Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Virginia Woolf and her Search for Feminism

In her essay, A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf weaves her own life experiences with a little bit of fiction to create a work that explores women as authors and the role of female characters in fiction.  The setting begins with Woolf presenting a lecture to a group of women in college.  She explains how the original intent of her lecture was to discuss the role of women in fiction, but while researching this topic, however, Woolf formed “an opinion upon one minor point” stating “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”  Wolf suggests this is the “greatest problem” of women authors, thus leaving the “true nature of fiction unsolved.” Next, the scene moves to Oxbridge College where Woolf contemplates the differences between the opportunities provided to men and women in society.  She expresses frustration at how she is unable to enter the library because she is a woman.  She suggests that a woman’s educational opportunities have always been less than men, and this makes her angry.  At a luncheon and dinner later that day she also suggests that men have had more opportunities to be materially satisfied and taken care of.  Woolf suggests that in order to have a mind that can think critically and intelligently, a person must be well fed and taken care of.  She begins to see how many women do not have their own money and are unable to live comfortably due to inheritance laws or from a lack of independence from their family.  Woolf researches the literary history to see what has been written about women and finds that most of it has been written by men and very little of it has been complimentary.   Woolf then examines the nineteenth century authors to determine the context women were writing in and how they used their circumstances to become authors.  It is here that she argues that in order for women to be authors and to write good literature, they must “have money and a room of her own.” They must be cared for materially so they do not have to worry about survival, and they must have peace and quiet to write. To end her book, Woolf examines the literature of the 1920s—the time period in which she was writing—to determine how women were dealing with the problems of women writing fiction. She challenges women to take up the literary quest, regardless of the challenges they find in their lives.

The major theme that Woolf is writing about is feminism.  Her definition of feminism, however, is what Karen Offen refers to as “individualist” feminism, or that individuals have equal rights to eliminate class privileges or gender privileges.  Woolf argues that women should seek basic human rights and to celebrate the “quest for personal independence (or autonomy) in all aspects of life.” Even to the point of “downplaying…all socially defined roles.”  Woolf accomplishes this theme through her quest to identify the challenges associated with women writing fiction and the role women play in fiction. She articulates that because many women have not been able to attain the same status as men in our society, whether educationally or materially, women may be hampered in their literary journey. For instance, she creates Judith Shakespeare, William Shakespeare’s fictional sister, to illustrate how due to her position as a woman in the household, she would never have been able to become the same literary giant as her brother, even though she had the same parents and the same gifts and talent as her brother.  Woolf explains that this literary genius would never have been recognized for her literary pursuits simply because of her gender.  Woolf argues that these women were unable to be independent and to have the much needed resources and support due to societal structures.  Within this context of women struggling to enter the literary world, Woolf makes her own discovery of how women need independence in society if they are ever to be successful in their literary pursuits. They need their own money, resources, and their own space or room to concentrate on writing.  However, much of this was unavailable to women at the time. Thus, Woolf begins her search for independent female writers to make her case for individualist feminism.  

In her search for these successful female authors, Woolf focuses on the nineteenth century. In particular, she focuses on Jane Austen and her contribution to the literary world.  As she studies Jane Austen, Woolf realizes that Austen overcame the inherent problems within society to become an incredible writer.  It is through this examination that Woolf realizes how important it is for women to find their own way and not to rely on society for what they deserve.   For instance, Austen did not have a room of her own.  In fact, Austen wrote in her sitting room “subject to all kinds of casual interruptions.” Austen also had very little “literary training” but used the training that she had been provided to write. In addition, she had very little material positions for “it was impossible for a woman to go about alone” and make something of themselves.  And through this all, Woolf points out that she “could not find any signs that her circumstances had harmed her work in the slightest.”  Even without room, support, and education, female authors can still persevere.  Woolf finds a woman who overcame the limitations projected on her and instead used her individualist feminist mindset to become a prolific writer anyway, regardless of the fact that she had so much going against her.  Austen had, as Offen explained, “downplayed” all social roles to find her own journey and experience. At the end of the book, Woolf challenges other women to do the same. She challenges women to “have the habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think.” Despite the “poverty and obscurity” that society might give to the woman, it is still “worth while” to find the feminism within to be a good writer.

Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One's Own. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Jovanovich, 1957.

Offen, Karen. "Defining Feminism: A Comparative Historical Approach." Signs 14, no. 1 (Autumn 1988): 136.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Jane Austen Game Theory

Dr. Chwe is a professor at UCLA who has taken an interesting perspective of Jane Austen's writings. http://mobile.nytimes.com/2013/04/23/books/michael-chwe-author-sees-jane-austen-as-game-theorist.html?_r=0

"The Angel in the House" Optional Reading Blog Post (Arica Roberts)

The poem “The Angel in the House” was written in the mid-nineteenth century and was popularized throughout the end of the nineteenth and into the twentieth century, especially for the middle class. Written by Coventry Patmore, it was an account in which he idealized his courtship with his idea of the perfect woman, his first wife, Emily.

The first part of the poem is written in which a husband tells his wife he is writing a long poem about her. He tells of when he met a woman, Honoria Churchill who became his wife. He declares her ideal of femininity. The lyrics from Honoria’s point of view talk about when her cousin becomes the favorable suitor over Frederick, the husband-poet.

The next part, is written from the perspective of the husband-poet, Frederick, who marries Jane after Honoria’s marriage to her cousin. Each poem is written like a letter, between Frederick and his mother in which he tells her his dissatisfactions with his wife Jane, especially after seeing his first love, Honoria, with her husband. He struggles to have complete devotion to his wife and expresses doubt. Other characters in the letters also express their doubts, but Honoria helps Jane find the way to act with ideal femininity to help Frederick overcome his struggle of doubt.

In Patmore’s poem it is found that the ideal wife should show complete devotion and submission to her husband and that this should bring her pleasure found in the lines,

“Man must be pleased; but him to please, Is woman's pleasure; down the gulf, Of his condoled necessities, She casts her best, she flings herself.”

She must also be graceful, self-sacrificing, pious, and pure. This idea is exemplified in the following lines,

“While she, too gentle even to force His penitence by kind replies, Waits by, expecting his remorse, With pardon in her pitying eyes;

And if he once, by shame oppress'd, A comfortable word confers, She leans and weeps against his breast, And seems to think the sin was hers;

Or any eye to see her charms, At any time, she's still his wife, Dearly devoted to his arms; She loves with love that cannot tire;

And when, ah woe, she loves alone, Through passionate duty love springs higher, As grass grows taller round a stone.”

Patmore holds his diseased and beloved angel-wife, Emily, as a model for all women.

Feminist scholars have written much about “The Angel in the House” being used as a tool to show the ideal Victorian female expectation of domesticity and sexual purity. They criticize Queen Victoria for conforming and promoting these ideas, which is why it has been heavily associated with her name. They also bring up how other writers have shown the problems with this ideal and how it ultimately leads not only to chaos and destruction, such as Kate Chopin who wrote “The Awakening”, used the character, Adèle Ratignolle, as an angel in the house who boisterously reminds Edna, the main character, of her duties as a wife and mother. Edna, in the end, drowns herself in the ocean out of realizing her misery and inability to meet up the expectations of these ideals of femininity. ("An Extinct Angel." Kate Field's Washington 23 September 1891:199-200. "The Yellow Wall-Paper" and Other Stories. Ed. Robert Shulman. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1995. 48-50.)

Other female writers, such as Virginia Wolf, wrote in 1931, “Killing the Angel in the House was part of the occupation of a woman writer.” (“Professions for Women” is an abbreviated version of the speech Virginia Woolf delivered before a branch of the National Society for Women’s Service on January 21, 1931.) These writers who commentated and rejected the notion that the selfless, sacrificial woman of the nineteenth century had the idea taught to them that their sole purpose in life was to flatter and comfort males created the change in dialogue about the Victorian ideals of femininity.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

I attended the lecture given by Nicholas Mason entitled “Can Women be as Funny as Men? Caroline Bowles & Women’s Satire in the Age of Austen. It was an excellent lecture. Mason talked about what women had to do when they expressed satire and humor in society.
He began with an explanation of early modern England definition of humor. Humor showed advanced intelligence and creativity, and was highly valued in men, even essential for men during courtship to impress women. Mason explained that when women said a man was funny was the same as when a man said a women was pretty. Men valued women’s receptivity to their humor. If humor was a high sign of intelligence, then women displaying humor were a threat to men when they displayed humor, if it was to clever or satirical.

For women to express humor, and thus their intelligence, they had to do it within the bounds of what was considered proper for a women. They had to “tone it down” and not appear either to funny or too sarcastic. Satirical humor displayed aggression, intelligence, lewdness, political savvy, physical punishment, all couched in a tough world, thus unsuitable for women.
Women could exhibit humor, but they had to put a “face” on it, to soften the edges. Their realm was love, not satire. Their humor was moderated, they had to be careful about when they were funny, how far they could push the joke, and know when they needed to retrench. This is illustrated in Jane Austen’s novel, Emma. At a picnic at Boxhill, Frank Churchill decides they need to play a game; each person will say one thing very clever, or two things moderately clever, or three things very dull. Miss Bates said “then I need not be uneasy. Three things very dull indeed. That will just do for me, you know. I shall be sure to say three dull things as soon as ever I open my mouth.” Emma says, “but there may be a difficulty, you will be limited as to number - only three at once.” When Miss Bates catches Emma’s meaning she is embarrassed and hurt. In private, Mr. Knightley censures Emma and asks “How could you be so unfeeling to Miss Bates? How could you be so insolent in your wit to a woman of her character, age, and situation?Clearly, Emma overstepped the bounds of propriety when she expressed her humor.

So, women could be funny, but only within the proper bounds allotted them. This seems to be a theme through women’s history. They could be religious, they could be educated, they could be employed, they could fill a social and political role, but only in the “domestic” realm and in ways deemed proper for women. The degree women displayed patience, perseverance, and tenacity throughout history as they embraced each new change or shift in society is inspiring. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

LDS Women at NY TImes

It's not really about women's history, but many of you will probably be interested in what LDS women are saying over at the NY Times.


Thursday, March 6, 2014

Persuasion was Jane Austen's final novel and was not published until after her death. The story revolves around Anne Elliot and her engagement to Frederick Wentworth. The two had met during a summer near her family’s estate at Kellynch hall and fallen in love. Anne’s friend, mentor and mother figure, Lady Russell, advised her (on account of her young age) to break off the relationship. Flash forward eight years and Anne is still a single on her way to spinsterhood. Her father, Sir Walter, has mismanaged the family's affairs and must retrench to get out of debt. He relocates to Bath and sends Anne to be with her younger sister Mary at Upper-cross. Sir Walter rents Kellynch Hall to the Crofts, a retired admiral and his wife. Mrs. Croft happens to be Frederick's sister, and Mr. Wentworth soon comes to visit his brother-in-law. Anne and Frederick have a few awkward encounters, but they soon rediscover their passion for one another, though neither is sure how to reconcile. While Frederick appears to be courting Mary's sister-in-laws, Anne is approached by the family heir, Mr. Elliot. He courts her, but Anne is split between her love for Mr. Wentworth and the possibility of marrying Mr. Elliot. Her decision is made however, when she discovers through a friend that Mr. Elliot just wants to use her to gain prestige and regain Kellynch Hall. She reconciles with Mr. Wentworth and the two go sailing off into the sunset together.
           I would like to discuss the importance of persuasion to Anne's decision to marry Mr. Wentworth at the end of the novel. This would fall under the classification of marriage and the family, but I would like to add the concept of relationship dynamics both within marriage and society for the sake of this post. One of the most prevalent themes of this work is the use of persuasion. Whether it is Mr. Shepherd (an advisor and friend of Sir Walter) convincing the Elliots to retrench or Lady Russell urging Anne to break off her engagement, the entire novel uses character sketches to illustrate various methods of persuasion. Mr. Shepherd appeals to Sir Walter’s vanity by telling him how prosperous he will appear in Bath, while Lady Russel appeals to Anne’s compassionate reason by telling her to pursue more socially acceptable options and allow Mr. Wentworth to do the same. Anne also tries her hands at persuasion by attempting to show her sister Elizabeth that Mrs. Smith is after their father. She fails to convince her, but her skills in persuasion grow over the course of the book until she is able to convince her father and Lady Russell that she should be able to marry Mr. Wentworth. These and other cases of socially acceptable manipulation provide readers with an entertaining case study of women in society and how they could act and be acted upon.

The women of Austen’s novels are hardly the victims of their society; rather they are strong characters that exercise their agency in persuading more often than being persuaded. Whether these women actually possessed this influence is difficult to say. Austen certainly portrays her heroines as independent and intelligent, but her own situation in life and hopes for the future may have colored her representation of the generally divided 19th century household where equality was merely rhetoric and men (save Queen Victoria) ruled British affairs. Despite these misgivings, it is certainly possible that women had as much if not more of a role in society than Austen describes. I for one am not yet persuaded.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Persuasion – Jane Austen
Mallory Hutchings

Like many of Austen’s classic novels, Persuasion is a well-written account of a family of girls whose life goal is to marry well in society. The Elliot family is headed by Sir Walter, the sole parent of Anne, Elizabeth and Mary (after their mother passed away years prior). The Elliot family needed to relocate from their home estate of Kellynch Hall to a more affordable one in Bath due to low funds and the poor spending habits of Sir Walter. The couple that rent out Kellynch Hall from Sir Walter are related to Captain Frederick Wentworth, the ex-fiance of Anne Elliot. There was a lot of typical love triangles and what not, centered around Anne who is distraught after she believes her Frederick is no longer in love with her and she missed her chance. She then is pursued by her cousin who has alternate motives, and eventually ends up with Frederick when he confesses his love to her –much to the dismay of her cousin.

I would classify Persuasion as supporting literary evidence for the marriage and family theme for our class. Throughout the entire story, the question of worth and provisions only comes for the women through their men –hopefully husbands, but if you didn’t get married, you were relying on brothers, fathers, cousins etc. The decision to marry and the pursuit of family were not usually based on love and desire, for practicality came before those things. Anne loved Captain Wentworth and was engaged to him, but her father saw the match unsuitable because the Captain was not wealthy enough or of high enough status. Anne continued to love Frederick throughout the years apart, and she was lucky enough to be able to marry her love in the end. That was less often the case, women married of necessity, whether or not love was involved. Late-marriage societies offered more choice in marriage selection for women, they were more independent and individually resourceful.