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Written by Timothy Sexton
The psychic godchild of the rebellious Wollstonecraft, it is hardly any wonder that Woolf views the author of Vindication of the Rights of Women as a more than a woman, more than a writer, but a historical force of nature who was a product of the seditious underbelly of her time. Of the influence upon Wollstonecraft made the French Revolution, Woolf asserts:
“The Revolution was not merely an event that had happened outside her; it was an active agent in her own blood.”
“One cannot grow fine flowers in a thin soil.”
This quote is Woolf’s metaphor explaining why it is so painfully easy to name the great female literary lights in history. Specifically, she is referencing the single most famous block of female authors in British history: the Bronte sisters. The implication of the metaphor is that there is an explanation for why three members of one a single family should occupy such a large percentile of famous British authoresses: because so many of those women who might even have eclipsed those sisters were never given the chance nor, even more significantly, never give the opportunity to think they might even have a chance.
“Women and Fiction”
In the essay titled “Women and Fiction” Woolf poses an interesting question: why is there almost a complete absence of fiction written by British women prior to the 1800’s? Metaphor provides the potential solution to this mystery, for the answer:
“is to be found in the lives of the obscure—in those almost unlit corridors of history where the figures of generations of women are so dimly, so fitfully perceived.”
Lord Byron is the iconic image of the brooding, romantic antihero; he is everyone from Heathcliff to Dracula in the history of 19th century British literature in one way or another. But it is not Byron, really. Woolf clearly feels no compunction about honesty here:
“a barber’s block to look at, composed of bully and lap-dog…swimming in vapors of sentimental twaddle…the character of Byron is the least attractive in the history of letters.”
Admitting that Queen Victoria produced a voluminous amount of writing during her reign, Woolf also points out almost all this writing was enforced by the circumstances of her position. In other words, Victoria was not a born writer and even the coercion of duty stretched across a truly breathtaking expanse of time could not change that because:
“between the old Queen and the English language lay an abyss which no depth of passion and no strength of character could cross.”
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