Virginia Woolf's View on Women Research Paper

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Virginia Woolf's View of Women in a Room of One's Own and its relevance today"

The issue of women in literature dates back to the earliest written word. Perspectives change over time and across cultures. Literature and the roles of women are no different. There are many challenges that have faced women throughout our existence, but perhaps more so in the last couple centuries. Virginia Woolf, the author of a Room of One's Own, felt that literature was "impoverished beyond our counting by the doors that have been shut upon women" (Woolf 59)*

That was the sentiment of many women just a century ago, but as the roles of women within societies have evolved so have the societies themselves -- perhaps in part to accommodate these changes and make way for a rejuvenated view of women. A key change that can be noted is that of literature. Literature is our window into society and times past. it's an art form that allows us to view the world as it was viewed by the author and gives us insight into the issues, debates and struggles of the time. This teaches us, not only where we have come from, but in many ways it gives us a glimpse into the future and allows us to see where we are going. In a Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf presents a multi-faceted look at the presence -- and, more importantly, the absence -- of women in this art form, focusing on women as the subject of the art as well as the creator through historical, sociological, and economic lenses. It is important to look at these topics from Woolf's perspective and analyze their relevance then and now. Just as Woolf explained that even she could not come to a conclusion concerning women in literature (Woolf 4) *

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-- My hope is not to come to a definite conclusion, but to simply express a series of ideas, the opinions I associate with them, and explain how I arrived there.

Woman as the Subject of Literature:

Research Paper on Virginia Woolf's View on Women Assignment

Women have been, at least in part, the subject of literature since its creation. The role of the woman in literature, however, has changed a great deal. In early literature it is fair to think of the woman as a subject rather than star of the story. In early literature, whether it is fairy tales, epic poems or even religious text, the woman always seems to play a subservient role. Women are often the subject of literature in the sense that they are either weak and in need of rescuing -- the classic idea of the damsel in distress, or they are the evil temptress trying to thwart man's progress - as with Circes and the Sirens in the Odyssey. This is simply a sign of the times. Women have always been thought of as the weaker sex, both physically and morally. Ever since the temptation of Eve in the Garden of Eden women have been thought of as the thorn in Man's side -- a necessary evil- and even described with imagery matching that of the serpent. This idea of women as the weaker and less noble sex has lead to a patriarchal dominance in the majority of cultures worldwide. Women are, to various degrees among cultures, told that they are inferior and that their purpose is subservience and child rearing. Teresa Brennan, hit the nail on the head with the idea that "Always and everywhere the rational, active, masculine intellect operates on the passive, objectified, feminized body" (Brennan

. Literature has proven to be no different as it's stories are simply an extension of the people and cultures that produce them. Over time, however, we have seen a shift in the concept of women and their role not only in our stories, but in our lives.

Historical Perspectives Then and Now

The Literary Woman vs. The Real Woman:

In looking at literature, one can't help but notice how much it has changed over time. We've come a long way from Beowulf to Harry Potter and while many things in literature have remained the same, there is much to be said for the changes that have taken place. One of those changes is the role that women play as the subjects and participants of our stories. Virginia Woolf took a stand for this idea in her book, to the Lighthouse. The idea of the struggling female artist who had given up the ideals of motherhood and in many ways womanhood to pursue art might have seemed absurd at the time, but Woolf was a pioneer for women. She championed feminist ideals before they were popular and worked, through her writing, to offer society a different view of Woman. In to the Lighthouse "Woolf captures a woman painter at moments of breakthrough, not only into professionalism, but also into serious exploration of the emotional and intellectual possibilities of her art" (Munca 281) *

. This coincides with the concepts in a Room of One's Own where Woolf explains what a woman must have in order to obtain these things. Historically however, it has often been a fantasy for a woman to possess anything of her own, let alone a room or money with which to fund whatever artistic endeavors she found herself interested in. For many years women's role in litereature was simply that of the subject, and a poor subject at that, but thanks to feminist efforts such as those championed by Virgina Woolf time has slowly but surely seen a change in the world's view of women as the subject of literature and the subject of life itself.

Women had been the subject of literature long before Woolf and though she certainly was not the only feminist of her time, she is still known today because of stories like these. She did what she did well, and that was tell the story of Woman. However, it wasn't one of subservience and reliance; it was one of breakthrough and independence. Throughout history we have seen women's role as the subject of literature evolve. Credit must be given, at least in part, to the gift of communication possesed by women like Virgina Woolf. As Sara Mills states in her book Feminist Sylistics, an "analysis of language can help the reader be aware of ideologies of gender difference which are oppressive" (11) *

. Woolf took this concept and made it reality in a Room of One's Own, and thanks to the efforts of women like her, the concept of Woman can now be considered its own entity among literary characters and holds just as much weight as their masculine counterparts. This is in part because of a social shift that has taken place concerning women and the idea of what a woman is. A shift that is in no small part a result of feminist writing.

Sociological Perspectives Then and Now

Society's Perspective of the Woman:

Society's perspective of women has changed a great deal over time. In recent centuries a shift has taken place leading us away from the idea of men as the dominant sex. Though we haven't escaped from that concept completely, we have left many chauvanistic ideas behind in the pursuit of progress and social equality. If we go back in time, we remember that there have been many periods in which women didn't have any choice but to marry and have a family. Society made it pretty much impossible for a woman to function independantly and any woman who tried was viewed, at the very least, as a social deviant. Women were to marry and whatever they owned or brought with them as a dowry then became the property of their husband (Gamble 4) *

. This created for women a huge barrier to progress, independence, education, or equality of any kind. Even in Woolf's story a Room of One's Own, her character is shooed away from a campus library and told that she could only enter if "accompanied by a Fellow of the College or furnished with a letter of introduction" (Woolf 6) *

. This concept seems absurd today, but for a long time women were not even allowed to be educated. If they were it was done in private, and often in secret for fear of reprisal from a male authority figure. Society's view of women was one of inferiority. Over time, with the advent of modern culture and in many ways as a result of necessity, women have managed to carve out a niche for themselves within society.

Today, women are in great part, viewed as equals when compared to their male associates. Sociological perspectives have changed a great deal and opened many doors for women. As the subject of literature, the change has been no less apparent. The result is simply a reflection of society. The women of our stories today encompass every role and venture that we see women involved in everyday. Women serve in just about every… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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Virginia Woolf's View on Women.  (2012, May 17).  Retrieved April 12, 2021, from

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"Virginia Woolf's View on Women."  May 17, 2012.  Accessed April 12, 2021.