Three Guineas Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Three Guineas Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Arthur's Education Fund (AEF)

Arthur’s Education Fund is a reference to a novel by William Thackeray that in Woolf’s hands becomes a dominant symbol of the inequality of education between men and women. The AEF is positioned as a fund into which members of a family all contribute for the purpose of paying for the education of sons. Beyond the injury that daughters are not beneficiaries of the same service is the insult that the female siblings made no contribution. Woolf argues that they contributed firstly by forcibly sacrificing their own claims to money for an education and secondly by all the domestic labor they did for the benefit of the brother.

Mary Kingsley

In turn, Mary Kingsley becomes the symbolic incarnation of that centuries of losses incurred by society due to gender inequality in the educational system. Kingsley’s family spent £2,000 on the education of her brother Charles whereas the only education she ever received which her family paid for was a German tutor. Nevertheless, the self-taught Mary went on to eclipse her brother’s accomplishments by becoming a noted ethnographer, writer and African explorer.


Woolf hardly can be said to underplay the literal threat of fascism which at the time of publication was just months away from igniting a world war. Nevertheless, in the essay, the significance of fascism is less literal and more symbolic. She encapsulates the dimensions of that symbolism in a pretty straightforward way when she writes that so-called feminists “were fighting the tyranny of the patriarchal state as you are fighting the tyranny of the Fascist state.” In other words, fascism is just the normal patriarchal state of things taken to the most extreme level.


The title character in the classic Greek tragedy is situated by Woolf as a symbol of resistance to the patriarchy in all its forms. While conceding that the play could quite easily be adapted into a modern day allegory of the resistance against fascism, she rejects the limited implications of such an interpretation with by strongly associating Antigone with the broader insurrection against the patriarchy. This she does by quoting the play’s antagonist, King Creon: “We must support the cause of order, and in no wise suffer a woman to worst us.”

Whitaker’s Almanac

A famous British reference book still in use today was first published in 1868 by Joseph Whitaker. The symbolism of the book is specifically related to the section “Government and Public Offices.” Its listing of professions employed by the government and the salaries earned covers the gamut from London bishops to colonial managers on the other side of the world. Among the few listings which Woolf notes Whitaker did not deem suitable for inclusion include mother, wife and daughter. As such, the Almanac becomes an elemental symbol of patriarchal rejection of the very significance of women to a functioning society.

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