced to death.

399px-The_Four_Maries,_from_an_Edwardian_children's_history_book                                                    Pavel_Svedomskiy_001

                                         The Four Marys from H E Marshall’s ‘Scotland’s Story’, 1906                           Mary Hamilton Before Execution by Pavel Svedomskiy, 1904

Woolf alludes to the four Marys in chapter one saying, “Here then was I (call me Mary Beton, Mary Seton, Mary Carmichael or by any name you please– it is not a matter of any importance) sitting on the banks of a river deep in thought” (pg 17). The fact that Woolf suggests that the name with which you should address her is not of any importance is particularly significant. By giving a name— usually a form of personal identification– a lack of importance, Woolf is creating a general, subjective identity with which the readers can identify. In this way, the narrative of Mary Beton/Seton/Carmichael becomes a universal narrative; one that can be applied to every woman reader, regardless of that woman’s characteristics.

Woolf continues the allusion to the four Marys throughout “A Room of One’s Own” by conversing with a Mary Seton about the poor accommodations at the women’s college luncheon in chapter one,  (pg 24-25) and reading and critiquing a novel written by a Mary Carmichael saying, “It would be better, instead of speculating what Mary Carmichael might write and should write, to see what in fact Mary Carmichael did write” (pg 60-61). But her use of Mary Beton in Chapter 6 is the most striking application of the ballad, with the character of Beton as a symbol of Woolf herself. She writes, “Here then, Mary Beton ceases to speak…she has asked you to follow her flying into the arms of a Beadle, lunching here, dining there, drawing pictures of the British Museum, taking books from the shelf, looking out of the window. While she has been doing all of these things, you have no doubt been observing her failures and foibles and deciding what effect they have had on her opinions. You have been contradicting her and making whatever additions and deductions seem good to you” (pg 67).

With this reference, Woolf is embodying the character of Mary Beton and using her to critic herself. Woolf understands the obstacles that she, and all other woman writers, are up against when they compose literature. She recognizes that as a writer, especially being a modern woman writer, readers are constantly questioning her merit while searching for ‘feminine flaws’ in her writing. The use of Mary Beton is merely a general representation of all women who are attempting to challenge the boundaries that are set before them, Woolf included. Personally, I liked that Woolf took this introspective moment in her narrative; it showed that she was not writing for the sole purpose of criticizing other writers, but for the criticism of society and its effect on women writers as a whole. By drawing the same attention to herself and her struggles as a woman writer, Woolf appears more human and more relatable to her female counterparts.


DeShazer, Mary K. “A Room of One’s Own.” The Longman Anthology of Women’s Literature. New York: Longman, 2001. 17-67. Print.

“Virginia Woolf.” Wikipedia. N.p., 4 Feb. 2013. Web. 6 Feb. 2013

“Stream Of Consciousness.” About.com Classic Literature. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Feb. 2013.

“Mary Hamilton.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 02 June 2013. Web. 06 Feb. 2013.

“Joan Baez – Mary Hamilton 1960.” YouTube. YouTube, 19 Aug. 2009. Web. 06 Feb. 2013.

“Across the Page.” Across the Page. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Feb. 2013.

“Weekend Music Thread – Girl Power | PlanetPOV.” PlanetPOV RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Feb. 2013.

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A Room of One’s Own

In Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, she talks about how a room of a woman’s own was so important to her success as a writer and as a woman. She talks about one particular topic that I will extend on:

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’ charge.” This was about 1470, soon after Chaucer’s time. (DeShazer 35).

In this video, a woman who was forced into marriage, merely at 16 years of age, escaped and was living in a safe house. Although it is not too recent, it is a perfect example of what Woolf stated in the above quote. In order for a woman to have choices, as Zahida Minhas tried to achieve, they had to go through running away. The custom of arranged marriage and an inability to have a place of one’s own, was the difference between a free woman and a dead woman; death didn’t always mean physical death, but an internal death of choice and freedom.

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A Room of One’

In Virginia Woolf’s essay A Room of One’s Own; Woolf writes of incandescent mind.  Woolf mentions having a “unity of mind” a writer must possess.

The passage:

“Clearly the mind is always altering its focus, and bringing the world into different perspectives. But some of these states of mind seem, even if adopted spontaneously, to be less comfortable than others. In order to keep oneself continuing in them one is unconsciously holding something back, and gradually the repression becomes an effort. But there may be some state of mind in which one could continue without an effort because nothing is required to be held back.” (63)

Woolf seems to be admitting that a state of mind that is disconnected from the rest of mind will negate the incandescence. For instance, if a mind is angry, you must try and unify your mind so that you are able to reach a state of mind where “nothing is required to be held back.”

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Women in Fiction Breaking Boundaries


In Virginia Woolf’s piece of iconic literature, “A Room Of One’s Own,” she describes the constant struggle a woman faces in the world of writing fiction.  Woolf speaks fondly of writer, Jane Austen. Much like many female writers of her day, Austin was forced to write in secret. Woolf poses the question to herself,

“Would Pride and Prejudice have been a better novel if Jane Austen had not thought it nessary to hide her manuscript from her visitors?” (49).


Not only did Austen seamlessly carry on her piece without fail; I believe she used her experience of gender inequality and female expectationsas fuel for her literature.

She wrote “Without hate, without bitterness, without fear, without protest, without preaching” (Woolf 49).

Which, so often is not the case. Many individuals feel they have to bulk up their writing to compare to the men around them. Austen did not try to be one of the boys, but rather, she stuck to her true personal identify, which Woolf admires her for.

As Woolf sits down to read, Mary Carmichael’s first novel, Life’s Adventure, she begins to critics her writing, comparing her sentence structure

“Like being out at sea in an open boat” (55).

But Carmichael surprises us all, by introducing her readers to a place where no one had dared to go, a lesbian relationship.

“Chloe liked Olivia,” (56).

Those three simple words held so much controversy, yet so much importance. Carmichael describes the two women working together in a laboratory, and Chloe watching Olivia with longing an admiration, so much compassion andtenderness, how a person acts when they are truly intimately attracted to another. Unfortunately, her thoughts are too often interrupted by the need for her to go home and care for her children, as if it were almost too good to be true. Although Carmichael takes a giant leap towards a positive direction, she takes a few steps backwards by referring back to the domestic sphere, as if they were just playing in the laboratory, and their real work was to be done at home with her husband and children. Must this always be the case? Why is it that women must be mothers first and true human beings, with needs, second?  Although none of us would be here without out mother, why must this always be a scapegoat?  Women need to embrace their choices, as writers, as mothers, as lesbians, as heterosexuals, as painters, as musicians, or as all of the above. We must make our OWN choices, and do everything we love whole-heartedly. We must stop letting the world scare us into making choices, and embrace our gender.



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Women be Women?

Virgina Woolf

In Chapter 5 of Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own”, Woolf mentions how women writers should be just that. She highlights the “creative powers” that women posses and men don’t. She is telling women to be women, write like women, and live like women.

“But this creative power differs greatly from the creative power of men. And one must conclude that it would be a thousand pities if it were hindered or wasted,for it was won by centuries of the most drastic disipline, and there is nothing to take it’s place. It would be a thousand pities if women wrote like men, or lived like men, or looked like men. (59)”

Although she highlights the positive outcomes that come from being a women writer, she also warns women writers not to consider sex and gender while writing.

“It is fatal for anyone who writes to think of their sex (67)”

I think when she says this, what she means is that women can’t think inside the box that they have been placed into. In the first and second chapters, Woolf talks so much about gender roles and how women were not allowed to do certain things like go into the library, be on the grass, eat the good food, and even eat off of the good dishes. Women were look on as inferior and as a whole, they were seen to be beneath men. When she says not to think of gender I think she is saying not to write weak and timid and not to fall in line like they were expected to do back then. I also think she meant not to be so closed minded. On page 72 she mentions how diverse reality is. That means that even though people wanted to believe that women fall in love with men, had kids, and lived happily ever after, that is not how things really were. There were women who loved other women but it wasn’t as public as it is today because people could have gone to jail or even been killed for things like that.

Yes. Woolf did believe that everyone should be equal and she was not affraid to point out how men were looked on as superior to women. Some have argued that Woolf is a feminist. And I would have to agree with that, She put her own freedom and life in danger to make others aware of how women were treated and looked down upon. In a book entitled “Virgina Wool as a Feminist” By Naomi Black, Woolf’s feminist ways are studied. Black  reviews Woolf’s life, books (including A room of One’s own) and letters that she had written to show the inequalities between men and women. In the following video, Virgina Woolf’s feminist theory is highlighted.

Another thing that is highlighted by Woolf is how men and women should work together to create the best outcome.

“And I went on amatueurishly to sketch a plan of the soul so that each of us two powers preside, one male, one female; and in the man’s brain, the man predominates over the women, and in the women’s brain, the women predominates over the man (64)”

In this passage Woolf is explaining how the best way to write in a well rounded fashion is to equally think like a male and a female but not to let one dominate the other. When a man writes he will naturally appeal to people who thinks like him and the same thing with a female. Woolf is saying act like a women and think like a man http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3eS4FYJBAxg I also think she finds it wery important to hold true to the essense of what makes a women writer because they hold a power that men don’t. (59)

To conclude, I think Woolf wants women writers to be as sensitive and creative as they are known to be, but demand the respect as a writer from men and women alike.

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Why Have There Been No Great Women Writers?

Throughout Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, she thoroughly expresses how women lacked the opportunity to write. Yes, Woolf may in fact struggle with the notion that women may have expectations that hindered their writing careers, but she also explains the outside influences. During this time, it was only expected of women to be mothers and very domesticated without little to any say against their husband or father. With this, a fictional character said to be Shakespeare’s sister who was brought up in the same home, but had very different opportunities, giving an understanding as to why she in fact was not a successful writer. With little to nothing to do with her skills to express herself through words, but strictly on how many things were not offered to women during the 16th century and years to come.


On page 38 she states, “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 grammar and logic, let alone of reading Horace and Virgil. 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.” As you can see, this bright young woman was thought by Woolf to have the intelligence, but she had other things to tend too, once again being interrupted. She lacked this opportunity in her life to strive and create work that could have possibly been compared to that of men at this time. While Shakespeare was away learning the ins and outs of this art, she was at home getting dinner ready and preparing herself for marriage.

During this time, this was expected of women and many found themselves lost in the gender roles and traditions of this time. Woolf uses this fictional character to show the possibilities of what could have happened if these women pressed for these rights. She explains how even when poor Judith Shakespeare was granted a moment to herself she would just scribble some words down and burn any evidence. She further goes on to explain that:

“…genius like Shakespeare’s is not born among laboring, uneducated, servile people. It was not born among the working class.” (39)

Wasn’t that exactly what women were at this time? Simply just uneducated degenerates who could not function in this patriarchal society? It is clear that she believes that only the elitists can possess such knowledge. To me, I feel as though Woolf is confused. it is clear that she respects Shakespeare enough to value his genius, but her feelings about the capabilities of women get in the idea. She struggles between this idea of whether women could or could not possess the “genius” of Shakespeare at this time. She says it herself that “..is that any woman born with a great gift in the sixteenth century would certainly have gone crazed, shot herself, or ended her days in some lonely cottage outside the village, half witch, half wizard feared and mocked at.” (39) But it is hard to say because little record was kept about women at this time. Personally I feel as though Woolf may have been mistaken. I believe that there were many talented women writers at this time, but it was clear that they wouldn’t have ended up in a playwright or anything like that. She has a very somber tone when discussing the outcomes if this talent was present in a woman’s life.

In a way, I feel as though she is oppressing women by over and over again repeating that this genius was unreachable by women. The intelligence was there, the opportunity was what was missing. With the similar thoughts of Woolf, any hope that a talented young girl was to share her poetry with the world, she ended up disillusioned by this patriarchal society in which she was brought up it with little room for change.

Many those who had a chance ended up just like poor Judith Shakespeare, dead, alone and at strife against herself.


In reference to Woolf, this sort of thinking was not just present in the world of literature, but also in the art world. Being an Art History major, I am very familiar with Linda Nochlin’s work, Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? Although there are many parrallels between both Woolf’s and Nochlin’s work, I feel as though one of her ideas in particular fits the best. When Nochlin says:

“Could it be that the little golden nugget–genius–is missing from the aristocratic makeup the same way that it is from the feminine psyche? Or rather, is it not that the kinds of demands and expectations placed before both aristocrats and women- the amount of time necessarily devoted to social functions, the very kinds of activities demanded-simlply made total devotion of profession out of the question, indeed unthinkable, both for upper-class males and for women generally, rather than it being a question of genius and talent?”

It is evident that she recognizes the external factors of an artist just as Woof expressed her knowledge of the same thing when speaking of women writers. But she also puts it into a new perspective when discussing the aristocrats, predominantly men, showing that this lack of “genius” may not be encircled around the sex of a human being, but in fact the lack of opportunity and personal experience for each individual.


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“Chloe Liked Olivia”

Virginia Woolf

While Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) was known for her revolutionary modernist fiction, her writings also secured her status as a pivotal figure in women’s literary history. Woolf delivers the comprehensive essay “A Room of One’s Own,” as a lecture to a female audience at Newnham College, Cambridge, encouraging women to “have the habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think,” (71). In chapter five of her essay, Woolf proposes the concept of a friendship between two women. While reading Mary Carmichael’s fictional novel Life’s Adventures, Woolf is interrupted by the statement “Chloe liked Olivia” (56). Although Woolf’s statement appears simple, ‘Chloe’ and ‘Olivia’ represent a proposition for the renovation of relationships between women. Unless the relationship between the two women was a feud of sorts, the relationship of two women was not discussed in literature. Oftentimes, the relationships between women in literature (especially in the literary works of men) illuminate women detesting each other. Woolf continues by stating, “Chloe liked Olivia perhaps for the first time in literature. Cleopatra did not like Octavia. And how completely Antony and Cleopatra would have been altered had she done so!” (56). While this is not the first appearance of William Shakespeare in Woolf’s essay, Woolf dissects the tragedy from a diverse perspective. Woolf’s re-imagination of Shakespeare’s tragic play Antony and Cleopatra illuminates that perhaps the tragedy was the inability of the female characters to formulate a friendship.

Woolf also notes, “When a woman speaks to women she should have something very unpleasant up her sleeve. Women are hard on women. Women dislike women,” (70). Woolf’s proclamation acknowledges the presence of hatred between women. However, Woolf ultimately criticizes these women for continuously chastising each other over the years. When declaring that “Chloe liked Olivia,” Woolf calls for unity between the sex of women as a whole. Woolf illuminates her belief that the banning together of women would facilitate the women’s rights movement.

Delving further into the textual meaning, the statement “Chloe liked Olivia” is open to interpretation. Clearly, Woolf believed that women could be friends in literature, however, Woolf’s sexuality has often been discussed in relation to her writings. Critics have often speculated whether Woolf was referencing her own sexuality within the text. Woolf wrote, “The truth is, I often like women. I like their unconventionality. I like their subtlety. I like their anonymity. I like–but I must not run on this way. That cupboard there,– you say it holds clean table napkins only; but what if Sir Archibald Bodkin were concealed among them? (70). Through this passage, one may claim that Woolf’s sexuality spoke volumes in comparison to her words. Although Woolf was married, during the late 1920’s she indulged in a romantic relationship with author Vita Sackville-West. Woolf was also known for her admiration and support of Radclyffe Hall during the banning of her groundbreaking lesbian novel, The Well of Loneliness (1928). Before proclaiming the words “Chloe liked Olivia,” Woolf referenced a significant official in her essay when she wrote, “Are there no men present? Do you promise me that behind that red curtain over there the figure of Sir Chartres Biron is not concealed? We are all women, you assure me?” (56). Sir Chartres Biron was the presiding magistrate at the trial for obscenity of Hall, pertaining to her novel. Because Woolf believed in Hall’s work, she included the acerbity statement in her paper, indulging in the wit.

With Woolf’s modernist experimentation with the fluidity of her language and clearly established ideals, her essay “A Room of One’s Own” has become one of the first feminist literary essays. In her essay, Woolf contemplates the substance and harmony of friendships between women in literature, and the friendships women could formulate without feuds perpetuated by men. Furthermore, Woolf suggests that if women start writing, perhaps women would write about the friendships they possess with other women. The statement “Chloe liked Olivia” was merely the seed Woolf planted. In this section of her essay, Woolf desired for women alike to blossom and potentially write about their developing friendships.

Like I said, since Woolf wrote her essay, the statement “Chloe liked Olivia” has been interpreted in many different ways. Furthermore, the ideal established by Woolf has been included and contemplated in various contemporary art forms. Here is a trailer for an experimental short film, in which the writer has interpreted Chloe and Olivia to be lovers.

Chloe Likes Olivia Teaser Trailer

Also, the ’90’s band Two Nice Girls named their third album “Chloe liked Olivia” after Woolf’s essay. Woolf’s influence remains prevalent even in today’s society.

Two Nice Girls- The Queer Song

Works Consulted:

Gadeken, Sara. “Gender, Empire, and Nation in Sarah Fielding’s Lives of Cleopatra and Octavia.” SEL: Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 39.3 (1999): 523-38. Print.

Sommella, Laraine Anne. “Radclyffe Hall’s ‘the Well of Loneliness’: Subversive Transgression.” 1994. Print.

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The Oppressed Gender


“It is fatal to be a man or woman pure and simple; one must be woman-manly or man-womanly.” (67)

During our class discussion today, this quote really struck me as something quite important and imperative to the point that Virginia Woolf was trying to make through her writing of A Room of One’s Own.  On the previous pages in her novel, Woolf explains that women should write in the style women, but then goes on to say later that when writing, a woman should not think of her sex while doing so.  At first these two ideas seem very condescending, but when analyzing them further I realized that Woolf’s ideas actually complement each other.  A woman cannot choose one or the other; in fact, she can do both at the same time while still keeping her identity.  I think that what Woolf is trying to say is that a woman should not write in a particular way that hinders her personal writing style.  Back in the time when women were just beginning to explore their writing talents, their writing was filled with anger and resentment; resentment toward the male population that kept them from fully living out their lives and exploring their true potentials.  Women thought that they had to write in an angry and frustrated fashion simply because they had been repressed for so long by the men in their society.  Forced to live a life filled with motherhood and domesticity, women were not given the option to have a career path of their own and earn their own means of living; they were to strictly rely on their husbands for financial dependency.  Woolf states that “…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.” (26)

When women finally began to break out of their shells and create careers of their own in writing, the built up and previously unspoken resentment toward the male population came pouring out throught their writing.

“But there was another element which was often present and could not immediately be identified.  Anger, I called it.  But it was anger that had gone underground and mixed itself with all kinds of other emotions.  To judge from its odd effects, it was anger disguised and complex, not anger simple and open.” (31)

The above quote sums up perfectly the type of anger that women during this time expressed through their writing.  Their anger was spontaneous and wild; impulsive and uncontrolled.  Women wrote as though they are finally able to truly express how they felt about being oppressed and restricted for basically their entire lives.  But it is this anger that hindered their ability to be taken seriously.  I feel as though all women writers during this time thought that their writing had to contain the angry and frustrated elements that were previously mentioned in this post in order to be taken seriously as an author; almost as though there was an expectation for them to write in such a manner.  The key is that there was no reason for them to feel the anger and pain in their writing, unless that was the angle that they wanted to go for.  To be taken seriously as a writer, their stories and other writings just simply had to be good and enjoyable to an audience.  Going back to Woolf’s point about writing like a woman but yet not thinking of sex at the same time, I think that it was important for women to write in a way that a reader would not be able to tell whether or not the story was written by a man or woman.  This goes with Woolf’s statement about be “woman-manly” or “man-womanly”.  Woolf expresses her opinions about being open to thinking outside of the typical gender expectations.  There is this sense that both sexes should identify with both genders in order to be successful.  There is a unity of mind, one that suggests that whether a person is male or female, they have the qualities that are suggested in both genders.  Woolf tries to explain in her final passages that women should step aside from the typical gender roles and write pieces about things that they are passionate about rather than what is expected of them.


“For now that Aphra Behn had done it, girls  could go to their parents and say, You need not give me an allowance; I can make money by my pen.  Of course the answer for many years to come was, Yes, by living the life of Aphra Behn! Death would be better! and the door slammed faster than ever.” (47)

Woolf links the oppression of women during this time period to the steady growth of insanity and thoughts of suicide within women.  Women had obvious feelings of neglect and oppression by the male population of this time, and it reflected in their works.  This passage was very interesting to me because I could not tell if Woolf is simply being sarcastic and over-exaggerating the situation in order to show the reader the struggle of women writers, or if these types of things were actually said during this time.  This article that is linked to the word “suicide” above is very interesting because it does link the suicide of three famous women writers, including Woolf, to their struggles of being writers.  Did mothers and fathers really believe that it was easier to be dead than to be a working women in society?  If things like this actually occured in the home during this time, I feel as though pressure from the parents to be domestic also fueled female’s anger and bitterness.  Aphra Behn was a very influential woman in the writing community, but yet parents would rather have their daughters dead than have them base their lives off of Behn’s accomplishments.  It makes me wonder how a woman like Behn was able to break the stereotypes and pain of the female community during this time when women like Judith Shakespear were so willing to take their own lives instead of trying to push forward.  I guess that is one point that Woolf is trying to make, that women were strong enough to stand up and take charge of their own power and destiny, rather than listening to the dismal thoughts of others.

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The Woman of Genius

“That, more or less, is how the story would run, I think, if a woman in Shakespeare’s day had had Shakespeare’s genius. But for my part, I agree with the deceased bishop, if such he was- 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 laboring, uneducated, servile people. It was not born in England among the Saxons and the Britons. It is not born today among the working classes.” (pg. 39)

It is among the middle class that we cannot find a genius, all the greatest geniuses have been the top of the world, it is about opportunity and privilege and those who have it can be wasted by the day to day work holding down. The thought of the privilege can have the luxury to be genius isn’t unique to times.

What is a genius?

The easiest answer, someone who has exceptional intellectual ability, creativity, or originality to a point that goes beyond anyone else’s perception of capabilities. It is a luxury and a curse. It serves as something that we aspire to be seen as, the people we look to better our society. It is a gift and a curse that people fight for, but what is a genius? What defines someone? Can you be defined by it? When Virginia Woolf wrote about Genius what did she mean by it?

How can you become a genius? Are you born with it? Theories by psychologist argue over nurture versus nature. This becomes the idea of can you learn to become many people including the experiment of chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov in an article published by Psychologytoday.com, Carlin Flora writes about the experiment Garry Kasparov turns his daughters Judith and Sophia into an experiment for study, he teaches them advance tactics and daily rotations of art, science and music from a young age, both daughters become grandmasters at prodigious ages.

A woman genius is rare to find, not because woman cannot be as smart as women suggest as Virginia Woolf suggests sarcastically. Socially, a woman is confined to a home life often suggested as putting their career aside for family life, it is a contradictory role that a woman has to play in society and when we look back in history, we find an impossibly high ratio that of recognized genius of men and the number of female geniuses.

“Choices made for family reasons are intensely personal and often admirable,” Sci Am writes, “but they are not conducive to genius-level accomplishment.” Female geniuses, like all women, can’t have it all.”

For women, they must deal with the social norm as they deal with their own gifts of genius, it becomes a denial of their own mind, and powerless in many ways by societies conformation.

Women who have had to deal with their genius, women like Virginia Woolf, Marie Curie and Franklin Rosalind that come from influential background. These are women who sought to defy normal social norms and work to the fullest extend of their genius.

What happens to the many who work within? Authors who come about and fight for their own battle? It becomes the greatest battle for many and at the same time it is a social
A Woman of Genius . . . says no to men and conventional marriage and yes to living and productive work. Far from simply promoting female self-determination, however, or celebrating the romantic right of genius to overrun all obstacles, including the human ones”
A quote from Nancy Porter a feminist writer and influential mind who realizes the qualms and suppression of many “women of genius”. It is for the woman who often must choose between their family life and career is where it becomes difficult for people to decide. We see great female “genius” who must choose from one or another and for them to decide is indistinguishable.

To be a woman genius is to decide your place in society.