ENG 300 Journal

Thursday, October 14, 2004

10/14: Moderns and Feminism

Quotes of the day:

(from Modern Fiction) "'The proper stuff of fiction' does not exist; everything is the proper stuff of fiction, every feeling, every thought; every quality of brain and spirit is drawn upon; no perception comes amiss." -Virginia Woolf

(from Professions for Women) "...you may not know what I mean by The Angel in the House. I will describe her as shortly as I can. She was intensely sympathetic. She was immensely charming. She was utterly unselfish. She excelled in the difficult arts of family life. She sacrificed herself daily. If there was chicken, she took the leg; if there was a draught she sat in it - in short she was so constituted that she never had a mind or a wish of her own, but preferred to sympathise always with the minds and wishes of others. Above all - I need not say it - she was pure. Her purity was supposed to be her chief beauty - her blushes, her great grace. In those days - the last of Queen Victoria - every house had its Angel. And when I came to write I encountered her with the very first words. The shadow of her wings fell on my page; I heard the rustling of her skirts in the room. Directly, that is to say, I took my pen in my hand to review that novel by a famous man, she slipped behind me and whispered: 'My dear, you are a young woman. You are writing about a book that has been written by a man. Be sympathetic; be tender; flatter; deceive; use all the arts and wiles of our sex. Never let anybody guess that you have a mind of your own. Above all, be pure.' And she made as if to guide my pen. I now record the one act for which I take some credit to myself, though the credit rightly belongs to some excellent ancestors of mine who left me a certain sum of money - shall we say five hundred pounds a year? - so that it was not necessary for me to depend solely on charm for my living. I turned upon her and caught her by the throat. I did my best to kill her. My excuse, if I were to be had up in a court of law, would be that I acted in self-defence. Had I not killed her she would have killed me. She would have plucked the heart out of my writing." -Virginia Woolf

The first quote above I included both to further refute the idea of formalism, and to sum up the Moderns.

Sorry that the second passage is so long, but I felt every word of it was important for all to read. This essay was written in 1942, a significant time for the progression of women. Not only does in illustrate what was expected of women of the time, but it reiterates my belief that there must be feeling in writing. (No, I'll never let the formalists alone!)

There is something that Virginia Woolf does better, in my opinion, than any female writer I've read. She urges women to stand up and be strong without saying all men are terrible oppressors and must be castrated. This is very important. Like my entry about war, men, like soldiers, do what has been ingrained in them, so do women. People are always going to follow patterns set by those before them, whether that means expecting your woman to bring you a beer and tell you you're wonderful, or expecting your man to dismiss your thoughts. In conclusion, don't blame the men, blame the system. There are too many women sitting around bitching about how they've been terribly oppressed by pompous men (and I am by no means denying that these men exist and need to have their egos bluntly severed). Women's time would be better spent doing something about it as Virginia Woolf did 60 years ago. There is no reason in the year 2004 in America women cannot attain their goals.

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