Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

The Feminine Ideal in Female-Directed Works of Literature

During the Victorian Period, women were "strongly encouraged to adopt attributes of purity, domesticity, and submissiveness" (Bland, Jr. 120). These values and ideals were projected into the writing of many different forms of female-directed literature. Harriet Jacobs' "Life of a Slave Girl" is an example of a slave narrative intended to evoke sympathy from readers while simultaneously keeping them at a comfortable distance from the brutalities described in the text. Another example of this dichotomy is found in Virginia Woolf's "A Room of One's Own", a feminist essay that defies the conventional antifeminist sentiments prevalent during the Victorian Age. Despite their differences, Jacobs' and Woolf's works are both aimed at a white female audience. The predominant difference between their works is that Jacobs' writing conforms to the expectations of her readers by magnifying the attributes of purity, domesticity, and submissiveness, while Woolf breaks with convention and mocks these characteristics through the use of irony and sarcasm.

A close reading "Life of a Slave Girl" and "A Room of One's Own" reveals that both authors are targeting a...

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