Wednesday’s Words: Virginia Woolf


I’ve been fascinated with Virginia Woolf ever since I watched the movie adaptation of The Hours by Michael Cunningham.  I’ve read a large chunk of her work, my all time favorite being her essay “A Room of One’s Own”.  Besides her most famous quote about Anonymous being a woman, it’s full of lines that are still relevant today.

“The history of men’s opposition to women’s emancipation is more interesting perhaps than the story of that emancipation itself.”

Someone, I think it was a college professor, once said that any resistance to the success of some “Other” stems from a fear of losing one’s sense of superiority.  That “Other” has shifted throughout humanity’s history and has not always been defined by heterosexual, Christian, white men.  However, speaking very generally, men around the world all the way up to present times have resisted the idea of women being equal to them regardless of any other factor (race, religion, etc.)  Does the prevalence of misogyny throughout the world and time really come from a fear of upsetting some perceived hierarchy?  If that’s what has always been behind the “reasoning” for why women (or anyone for that matter) can’t or shouldn’t do whatever they want, then it deserves being looked into further.

“And since a novel has this correspondence to real life, its values are to some extent those of real life.  But it is obvious that the values of women differ very often from the values which have been made by the other sex; naturally this is so.  Yet is it the masculine values that prevail.  Speaking crudely, football and sport are “important”; the worship of fashion, the buying of clothes “trivial.”  And these values are inevitably transferred from life to fiction.  This is an important book, the critic assumes, because it deals with war.  This is an insignificant book because it deals with the feelings of women in a drawing-room.”

This can be seen today when you look at the percentages of books with female main characters that win awards in comparison to the books with male main characters.  Women’s Lit is considered to be fluff or brain candy.  Stories about female friendships and familial or romantic relationships are seen as trivial or unimportant and not worth exploring if you’re a “serious” reader or writer.  Putting personal reading preferences aside, why is it that a story about two male best friends is considered thought-provoking and meaningful, yet a similar story about two women is chalked up as just another piece of “chic lit”?

“Therefore I would ask you to write all kinds of books, hesitating at no subject however trivial or however vast. By hook or by crook, I hope that you will possess yourselves of money enough to travel and to idle, to contemplate the future or the past of the world, to dream over books and loiter at street corners and let the line of thought dip deep into the stream.”

I don’t force myself to read books that I have no interest in to add diversity to my reading life.  I rarely ever read Literary Fiction.  However, I also steer clear of the Bestsellers and award winners, and I try to find the Fantasy books that not everyone else is reading.  While that doesn’t happen 100% of the time, I also look for books with a synopsis that doesn’t scream “trope filled sexist garbage”.  As a result, I end up reading fairly diverse books.  I read diversely enough that, for a long time, I didn’t understand why there is such a push for diversity in literature.  Now I understand that I’m finding more diverse books precisely because of my resistance to jumping on the bestselling, award-winning bandwagon.  Most of the books I read aren’t getting the attention of the mainstream media outlets, and they’re not displayed prominently on center tables in bookstores.  Someday I would love to say that isn’t true.  Until then, I’ll continue doing what I’m doing.