"There is difference and there is power. And who holds the power decides the meaning of the difference." --June Jordan

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Revisiting Virginia Woolf

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"...who shall measure the heat and violence of the poet's heart when caught and tangled in a woman's body?"

When I read it in high school, I found Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway so tedious that I assumed I would never be a fan of her writing.* Sadly, the mere memory of the drudgery of wading through that stream of consciousness novel has all these years kept me from picking up her 1929 feminist masterpiece, A Room of One's Own. That is, until now. I really didn't know what I was missing. I was especially struck by this:
"Life for both sexes -- and I looked at them [through a restaurant window while waiting for my lunch to be served], shouldering their way along the pavement -- is arduous, difficult, a perpetual struggle. It calls for gigantic courage and strength. More than anything, perhaps, creatures of illusion as we are, it calls for confidence in oneself. Without self-confidence we are as babes in the cradle. And how can we generate this imponderable quality, which is yet so invaluable, most quickly? By thinking that other people are inferior to oneself. By feeling that one has some innate superiority -- it may be wealth, or rank, a straight nose, or the portrait of a grandfather by Romney -- for there is no end to the pathetic devices of the human imagination * over other people. Hence the enormous importance to a patriarch who has to conquer, who has to rule, of feeling that great numbers of people, half the human race indeed, are by nature inferior to himself. It must indeed be one of the chief sources of his power... Women have served all these centuries as looking glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size."

(*I realize I should give this book another chance now that I'm older and hopefully wiser. Considering that I was actually able to enjoy Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness the second time around, there's certainly hope for Mrs. Dalloway.)


Anonymous said...

Now that's a coincidence. I was skimming through A Room of One's Own -online - about 5 mins ago. I'd read it about 5 or 6 years ago, and for some reason remembered something today about it. "I'll look that up." I thought. Someone had recently told me they believed men were superior in terms of philosophical/literary talent (!) and I wanted to remind myself of Woolf's arguments against such chauvinism. Tired, I read briefly over her words but they were blurring (I find her prose difficult, demanding - not a bad thing in itself I reckon - but rather unsuited to the tinterweb) Then, some minutes later, via bloglines I came over here and read this post...! Well. If that isn't the spirit of VW telling me to go back and read again, concentrating properly this time, I'll eat my-

Anonymous said...

mmm. Sorry for being unclear. I meant that I came here to read your blog without knowing you'd posted on Woolf. I'm not a mad lady, honest.

Tracey said...

Wow, that is a coincidence! I hope Woolf's argument can help you respond to whoever it was who said that about men being superior writers. I think she lays it out pretty clearly.