This blog is a combination of information compiled as an element of a seminar course revolving around Virginia Woolf.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Critical Article #5- A Room of One's Own

In her article, “ Sapphistry: Narration as Lesbian Seduction in A Room of One’s Own,” Jane Marcus discusses the rhetorical seduction of the woman reader. Using the term sapphistry to refer to the woman writer’s seduction of the women reader, Marcus introduces a variety of points of support this central claim. She begins her essay by introducing the trail of Radclyffe Hall’s novel, The Well of Loneliness and by making historical connections to figures such as Oscar Browning. She states that echoes of these historical and literary happenings are present within A Room of One’s Own (Marcus 164-165).

Next, Marcus discusses the idea of women as a “league together against authority” (Marcus 166). She talks of how readers of A Room of One’s Own are part of a conspiracy in which women align with one another to create a coalition. She believes that Woolf’s narration is a plot to help foster spirit for this conspiracy. Marcus continues with her narration by mentioning the ellipses as a central element of Woolf’s work. From the trial of Radclyffe Hall, Woolf learned that she could not outwardly mention the idea of lesbianism so Marcus proposes that the ellipsis is the ‘female code for lesbian love” (Marcus 169). She continues with her narration by condemning the patriarchal structure in highlighting that it does not condemn homosexual men, only women. Homosexual men only “reaffirm the power relations between the strong and the weak” (page 177).

Marcus also discusses Woolf’s family and how they fit into the unfair structure.Other points Marcus chooses to discuss concern the ambiguity of Mary’s name and the use of initials to reduce a person to an unimportant status. By incorporating all of these elements and bringing forth their meanings in A Room of One’s Own, Marcus is able to condemn the patriarchal structure and give women a place within society. She uses sapphistry and the idea of lesbian seduction to show that women can have a voice if they ban together and have the desire to do so. Marcus seems to say that lesbianism is the outlet for power.

Marcus’s article was very in-depth. She used supporting evidence and 100% backed her arguments so I would consider this credible and enlightening source pertaining to the main ideals in A Room of One’s Own.

Marcus, Jane. "Sapphistry: Narration as Lesbian Seduction in A Room of One’s Own. Virginia Woolf and the Language of Patriarchy. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1987. 163-87.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Middle Essays: Professions for Women and The Cinema

Of all the middle essays, Professions for Women was by far the most entertaining from my perspective. Because the essay dealt with the idea of the woman as an author, I believe Woolf’s true personality was revealed through the course of the text for this is a subject she feels strongly about. From her descriptive sentences and sarcastic undertones, Woolf definitely keeps the reader entertained through the course of the text. Now, after reading the first portion of A Room’s of One’s Own, I can see how this essay is a precursor to a fuller and more elaborate text.

One portion of Professions for Women I found most interesting was when Woolf quoted what she envisioned The Angel of the House to say. The Angel of the House urges the author, “never let anyone know you have a mind of your own” (2). This idea struck me as very degrading towards women, but it also reminded me of one portion of Orlando. In the chapter concerning the 19th century, Orlando talks of an outside force controlling her pen and states, “Nothing more repulsive could be imaged than to feel the ink flowing thus in cascades of involuntary inspiration” (175). With these statements, one can see how Woolf envisions outside forces in a negative light. Because The Angel of the House comes between Woolf and her writing, and the strict constraints of the Victorian Era limited women’s writings, one can see the similarities between Professions for Women and Orlando. The Angel of the House and the Victorian Era are forces of society that degrade women to the point in which they have no creative outlet, which is a central focus in both works.

Another portion of the text I found entertaining was the concluding paragraph where Woolf discusses the decorating of the room of one’s own. In a way, I think she is marking the path to justice for women. Although she states that women have won a small freedom in having a room of their own, she also states that it is only the beginning. Women must still decorate and furnish the room; therefore, I believe she is commenting on the idea that women will always have obstacles to overcome. Even if the road eventually becomes smooth for women, they will always have a more difficult journey than men.

Additionally, I was struck by how Woolf incorporates a small dose of Freudian psychology into the work. She states, “the novelist’s chief desire is to be as unconscious as possible” (3). Although in Freudian psychology, the author may not know he is tapping into his own unconsciousness, it is still the source of creative energies. For Freud, art serves as an outlet for suppressed feelings and this essay shows that Woolf may share similar thoughts.

Aside from Professions for Women, I also thought The Cinema was an interesting essay. Since Woolf deals with visual imagery a great extent in her novels, I found her somewhat negative view of the cinema interesting. But as we discussed in class, Woolf may have had different views if presented with the more modern form of the cinemas that we now have, but I still will never be able to watch a movie without thinking of what the text version would be like.

Chapters 1 and 2 of A Room of One's Own

The Interruptions:

Since we were asked to read and reflect on a critical article concerning Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, I decided I should post on this essay for my blog of the week. Although I have only read the first two chapters, this essay seems to be in touch with Virginia Woolf’s thoughts as an actual writer (although she avidly claims that she is not the narrator within the text). In many Woolf novels, one can see feminist ideals and thoughts emerging but this essay lays them out in a unified order for the reader and to be honest, I am not sure if I enjoy that or not. I enjoy the excitement of deciphering the symbols and imagery Woolf incorporates into her fictional novels; therefore, this was a little straightforward for my taste; however, I feel as if there were moments in the text that I found particularly entertaining.

The first element that stood out to me was the repeated occurrence of interruption especially within the first chapter. It seemed as if every time the narrator was on the verge of a insightful thought a man or obstacle were there to hinder that thought from developing. The first instance occurred while she was walking on the grass along the river at Oxbridge and the second occurred when the narrator was trying to enter the library to find the works of Charles Lamb. In both instances the narrator’s sentences are cut short by the intrusion of someone condemning her status as a woman. After the first incident, the narrator states, “ What idea it had been that had sent me so audaciously trespassing I could not now remember” (6). In the second instance, the narrator is pondering the definition of meaning and style when she is interrupted by a gentleman who resembles “a guardian angel barring the way with a flutter of black gown”(7). Both of these quotes show the extent to which her female gender is a hindrance to her creative process. The creative process is halted because men are continually scolding her invading their personal space. Thus, the idea that women need a room of their own is developed very early within the essay.

Similarly, in the second chapter, the narrator’s creative process is interrupted by the need to pay the bills, which caught my attention. For me personally (and I believe traditionally) paying the bills is a man’s role. Although I do not want to buy into traditional gender roles, I believe there is an important distinction with this specific interruption. With this interruption, Woolf incorporates her idea that a woman must be financially stable to complete the creative process. Because the narrator has inherited five hundred pounds a year, she has no real concern over the bills but they are still a demanding obligation. If looking at paying the bills as a masculine duty then one can see that all three interruptions are caused as a result of the male gender. Yet, the narrator chooses not to blame the male gender, but rather blame the system as a whole. She seems to think that males have patriarchal ideals instilled in them at an early age and therefore cannot be credited for purposely harming the female gender. In this sense then, the narrator raises the female to an even higher pedestal by giving them the compassion of understanding.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Critical Article #4- Orlando

“ Giving Up the Ghost: National and Literary Haunting in Orlando” by Erica Johnson discusses both the unconscious and conscious forces functioning in Woolf’s Orlando. The article discusses the relationship between national and literary identity through the two contrasting gender identities that Orlando embodies. Using psychoanalytic ideals and merging them with a somewhat new critical approach, Johnson successfully identifies the ‘ghosts’ in Woolf’s work and uses these ‘ghosts’ to highlight her main points of focus.

Johnson begins her argument by slowly introducing her reader to the idea of ghosts and haunting. She does not automatically assume the reader to be familiar with these terms in regards to a literary context. She uses Avery Gordon’s definition of ‘ ghost stories’ to state, “ Orlando can be read as a ghost story according to Gordon’s definition: to write stories concerning exclusions and invisibilities is to write ghost stories” (Johnson 113). Additionally, she explains how national identity and its relation to Orlando as a person emerges thru the half-hidden characters of different social backgrounds lurking in the shadows of the novel. By establishing these building blocks in the introductory portions of the text, Johnson establishes her claim with supporting evidence from many other authors, giving the reader very little room for rebuttal.

Diving into the body of her argument, Johnson argues that the terrain of England is a symbol of national identity. She uses examples of the terrain to show, “Woolf’s underlying critique of national identity as an ideological means of including subjects according specified categories such as class, gender, and sexuality” (Woolf 117). According to Johnson, Woolf sees national identity as suppressive, but as a society in which Orlando can easily function as a male.

Johnson continues with her narration in describing the invisible nature of the Turkish landscape and how it relates to Orlando’s transformation into a woman and thus a ‘nonentity’ (121). As a nonentity, Johnson seems to recognize that Woolf believes women are suppressed by a national identity, but at the same time must learn to function within that same national identity. Essentially, whether as a man and a center subject or as a women and haunting subject, Orlando has to struggle with the idea of Englishness, which is where literary haunting takes place. Through Orlando and Johnson’s interpretation, one can see that literary haunting is important because it gives the absent a literary voice. Johnson states, “Orlando enables Woolf to accomplish the contradictory task of showing literary production to be a national project and inserting an absent voice into this otherwise exclusive model of English literature” (123).

For me, I think this statement summarizes most of the article. I interpreted the article as saying that Woolf includes haunting within Orlando to highlight the ‘absent’ figure and show that the ‘absent’ figure can have a voice through literature, but through that literature, one must include all races, classes, and social statuses functioning within the national identity. Overall, Johnson’s argument was articulately refined and laid out in a systematic way and I am convinced of her broader ideals.

MFS Modern Fiction Studies. Volume 50, number 1, Spring 2004.

Monday, October 11, 2010


For this blog, I wanted to concentrate on the submissive nature of Orlando’s character, especially in Chapter 5. At the beginning of the novel, we see a young boy who serves the Queen at court, but by the end we see a women filling her own internal desires, which are two very different ideas. Therefore, my question regarding this novel concerns how and why this shift occurs. We literally are taken to two polar ends of a spectrum and there must be a reason for this. While many people would argue that Woolf’s main inspiration for creating many diverse characters would be to highlight the differences in gender roles, I would argue differently. I think Woolf wanted the reader to look past Orlando’s specific personality at the moment and focus on society’s impact upon the his/her character and judge his/her response. In my eyes, Orlando’s different personalities are literary puppets used to show repressive qualities of society. I also believe the existence of ‘The Oak Tree” throughout the entire novel is one of the only non-conforming elements within the work as it helps Orlando find her true identity.

In Chapter 5 the reader sees the emergence of the 19th century. When thinking of the 19th century, I automatically think of the Victorian Era and a plethora of snobby people with their noses stuck a little to high in the air. With Orlando, we see that Virginia Woolf seems to share my assumption. The 19th century is introduced to the reader as a cloud hanging over London. The cloud seems to add a sense of doom and desperation to the remainder of the novel. It seems to suffocate Orlando and we see this suffocation through the constant annoyance of her outfit and the demand to be married. Nature is even in accord with the change of pace as the gardens become overgrown and out of control in this chapter.

And maybe this is reading a little too much into Virginia Woolf novels as a whole, but I think Woolf may have included this despair to show that women had no outlet and nowhere to turn in the 19th century. It reminded me of To The Lighthouse when Lilly finally finds satisfaction from a finished painting. The only source of satisfaction and steadiness in this novel is the poem, ‘The Oak Tree” which Orlando carries around all the time. It is the only element that is a constant presence whether Orlando is functioning in her/his male or female persona; therefore, I think it is symbolic of the function of art as an outlet of emotion. In the Victorian Era, creativity seemed to be suppressed as strict morality standards made creativity hard to come by and Woolf juxtaposes this idea by constantly incorporating the influence of poetry. In the middle of the chapter, Orlando reflects on the influence her poetry has had. She talks of how it has remained ’fundamentally the same’ even through all of her changes (173). It has been the constant presence that she refers to when times are hard. It is her rock and no other changes make a difference.

Through this scene, the reader sees the positive influence that art can have on a person. Woolf quickly reiterates the idea by having an outside force take hold of Orlando’s pen. She states, “Nothing more repulsive could be imagined than to feel the ink flowing thus in cascades of involuntary inspiration” (175). Clearly, Orlando does not being in control of her art, just like Lily did not enjoy not being able to create art. For both, art is the center of the universe and the stable ground that keeps them functioning. For Orlando, the influence of an outside force controlling the pen may have been Woolf’s commentary of the strict codes of the Victorian Era. Orlando was not free to write as she wanted and do as she pleased; therefore, she felt trapped in a despair of human emotion. By showing this in Chapter Five of Orlando, Woolf reaffirms this idea of art as a needed source of society within the reader.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Power of Art in The Lighthouse

The third chapter of The Lighthouse really caught my attention. While reading thru the first portion of the entire last section, I began to mark examples of where characters felt alone or portrayed a sense of emptiness. This ideal was most commonly displayed thru Lily Briscoe’s character. In the beginning of the second portion, Woolf states,” It seemed to rebuke her…he had gone and she had been so sorry for him and she had said nothing) trooped off the field; and then emptiness. (160). However, soon after the statement of these lines, the reader sees a change in Lilly’s attitude. She returns to painting and a ‘curious physical sensation’ begins to emerge as displayed by the language in the text (161).

Surprisingly, it seems as if Lily’s painting and its implications are physically abusing or raping her. Language and phrases such as ‘laid hands on her,’ ‘banged,’ ‘intercourse,’ ‘protruded,’ and ‘lubrication’ give the text a very sexual connotation. When used within a sentence, most of these words are incorporated in a violent way, which gives the reader (or me anyway) the sense that Lily is being physically raped by the art. Since this situation is not actually possible, one must deduce what Virginia Woolf is actually trying to say. Personally, I believe she is commenting on the power of art as an expression of emotion. In this scenario, art is belittling Lilly and her capabilities as an artist. This section shows the power a blank canvas can have over a person and in this case in particular, a woman.

In later paragraphs, Woolf reiterates Charles Tansley and his comment concerning woman and art. He states, “ Women can’t paint, can’t write.” (165). Lily reminisces of Mrs. Ramsey writings letters on the beach and seems to have much admiration for Mrs. Ramsey because she breaks the code established by Tansley’s claim. In the same way, Lily breaks the code established by Tansley. Slowly, she begins to lose consciousness of outer things and becomes completely immersed within the work. The text states, “Her mind kept throwing up from its depths, scenes, and names, and sayings, and memories and ideas, like a fountain spurting over the glaring, hideously difficult white space, while she modeled it with greens and blues.” It is only when Lily lets go of her insecurities of being a woman and subordinate to the male that her creativity flows. The violent and forceful language ceases and the reader sees a canvas full of vibrant colors rather than plain white. Similarly, the repetitive mentions of emptiness cease and move from Lily to the Ramsey’s daughter, Cam.

Through this scene, one can finally deduce that the colors of blue and green seem to be the colors of ecstasy. Lily is finally able to paint when she triumphs over Mr. Tansley’s idea that a woman can’t paint or write and she does so by using these two colors. Having power to create art rather than let art control her gives Lily satisfaction. If Lily is able to create art then she also triumphs over the male gender’s perception than women cannot be involved in the artistic process. Overall, I think this entire third section of The Lighthouse is important in discussing male/female relations, the power of art, and the violent nature of humanity in one intertwined context.