Showalter, Elaine, ‘Virginia Woolf and the Flight into Androgyny’, in A Literature of Their Own: British Women Novelists from Brontë to Lessing (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1977), pp. 263-297.
In “A Literature of Their Own,” Elaine Showalter discusses the female experiences and their creative processes in British fiction. She shows how women’s literature has evolved, starting from the Victorian period to the Modern one. She has written notes on the descriptive life of Virginia Woolf in this particular book. Showalter described the female literary tradition in the English novel and the social backgrounds of the women who composed it. Chapter 10 of the book, under the title: “Virginia Woolf and the Flight into Androgyny,” is devoted to the literary genius of Virginia Woolf albeit the maniac depression. This chapter conveys information about Showalter’s concerns beyond women writers and looks at the contradictions and tensions that shape women’s social, psychological, and sexual development. It is bound to provoke disagreement, if only because it raised so many questions related to women’s position in the literary world. Showalter criticizes their works for their androgynistic natures. For all its concern with sexual connotations and sexuality, the writing avoids actual contact with the body, disengaging from people into “a room of one’s own.” In the light of this, Showalter’s well-known critique of Woolf’s founding of an aesthetic upon the ideal of androgyny should itself be critically reconsidered. Showalter argues throughout the chapter that Woolf’s androgyny ‘represents an escape from the confrontation with femaleness or maleness,’ and that her famous definition of life as ‘a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope’ is ‘another metaphor of uterine withdrawal and containment.’ The false transcendence of ‘sexual identity,’ or in Showalter’s phrase, ‘the flight into androgyny’ amounts to ‘evasions of reality’ and of ‘the female experience,’ and this is presumed to result in Woolf’s ‘progressive technical inability to accommodate the facts and crises of day-to-day experience, even when she wanted to do so.’  What is posited in Showalter’s stress on ‘confrontation,’ ‘sexual identity’ or ‘experience’ is what we might term a Lukfsian concept of a unified autonomous subject which is the sole agent of its own development in confrontation with the environment. The chapter analyses the androgyny, in general, as an escape of their (women) sexual identity as a woman or/and even as a return to ‘heterosexuality’ which ‘makes the world go round’ as Marcus pointed out,’  differently of what many other critics – in general – say that Woolf’s androgyny was subversive and feminist in nature and not as Showalter described as.
Gilbert, Sandra A, ‘Costumes of the Mind: Transvestism as Metaphor in Modern Literature.’ In Gender Studies: New Directions in Feminist Criticism. Ed. by Judith Spector (Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1986), pp.70-98.
Susan Gilbert argues that most modernist male writers in English were concerned with reasserting, in a profoundly conservative sense, the dominance and superiority of masculine sexuality, as well as man’s prior claim to masculinity. The post-war assertion of masculinity constituted a male intervention into a broad general field of language and culture rather than the nationalist linked militancy of earlier periods. The readings by Gilbert shape a convincing argument that a number of fictional episodes sometimes regarded as liberating and innovatory were concerned with the reassertion of conventional gender roles and heterosexuality rather than sexual revolution. Men represent an attempt to close off the possibilities for the change in women’s roles opened up by the events of the First World War, Gilbert claims. The problem is that Gilbert’s mode of criticism assumes a direct link between the sex of the author and the text. Rather than investigating the way in which writing reveals an inconclusive ambivalence about sexual identity, Gilbert insists on assigning a single position to male modernist writers. Women writers were, for the most part, with the exception of Virginia Woolf, omitted from the modernist canon constructed by literary critics in the nineteen fifties and sixties. Literary production functioned as a framework in which issues about the rights of women were foregrounded, at the same time as they explored the gains and losses experienced by women during that time. On the other hand, the fictions of Virginia Woolf, in particular, depict the difficulties of achieving a sense of female identity, and beyond that, the impossibility of finding any final, stable identity for the subject. Her texts represent the fears, and reconstruct the problematic issues of being a woman, as well as the pleasures of femininity and masculinity, in such a way as to bring into question celebratory and empiricist theories of feminist criticism.
Whitworth, Michael, ‘Virginia Woolf and Modernism’, in The Cambridge Companion to Virginia Woolf. Ed. by Sue Roe and Susan Sellers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp. 146-63.
“Throughout her fiction and criticism, Woolf expresses a preference for a reality which is semi-transparent, combining the solidity of granite and the evanescence of rainbow. Though many critics have seen in modernism an irrationalist rejection of science in favour of myth, in the case of Woolf at least, the situation is more complex.” (2000:151)
In his essay, Michael Whitworth discusses the significance of issues such as science, politics, and contemporary culture which are discussed in relation to modernist writings. It is pointed out that critics have long neglected the significance of Virginia Woolf in such contexts. The kind of insight into dual reality that Whitworth notices in Woolf attracts more critical attention in recent studies of Modernism, especially knowing that it was not only Woolf’s case that the situation was complex but also that many artists, writers, and thinkers of different disciplines, scientific or artistic, of the era shared a strong interest in various fields of science such as life science, eugenics, physics, psychoanalysis, and so on. Moreover, his text delineates the custom to make a modern writing, Modern. The text draws, quite precisely, the use of science in the narratives of fiction of early twentieth century including with a long analyses over Virginia Woolf’s works.
Farwell, Marilyn R, Virginia Woolf and Androgyny. Contemporary Literature, Vol. 16, No. 4 (Autumn, 1975), 433-451.
For Virginia Woolf, androgyny was inseparably linked with a nostalgic wish to evade sexual difference even as she made the affirmation of sexual difference the basis of a radical sexual politics. Androgyny represents, in Woolf’s writing, ambivalence and contradiction: if it could be used to redress the imbalance of patriarchal accounts of history, then the invocation of the female body as an answer to that imbalance only affirms constructions of sexual difference. Farwell’s essay, “Virginia Woolf and Androgyny” discusses Woolf’s theory of androgyny. He debates the relation between the etymology of androgyny and its institutionalization into the narrative frame of Modernism. Giving examples from the novel “A Room of One’s Own,” Farwell points out that androgyny appears to be “either an inter-play of separate and unique elements or a fusion of one into the other […]” ad, unfortunately, most critics “implicitly choose one side or the other” trying not to see the important distinction which is crucial. His essay brings together various instances of critical thought that have problematised an understanding of androgyny by interrogating the assumptions about gender which many critics and scholar are dealing with.
Johnson, Reginald Brimley, Some Contemporary Novelists (Women), (London: Leonard Parsons, 1920), pp. 140-160.
Virginia Woolf’s essay ‘Modern Novels’, which under its later title ‘Modern Fiction’ became so famous as a manifesto of literary modernism and which constitutes the prelude to Woolf’s own most distinctive artistic achievement, was not a sudden revolutionary argument with no wider literary context. In ‘Some Contemporary Novelists’ (Women) published in 1920, in a chapter dedicated to Virginia Woolf’s writing, Johnson discusses an emerging trend among the female novelists of the early twentieth century:
“[She] has abandoned the old realism… She is seeking, with passionate determination, for that Reality which is behind the material, the things that matter, spiritual things, ultimate Truth. And here she finds man an outsider, wilfully blind, purposely indifferent.”
This trend he called ‘New Realism.’ The text refers mainly to Dorothy Richardson and it is not clear whether or not Brimley Johnson had read Woolf’s ‘Modern Novels’, but clearly states Richardson account of this ‘New Realism’ which searches for a new vision or truth behind the veil of masculine materialism institucionalized in the Modern era. It also states Woolf’s demand for a new literature. But for Woolf herself at this stage, this new literary vision pertains to a new generation; it is not gender-specific. She periodizes literary history by the reign of monarchs – spiritual Georgians against crassly materialistic Edwardians – not by the difference between sexes. Johnson’s text clearly illustrates the transience that happened inside out Modernism, expressing the most valuable analysis on Woolf and Richardson in their own right.
Williams, Raymond. The Politics of Modernism: Against the New Conformists (London, 1989), (The Found Era: London, 1972), pp.45-53.
Women writers were, for the most part, with the exception of Virginia Woolf, omitted from the modernist canon constructed by literary critics in the nineteen fifties and sixties. Raymond Williams in his intriguing but well written paper remarks that ‘[â€¦] there is still a radical difference between the two generations: the struggling innovators and the modernist establishment which consolidated their achievement.’ (51) He suggests that there was a distinct time gap between the production of primary texts and academic and commercial institutional responses, although he does not investigate the extent to which this gap was distributed in terms of the gender of writers. While women’s participation in literary productivity in the nineteen twenties and thirties increased, it did so in the context of extensive social and political debate about the rights of women to education (including sexual education), to political power, and to earn a living of their own and in which Woolf was far ahead off. Literary production functioned as a framework in which issues about the rights of women were foregrounded, at the same time as they explored the gains and losses experienced by women during that time. On the other hand, the fictions of Virginia Woolf, in particular, depict the difficulties of achieving a sense of female identity, and beyond that, the impossibility of finding any final, stable identity for the subject. Her texts represent the fears, and reconstruct the problematic issues of being a woman, as well as the pleasures of femininity and masculinity, in such a way as to bring into question celebratory and empiricist theories of feminist criticism. Williams discusses the subversive female desires in which most of Woolf’s novels are intrinsically focused in a clearly and well presented way.
Abel, Elizabeth. Virginia Woolf and the Fictions of Psychoanalysis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press: Chicago and London, 1993), pp. 1-29.
Virginia Woolf is now usually thought of as a feminist author. Yet the term ‘feminist’ has a number of meanings, and it is worth considering in what ways the word applies to Woolf. In both her own creative practice and her essays, she shows herself to be a keen advocate of women as writers and of a women’s literary tradition. Her literary politics are certainly feminist. In terms of content, it is also clear that Woolf asks questions about women’s art, the nature of female consciousness, and the means of literary presentation that must be developed to make the nature of a feminine consciousness visible. Abel pinpoints Woolf’s interest in the fictional shapes narrative project on which women were present. Disclosing Woolf’s discourse on gender and history, Abel contextualizes it with the idea of psychoanalysis in mid-1920s, opening up discourse over the subject much awaited. This particular chapter treats the progress of psycho-analytic studies, women’s position in England during 1920s and what is meant to be a woman in such a society. It also reveals Freud’s idea of the Oedipus complex and so forth. Connected with the idea that if the male writer suffers self-consciousness as an aspect of the general experience of modernity, with its dissolution of tradition, its skeptical, even nihilistic testing of old sanctities and pieties, then clearly the woman writer’s sense of the injustice of women’s position in society, with its temptations of bitterness, denunciation, resentment, reinforces the danger, Abel is exploring what was Woolf’s second dissatisfaction with the modernist texts and what is worth reading. The chapter (En) Gendering History, is slightly complex but precise in what modernism versus history and psychology regard to.
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