Virginia Woolf

Who is afraid of Virginia Woolf? I wrote a paper in the Fall 2014 semester on the play by Albee, which was more haunted by than occupied with Virginia Woolf. Although I approached the text from a feminist critical direction, many of the issues that were raised in the reading of the selection included in Available Means were not visible through the lens of Albee's text.

The editors of Available Means explicitly chose not to include the more common texts by feminist rhetors. Woolf is one of the few authors included whose works are more widely read, and even included in canons of western literature. In essay collections, "A Room of One's Own" is a typical inclusion. Therefore, the selection included from Virginia Woolf was "Professions for Women."

In this essay, Woolf touches on some themes that are similar to "A Room of One's Own." She mentions the ideas of writing for your own good and for the good of the world. There is some awareness in this essay of her class, in that she specifies that she does not have to be practical with the money she earns from writing. "But to show you how little I deserve to be called a professional woman, how little I know of the struggles and difficulties of such lives, I have to admit that instead of spending that sum upon bread and butter, rent, shoes and stockings, or butcher's bills, I went out and bought a cat" (243). Woolf distances herself from the women she is addressing with that awareness of her own comfortable, monied, existence. And yet, she still does advise them.

Woolf's presents one piece of advice with an image that she calls the Angel in the House. The Angel in the House haunts women writers, whispering over their shoulders not to write things that might make men not like them. When writing about a man's book, the Angel would tell her, "Be sympathetic; be tender; flatter; deceive; use all the arts and wiles of our sex. Never let anybody guess that you have a mind of your own" (243). It is that Angel, that anti-muse, that constrains women's writing into the boxes that we have been told are appropriate containers for our thoughts. The solution is to kill the Angel, but, being insubstantial, the Angel is not easily killed for good.

Another piece of advice in the essay, originally a speech given to an audience of professional women, concerns the body. The conventionality of the male automatically assigns the role of other to women. As other, their experiences are denied the concreteness and authority of the male's experiences of body. Woolf challenges women to write their bodies, the things that cannot be written by men, or by any other woman either.

In class, we discussed how traditional academic writing is held the a dispassionate, typically male, standard. Where passion is found, where emotion is found, the adviser's red pen will come out to strike those pesky, womanly feelings from the page. Another thing that the editors of Available Means try to do is to include some of those more passionate pieces of rhetoric, not to adhere to that traditional standard of what constitutes "real" academic writing. Writing the body must be free from those external strictures to be true.

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