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LIT 4386 British and American Literature by Women

Class 2

Reading Assignment:

    Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own

    Class Objectives:

  • Introduce Virgina Woolf
  • Discuss significance of AROOO
  • Analyze Woolf's style
  • Analyze Woolf's thesis

    Notes and Discussion Questions:

    1. General Reading Practices

    To develop good reading practices, I want to each of you to consider the following questions for each of the works that we read. If you are not used to reading literature, please try to practice some of the tips suggested in my How to Read a Text document.

    Before we begin our discussion/analysis of the work, it is important to examine what it is. These questions may be elementary, and then again, they may not. Do not hesitate to ask for clarification of the terms or to question what something means. Always attempt an answer, even if you suspect it may be wrong. Begin with your observations and try to find language that accurately names what you see.

  • What form is it? (novel? poem? short story? journal entry?) How long is it? (how many lines, chapters, pages, or other way of measuring the form?)

  • Did we read the whole thing or only an excerpt?

  • What type of language is used? (formal? informal? descriptive? denotative? regional? contemporary? literary? Describe.) Is it in first-person or third person?

  • What is the setting? What time period is represented?

  • Who are are the main characters and what are they like?


    2. Significance of A Room of One's Own

    This essay has become in the seventy plus years since it first appeared a classic in feminist criticism. Gilbert and Gubar consider this the first major achievement of feminist criticism in the English Language (1343).

    It achieves four major objectives in this vein:

      1) it makes the history of women writers visible, thereby establishing a tradition and making a case for the importance of a female writing tradition

      2) it draws attention to the inadequate conditions (social and economic) that women have faced when compared to men in their cultural group

      3) it draws attention to the critical values that privilege male experience and belittle female accomplishment

      4) it offers a challenge to posterity to change these circumstances, through reading, thinking and above all through writing about women

    What is the thesis of the essay? Examine the opening pages. How does she begin her essay? What effect does this beginning have?

    How would you describe the style? What connections might you make between her style and her argument?

    As the introduction by Mary Gordon suggests, Woolf’s thesis raises questions about class – she asserts that genius can only thrive on independent wealth. Do issues of one's class or more precisely economics affect the creativity of the artist? What is the role of basic necessities? Education? Fear or bitterness?


    3. Judith Shakespeare

    How does the story of Judith Shakespeare in chapter three illustrate her argument?

    What specifically female problems does the story illustrate? What do the historical conditions of women have to do with the erasure (or suppression) of a literary tradition by women?

    How do these conditions affect the production of literature?

    Woolf insists that the conditions necessary for the production of art are economic independence and the space and time to concentrate. Why are these conditions important (if not necessary) to art?

    She asks (p. 51) What is the state of mind most propitious to the act of creation?” How does she answer this? Who exemplifes this?


    4. Limitations of A Room of One's Own

    Class attitudes: can working peole or poor people produce good art? Why or why not? What are some of the realistic problems they would face that others would not? Does this affect the evaluation of their art?

    Emotion: Woolf favors a cool, detached, incandescent voice in literature. Is there room for other voices? Why or why not? What is better?

    Biological essentialism – Woolf appears to separate men and women into distinct categories of writing based on their sex. How valid are these evaluations?


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