Saturday, December 12, 2009

Shakespeare's daughters

It is easier to be a historian than a prophet, and when Virginia Woolf said that a woman needed a room of her own and money of her own to write fiction she appeared to be alluding to a female future where possession – property – equalled words as inevitably as dispossession, in the past, had equalled silence. A woman with a room and money will be free to write – but to write what? In A Room of One's Own Woolf asserts two things: first, that the world – and hence its representations in art – is demonstrably male; and second, that a woman cannot create art out of a male reality. Literature, for most of its history, was a male reality. The form and structure of the novel, the perceptual framework, the very size and character of the literary sentence: these were tools shaped by men for their own uses. The woman of the future, Woolf says, will devise her own kind of sentence, her own form, and she'll use it to write about her own reality. What's more, that reality will have its own values: "And since a novel has this correspondence to real life, its values are to some extent those of real life. But it is obvious that the values of women differ very often from the values which have been made by the other sex; naturally, this is so. Yet it is the masculine values that prevail . . . This is an important book, the critic assumes, because it deals with war. This is an insignificant book because it deals with the feelings of women in a drawing-room. A scene in a battle-field is more important than a scene in a shop – everywhere and much more subtly the difference of value persists."

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