The Thinking 

Virginia Woolf

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The Thinking Woman’s Oprah

September 9, 2009


In a long 2002 piece, “The Rage of Virginia Woolf,” Theodore Dalrymple brilliantly captures the woman whose works have enjoyed a cult-like following for 80 years and who continues to inspire envy, snobbery and boredom in college-educated girls. He aptly calls her a “feeler,” not a thinker. Says Dalrymple: 

For her, there was no such thing as the human condition, with its inevitable discontent and limitations. She thought that all the things she desired were reconcilable, so that freedom and security, for example, or artistic effort and complete selflessness, might abide in perpetual harmony. As a female member of the British upper middle class and one of what she called “the daughters of educated men,” she felt both socially superior to the rest of the world and peculiarly, indeed uniquely, put upon. The very locution, “the daughters of educated men,” is an odd one, capturing her oscillation between grandiosity and self-pity: she meant by it that class of women who, by virtue of their gentle birth and hereditarily superior minds, could not be expected to perform physical labor of any kind, but who were prevented by the injustice of “the system” from participating fully in public and intellectual affairs….

No interpretation of events, trends, or feelings is too silly or contradictory for Mrs. Woolf if it helps to fan her resentment…. 

Had Mrs. Woolf survived to our time, however, she would at least have had the satisfaction of observing that her cast of mind—shallow, dishonest, resentful, envious, snobbish, self-absorbed, trivial, philistine, and ultimately brutal—had triumphed among the elites of the Western world.

Rose, who sent the above link in response to the previous post on Woolf, also passed along this quote from Camille Paglia:

“In the beautiful hypothesis of ‘Shakespeare’s sister,’ Virginia Woolf imagines a girl with her brother’s gifts whom society would have ‘thwarted and hindered’ to insanity and suicide. Women have been discouraged from genres such as sculpture that require studio training or expensive materials. But in philosophy, mathematics, and poetry, the only materials are pen and paper. Male conspiracy cannot explain all female failures. I am convinced that, even without restrictions, there still would have been no female Pascal, Milton, or Kant. Genius is not checked by social obstacles: it will overcome. Men’s egotism, so disgusting in the talentless, is the source of their greatness as a sex. Women have a more accurate sense of reality; they are physically and spiritually more complete. Culture, I said, was invented by men, because it is by culture that they make themselves whole. Even now, with all vocations open, I marvel at the rarity of the woman driven by artistic or intellectual obsession, that self-mutilating derangement of social relationship which, in its alternative forms of crime and ideation, is the disgrace and glory of the human species.”



The Envy of a Sister

September 9, 2009


One little-known fact about Virginia Woolf and A Room of One’s Own, the famous book discussed in the previous entry, is that Woolf was angry that her family spent money to send her brothers to university and  had no funds left over for her. In other words, she was envious. She hid the fact in her lectures so that it wouldn’t appear she had a grievance. She wrote to a friend in 1933:

I forced myself to keep my own figure fictitious; legendary. If I had said, Look here am I uneducated, because my brothers used all the family funds which is the fact – Well they’d have said; she has an axe to grind; and no one would have taken me seriously.

Susan Gubar, a women’s studies authority on Woolf, says in her recent introduction to a new edition of the book:

Virginia Woolf would always resent the familial and historical circumstances dictating that she, like so many daughters of men prominent in the nineteenth century, was to be denied access to a university education.

Apparently, Woolf would have preferred her brothers to do with less. Feminism is an ideology of envy. It is based on the utopian premise that somehow envy can be resolved, that there are enough resources for men and women both to have everything they want. Envy has a bottomless appetite. Once fed, it grows. The truth is there is enough for men and there is enough for women, just not enough of the same things.


A Card Table of One’s Own

September 8, 2009

Virginia Woolf


Genius, possibly mere brilliance and shining talent as well, will always be more abundant in men than in women. Perhaps this is Nature’s way of compensating men for their exclusion from the creative and imaginative art that is motherhood at its best, work that is superior to any endeavour in mere words or paint or scientific invention. All these things are ephemeral. Human beings are immortal.

Why then do many artsy and literary women persist in the delusion that their art is more exalted than raising children and loving men? I blame one person. Her name is Virginia Woolf.

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