By Gabriel Gyamfi University of Cape Coast Department of English INTRODUCTION Virginia Woolf’s ‘Shakespeare’ Sister’ is the third chapter from her literary essay A Room of One’s Own. In this chapter, which is the essay on Shakespeare’s Sister, she considers the question of why no women writers are represented in the canon of Elizabethan drama. To explore the issue, Woolf invents a fictional and mythical sister, Judith, for William Shakespeare and compares the barriers brothers and sisters would have encountered in achieving success as playwright. Imaginatively, Woolf despairs of Judith’s having possessed a genius equal to her brother’s, for her lack of education would have denied its flowering. Therefore as a feminist text, Virginia Woolf argues for a literal space for women writers within a literary tradition dominated by patriarchy as she posits that “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” This essay will do a literary criticism of Woolf’s Shakespeare’s Sister by presenting the biography of the author, the literary context within which the essay was written, the summary of the essay, an evaluation and a conclusion.
BIOGRAPHY OF VIRGINIA WOOLF Virginia Woolf, a British writer and a feminist, was born on 25th January, 1882 in London – England to Sir Leslie Stephen, an author and historian, and Madam Julia Prinsep Stephen, a nurse. While growing up, she and her sister, Vanessa, did not receive any formal education as her brothers did. However, access to their father’s library provided a source for their private learning. At the age of six, her step brother, George, molested and raped her and this resulted in Virginia Woolf becoming a lesbian; an act that might have contributed to her being a feminist writer. Coupled with the death of her mother in 1895, she started suffering from bi-polar disorder. This worsened when her half-sister, Stella also died two years later. In 1885, Virginia Woolf lost her mother and subsequently, her father in 1904. After the death of her father, she moved to the Bloomsbury District of London. At Bloomsbury, Woolf was a member of a group now known as the Bloomsbury Group. Her membership and association with the group exposed her to a myriad of modern theories that deeply affected the development of her own ideas. Notable among these theories is the feminist theory. Virginia Woolf began writing as a young girl and published her first novel The Voyage Out in 1915. She became famous in the early 20th century with novels like Jacob’s Room (1922), Mrs. Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927) and The Waves (1931). Aside fiction, she wrote several essays on literature, some of which include: A Room of One’s Own (1929), Shakespeare’s Sister (1929) and Three Guineas (1938). It is believed that the death of her mother was the catalyst for Woolf’s first mental breakdown; this coupled with the effects of the bi-polar disorder she suffered. These effects caused Woolf protracted periods of convalescence, making her withdraw from her busy social life and distressed that she could not focus long enough to read or write. In 1941, Woolf took her own life by drowning in River Ouse near her home in Sussex.
LITERARY CONTENT OF THE ESSAY The essay, Shakespeare’s Sister, is generally seen as a feminist text, and is noted in its argument for both a literal and figural space for women writers within a literary tradition dominated by patriarchy. Feminism comprises a number of social, cultural and political movements, theories and moral philosophies concerned with gender inequalities and equal rights for women. The term “feminist theory” is an invention of the academic branch of the mid and late 20th century move and it refers to generating systematic ideas that define women’s place in society. The history of feminism consists of three waves, with each wave dealing with a specific aspect of the feminist movement. The first of...