In Chapters Four and Five of A Room of One's Own,, the focus on Women & Fiction shifts to a consideration of women writers, both actual writers and ultimately one of the author's own creation. The special interest here is one raised earlier in the work: the effect of tradition on women's writing. Woolf believes that women are different from men both in their social history as well as inherently, and that each of these differences has had important effects on the development of women's writing. Women writers, this is to say, have been treated differently from men because they were women; and this has affected how they developed. Furthermore, Woolf maintains, women writers are different from men writers because they are women; and this has also affected how they developed. The narrator explores both of these elements.
In this chapter, the cultural perspective will begin with a "liberationist" viewpoint, with a focus especially on women's not being able to write with the freedom that men have had. Women's lack of men's freedom to experience the breadth of the world, for example, is a significant constraint on women's ability to create. However, during the chapter, a different viewpoint emerges which will continue as the dominant perspective in the following chapter. This is what I call a "feminist" view.
The feminist focus is on women developing independent of men and on their expressing capacities that are inherently different from those which are characteristic of males.. A feminist perspective might be seen as growing out of one that is liberationist, but its impulse and direction are quite different. In a word, feminism moves toward FEMININE standards, a concern for what is good or appropriate for women as women. In any case, the narrator begins this chapter by considering a series of women who wrote in the Seventeenth Century. These writers are important because they are the first women who are know to written. However, being the first, the narrator suggests that they were twisted, to a greater or lesser degree, because their efforts to write were seen as highly eccentric. Ridiculed, or fearing ridicule by society, they were unable to attain the impersonality that she believes is essential to great fiction They couldn't stop being aware that the world thought ill of what they were doing. There is, for example, Lady Winchilsea, who was sufficiently talented to have written some lines said to have been appropriated by Pope; but who still was demeaned by a contemporary male poet as "a blue stocking with an itch for scribbling." Her mind can be seen to be torn by emotion when she writes:
"So strong the opposing faction still appears - The hope to thrive can ne'er outweigh the fears." Men are the "opposing faction" which have the power to bar her from what she wants to do - which is to write. Then there is the Duchess of Newcastle, who was driven into eccentric behavior by ridicule. Admittedly "hare-brained and fantastical in her writings," the narrator says, but also, clearly, a "generous, untutored intelligence." "She should have had a microscope put in her hand… instead, she became a vision of loneliness and riot …a bogey to frighten clever girls with." Clever girls like Dorothy Osborne. The narrator sees her as a woman with " a real turn for writing.," but who, with the model of the Duchess before her, could only believe that it was absurd for a woman to write books. Therefore, she wrote only admirable letters. These were all unsuccessful writers, the narrator points out, individuals whose talent was somewhat wasted by its depreciation by "the opposing faction." They were followed, however, by Aphra Behn, the first Englishwoman to support herself as a professional writer. With Behn, the narrator observes, we meet "not a woman who was shut up among the folios, writing without an audience or criticism," but one who "rubs shoulders with ordinary people in the streets"- what Shakespeare's sister was unable to do...
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