Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own

In her highly influential critical A Room of Ones Own (1929), Virginial Woolf studied the cultural, economical and educational disabilities within the patriarchal system that prevent women from realising their creative potential. With her imaginary character Judith (Shakespeare’s fictional sister), she illustrated that a woman with Shakespeare’s faculties would have been denied the opportunities that Shakespeare enjoyed. Examining the careers and works of woman authors like Aphra Behn, Jane Austen, George Eliot and the Bronte sisters , Woolf argued that the patriarchal education system and reading practices condition (or “interpellate,” to use an Althusserian term) women to read from men’s point of view, and make them internalise the aesthetics and literary values created/ adopted by male authors and critics within the patriarchal system — wherein, these values, although male centered are assumed and promoted as universal.

It is in this polemical work, that Woolf suggested that language is gendered, thus inaugurating the language debate, and argued that the woman author, having no other language at her command, is forced to use the sexist/ masculine language. Dale Spender (in her Man Made Language) as well as the French Feminists primarily investigated the gendered nature of language- Helene Cixous (Ecriture Feminine), Julia Kristeva (chora, semiotic language) and Luce lrigaray (Écriture féminine).

Woolf also realized the need for a narrative form to capture the fluid, incoherent female experiences that defy order and rationality; and hence her employment of the stream-of-consciousness technique in her novels, capturing the lives of Mrs Dalloway, Mrs Ramsay and so on. Inspired by the psychological theories of Carl Jung, Woolf also proposed the concept of the androgynous creative mind, which she fictionalised through Orlando, in an attempt to go beyond the male/female binary. She believed that the best artists were always a combination of the man and the woman or “woman-manly” or “man-womanly”.

Categories: Feminism, Literary Criticism, Literary Theory

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