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Virginia Woolf's essay "Women and Fiction" is a landmark of twentieth-century feminist thought. It explores the history of women in literature through an unconventional and highly provocative investigation of the social and material conditions required for the writing of literature. These conditions-leisure time, privacy, and financial independence- underwrite all literary production, but they are particularly relevant to understanding the situation of women in the literary tradition because women, historically, have been uniformly deprived of those basic prerequisites.

Woolf is using her topic "Women and Fiction" as a facade to offer a reason for the barriers placed upon women. in the essay Woolf delves deep into history to answer the question of why had there been so few female writers and in answering the question she exposes how women led their lives in the past. There is hardly any historical account that tells us about the conditions of women of past ages. Woolf writes: "Very little is known about women. The history of England is the history of the male line, not of the female. Of our fathers, we know always some fact, some distinction. They were soldiers or they were sailors: they filled that office or they made that law. But of our mothers, our grandmothers, our great-grandmothers, what remains? Nothing but a tradition. One was beautiful; one was red-haired; one was kissed by a Queen. We know nothing of them except their names and the dates of their marriages and the number of children they bore."

Woolf thus makes a very critical assessment of the chronicle of England, which is probably no exaggeration or underestimation. She rightly focuses on the fact that English history is masculine in nature. The pages of English history are full of activities of men or fathers, who were sailors or soldiers, who filled important offices or promulgated laws to reign the country; females or mothers failed to make any stamp or mark on the pages of history. They have obliterated figures. Hardly anything is known about them. The fact that women did hardly anything significant is to be mentioned later in the pages of history. This alludes to the fact that women always remained confined within the four walls of household territory and they did hardly anything except give birth to children and serve their husbands. The most dominant role that they played was to look after the family.

Woolf concludes that we do not get a true picture from the pages of history about women in the past because history is dominated by males. The author suggests that if anyone tries to find out details about the women of the past ages then he would have to look at the historical facts and have to judge them keenly and in doing so he might turn out the wrong side of history to find out how the women of Shakespeare's time or Milton's time spent their daily life, dealt with their feelings and by gathering these facts if he she writes a book then it will be quite astonishing. It will be for the fact that the book will not only reveal the lifestyles of early women but also give the critics of the world of literature a new look.

Among Woolf's interesting observations in this essay is "the immense effect of environment and suggestion upon the mind" and especially on the mind of the writer. For example, she believes that it is important to see the life of early women writers in the context of the environment of most women. "The extraordinary woman depends on the ordinary woman. It is only when we know what were the conditions of the average woman's life...... the number of her children..... whether she had money of her own..... can we account for the success or failure of the extraordinary woman as a writer."

We do not know definitely anything about the women of the past ages; law and customs were extremely suffocating for them. The environment was highly adverse for the female writers, They had no outdoor experience. It was a period when men were leading carefree life gathers all sorts and conditions of experience, which stands in stark contrast with the lifestyle of women who hardly stepped outside the domestic boundary. The writer of the essay presents the contrast in the following paragraph: "Yet Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, Villette, and Middlemarch were written by women from whom was forcibly withheld all experience save that which could be met within a middle-class drawing-room. No first-hand experience of war or seafaring or politics or business was possible for them. Even their emotional life was strictly regulated by law and custom. When George Eliot ventured to live with Mr. Lewes without being his wife, public opinion was scandalized. Under its pressure, she withdrew into suburban seclusion which, inevitably, had the worst possible effects on her work. She wrote that unless people asked of their own accord to come and see her, she never invited them. At the same time, on the other side of Europe, Tolstoy was living a free life as a soldier, with men and women of all classes, for which nobody censured him and from which his novels drew much of their astonishing breadth and vigor."

This limited range of experience and the bitter life that they led had all possible impacts on the writings of women when they started writing after innumerable slight changes in the law and customs. Most of them were bitter in their attitude and were allured to talk about their grievances even in their fictional works. To sum up, women in the past did not pass a pleasing or happy life. They had no money, time, or room of their own; they hardly enjoyed any liberty. The earlier women lived in a society that was predominantly male chauvinistic, a society exceedingly prejudiced against women; the hostile environment created by the-then law and customs prevented women from writing.


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