This has been on my list of books to read for a while. This book has been noted as one the initial iconic books of the women’s movement and I looked forward to finding out why. In it, Woolf is contemplating women and fiction for a talk she is asked to give. She discusses what is necessary for a woman to write good fiction or poetry. She hypothesizes and gives examples that make it clear that there is one vital thing women needed to write which required two things. One needs intellectual freedom which is gained by a comfortable living and a solitary space. She makes the case that this is all we need to provide women in order to have a better volume of women writing. Her sentiment probably holds true for all groups who don’t have much in the way of their own literature.
She spends some time speculating on a sister for Shakespeare with matching genius, but the wrong sex, though we would say the wrong gender these days. She outlined the pitfalls of having both the wrong gender and the genius. They are a toxic combination, which is actually substantiated by Betty Friedman, if you recall The Feminine Mystique. She speculates that in a hundred years, Shakespeare’s hypothetical sister may become real and write beautiful poetry and fiction.
Do you think she will rise soon? Do you think she has come already?
I think she has. As far as poetry, we have had Emily Dickinson, who even predates Woolf’s writing, but I doubt her poetry would have reached London by then. Though she wrote in the nineteenth century, she did have her own room, which she rarely left. A few short years later, we had Margaret Mitchell, whose book has been recognized by some groups as the best of American literature.
While it’s hard to say exactly how much influence Woolf’s work had, she certainly had a point. I’ve tried to write around my family and it’s significantly harder than when I get some solitude. The points made here are hard to ignore and “women” can be substituted for any group that doesn’t have much of it’s own literature and remain true. Any group held down by discrimination, bias, or poverty can’t hope to produce a volume of books that could rival the literature we have in our past that has been made by men.
I enjoyed the way this was written as if she were talking directly to the reader. I enjoyed the way she helped us to each mental leap from “women and fiction” until she settled on talking about how women create fiction and how we can be more capable of doing so given the life of a man in that time. I enjoyed reading this short book and I certainly hope that you will too.
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