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Home » , » Feminist Criticism by Virginia Woolf
"Women and Fiction" is considered one of the major works in feminist criticism. Woolf deploys several methodologies -- historical and sociological analysis. fictional hypothesis, and philosophy, notably--to answer her initial question of why there have been so few female writers. She ties their minority status largely to socio-economic factors, specifically their poverty and lack of privacy. Her mantra throughout the essay is that a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write creatively.
In the essay "Women and Fiction" Virginia Woolf, one of the most prominent feminist writers of the modem era, delves deep into history to answer the question of why women, despite their having creative brains, failed to produce any masterpieces of art. The whole essay is a historical and sociological analysis of the position of women, particularly women writers, in the past. It also answers the question of why women, in the 19th century, when started to write and produced only fiction and no other forms of art.
In the essay, Virginia Woolf answers the question of why women as writers were so silent in the past. In answering the question she exposes an intricate connection between money, liberty, personal room, and creative artistic genius. She argues that because women in the past had no money, little time, no room of their own, and enjoyed hardly any freedom of choice or liberty, she was unable to produce any fantastic works of art. She brings the fact into light that though women had genius, it was suppressed by the law and customs. Woolf thinks that the answer to the question 'why women wrote nothing in the past' can be traced in the faithful analysis of the past - how ordinary women led their lives, and what conditions and stages they underwent in their lives.

However, Woolf shows that the 19th century marks a landmark as women started to write prolifically at this time. But what is remarkable about all these great female writers of the 19th century is that all of them, despite their immense diversity, created fiction and hardly concentrated on other forms of art. The great four writers of the 19th century --- Jane Austen, Emily Bronte, Charlotte Bronte, and George Eliot were novelists. This gives rise to another question - why women writers produced fiction only, not other forms of art. Woolf answers this question also in her essay.

About the great four women writers of the 19th century, Woolf comments that - "No four women can have been more unlike in genius and character than these four. Jane Austen can have had nothing in common with George Eliot; George Eliot was the direct opposite of Emily Bronte. Yet all were trained for the same profession; all, when they wrote, wrote novels." Woolf also answers the question of why women produced fiction only and not other forms of art. To Woolf, fiction is the least concentrated form of art. Thus fiction requires the least attention from a writer than poetry or drama does. A novel can be taken up or put down more easily than a play or a poem. The great four women novelists that Woolf mentions in the essay were frequently interrupted by other tasks during the time they sat to write. She writes, "Fiction was, as fiction still is, the easiest thing for a woman to write. Nor is it difficult to find the reason. A novel is the least concentrated form of art. A novel can be taken up or put down more easily than a play or a poem. George Eliot left her work to nurse her father. Charlotte Bronte put down her pen to pick the eyes out of the potatoes. And living as she did in the common sitting room, surrounded by people, a woman was trained to use her mind in observation and the analysis of character. She was trained to be a novelist and not to be a poet."

Thus the author of the essay points out that the way a woman was brought up in the past, her surroundings, existing law, and customs made her a novelist, not a poet or playwright.

In the essay, she shows that though innumerable slight changes in law and customs commenced the astounding outburst of women writing in the form of fiction, even at that period women did not fully enjoy the three basic prerequisites of creative thinking time, money, and a room of one's own. Woolf opines that poetic attitude largely depends on material things. She writes - "The basis of the poetic attitude is of course largely founded upon material things. It depends upon leisure, a little money, and the chance money in the 19th century were not still granted all these material things that facilitate creative genius, they feel it comfortable to produce fiction, a less concentrated form of art. Even their limited range of experience had a profound impact on their writing.

In the essay Woolf is highly upbeat. She ends the essay with the hope that women in the future, with time, money, and a room of her already granted, will not only produce better novels but other forms of art-- "So, if we may prophesy, women in time to come will write fewer novels, but better novels; and not novels only, but poetry and criticism and history. But in this, to be sure, one is looking ahead to that golden, that perhaps fabulous, age when women will have what has so long been denied them - leisure, money, and room to themselves."


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