In the fifth chapter of A Room of One’s Own Virginia Woolf imagines a story written by Mary Carmichael in which the main character Chloe is in love with another women, Olivia. As she is reading the passage, she abruptly stops because she realizes that no men are in fact a part of this story. She states “We are all women. you assure me? Then I may tell you that the very next words I read were these — “Chloe like 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.” (56) This very passage eludes to a change that could be happening within society and the very topics written within books. Woolf says that in “the privacy of our own society” women like women. She means that, in society that is hidden from everyone else, women in fact may have feelings for other women…but we may not be aware of it because it has been kept in their private thoughts or conversations. “And then it struck me how immense a change was there. Chloe like Olivia perhaps for the first time in literature.” (56) This was something that had never happened before and was shocking to read because in the 1920s the topic of gay & lesbian was viewed as obscene. This strikes her odd because in the past women have only been seen and represented as friends. She compares Cleopatra to Octavia and how their feelings toward another was pure jealousy. She states that it would have been interesting if the relationship between women were complicated instead of simple as it had been in the past.
If Woolf was alive today would she believe the sheer amount of novels that feature gay and lesbian couples? Would she believe that college campuses even offer courses on such a topic? Below are three books that have been written on Gay & Lesbian studies and also the contemporary issue as a whole.
In contemporary times many authors have written about such topics in their books. One author that is remembered for her controversial novel is Nancy Garden. The story behind the novel Annie on My Mind follows Liza, a high school student who falls in love with Annie, another classmate of hers. The entire novel details their ordeals as a lesbian couple and what they endured from the reactions of their parents and classmates. As stated above, the relationship between women was portrayed as one that was quite simple and wasn’t at all complicated. Novels like this one broke through the mold of opposite sex couples and truly touched ground on a controversial issue that many people kept private. This was something that in Virginia Woolf’s time, and even years before this book came out, was not highly regarded and didn’t have a place in regular conversation.
Below is the cover of Nancy Garden’s book “Annie On My Mind”
While searching for similar books like these, I came across a website that features many others books with the same premise. While on that website, the author included 17 of the thousands of possible book options an individual could read.
Such a small amount of books were available on the topic of woman in Woolf’s time, so why would there be even one on the topic of a lesbian couple? This shows in the times since Woolf wrote her novels, many things have changed. She writes “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.”(57) Today, in 2012, many authors have been in “that vast chamber” and have lit the way for many other authors to follow in their footsteps, writing about many issues that those who have come before them never dare to write about.