Kirsten's Reviews > Women and Writing

Women and Writing by Virginia Woolf
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Aug 29, 2007

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bookshelves: non-fiction-drama-poetry, possibles-mfa-essay, read-in-2007, brit-lit, xx-chromosome
Recommended for: those interested in fiction by and about women
Read in August, 2007

One doesn't usually associate the venerable Woolf with light reading, but I found this collection of essays, reviews, and critical analyses to be just that: a pleasant primer to Woolf's theories on the history of women's fiction and her famous arguments regarding 500 pounds a year and a room of one's own.

The first half of the book collects a series of articles and responses to male critics regarding the past, future, and present of the female literary dilemma, as Woolf saw it. Even more illuminating, however, is the second half, in which we are privy to Woolf's thoughts regarding such literary heavyweights as the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, and George Eliot, as well as the flawed, if vital literary output of authoresses such as the Duchess of Newcastle, Aphra Behn, and Eliza Haywood. These treatments are short, breezy, punchy, and often humorous.

Here are her thoughts on Jane Eyre: "The drawbacks of being Jane Eyre are not far to seek. Always to be a governess and always to be in love is a serious limitation in a world wich is full, after all, of people who are neither one nor the other." (that one's for you, Elizabeth ;-)

Surprisingly, Woolf criticizes Charlotte Bronte and Eliot for allowing their own feminist outrage to stamp their works with a "personality" of pleading and remonstrance; she felt this distracted from the purity of their art. I disagree with her on this point, but loved these brief snapshots into the mind of a great author in critical contention and engagement with her forebears. Her brief portraits reveal just how much the life shaped the art for these extraordinary authors and speculates, almost mournfully, what more they might have achieved as artists under a better star.

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