Virginia Woolf

It was common for women writers to address the so-called woman question in
their works during the 19th and 20th centuries. This is true of one of the
well-known authors, Virginia Woolf, whose life spanned from the end of the
Victorian to the start of the modern era. She was born in 1882 to Leslie
Stephen, a man of prominence during the Victorian era, and she was primarily
self-educated in his vast library. Woolf was one of the artists that helped
start the famous Bloomsbury Group where many writers gathered to discuss their
belief in the importance of the arts in society at the time. In 1912 she married
Leonard Woolf, a member of the group as well as a remarkable supporter of her
writing ability. She published many novels and essays pertaining to women’s
issues, one being Mrs. Dalloway in 1925. Following that, she published two
well-acclaimed works, To the Lighthouse and A Room of Ones Own. She developed a
distinctive style that includes stream of consciousness and a poetic rhythm in a
prose form. She fought against traditional Aristotelian plot and created an
experimental style. She, in an essay on Modern fiction, wrote:

The writer seems constrained, not by his own free will but by some powerful
and unscrupulous tyrant who has him in thrall, to provide plot, to provide
comedy, tragedy, love interest, and an air of probability embalming the whole so
impeccable that if all his figures were to come to life they would find
themselves dressed down to the last button of their coats in the latest fashion
of the hour. The tyrant is obeyed; the novel is done to a turn. But sometimes,
more and more often as time goes by, we suspect a momentary doubt, a spasm of
rebellion, as the pages fill themselves in this customary way. Is life like
this? Must novels be like this?

Woolf was admired for her contributions to literary criticism. However, she
fell victim to a lifetime of mental illness and thus committed suicide in 1941.
Although Woolf is not alive today, her works are still highly acclaimed and
helped define feminism in the 20th century.

During the 19th century women’s roles where strongly defined by their
marriage. The idea was that women stay dependent on a man: first as a daughter
then as a wife. They fell into a self-effacing role that entailed almost
complete subordination to their husband, children, or even guest and friends.
Coventry Patmore conveys the popular sentiment of the time in his poem Angel in
the House. Patmore describes woman as a flower, delicate and meek, and sings
praises for these simple and delicate features. As much is said by what is not
written about the characteristics of a woman, such as her intellect or her
political insight. Interestingly Woolf later attacks the concept of the angel in
the house through her essay Professions for Women. After describing the angel as
“immensely charming” and “utterly unselfish” she claims to have
encountered the for-mentioned creature while writing a review for a novel by a
popular male author of that time. In order to review honestly without conceding
to the better graces fit for a woman of the time, she “caught her by the
throat” and did her best to kill the angel. Afterward Woolf claims, “Killing
the Angel in the House was part of the occupation of a woman writer.”

Women were to be the moral overseers of men. The man, who faced the secular
vulgarities of the world, was to have his moral anchor as woman. Sarah Stickney
Ellis, a popular essayist and educator of the mid 19th century wrote that in
women’s “hands the high and holy duty of cherishing and protecting the minor
morals of life, from whence springs all that is elevated in purpose and glorious
action.” Women were to be the lighthouse unto man, whom without would be
dashed upon the rocks of sedition.

Women of the 19th and early 20th century were often impeded from a scholastic
education. They usually depended upon friends or themselves for any education
beyond the domestic type. As stated earlier, even Woolf received her education
in her father’s elaborate library collection. Many women believed that if
education was equal to that of a man they could realize accomplishments equal to
man. Mary Wollstonecraft pleaded the case in her Vindication of the Rights of
Women attempting to convince, by proving women equal to men, that women deserve
an equal education. She argues, “If a woman be allowed to have an immortal
soul, she must have, as the employment of life, an understanding