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Feminist Woolf: New Perspectives on Woolf’s Resistance to Feminism

A Room of One’s Own’s (Resistance to) Feminist Interpretations and Feminism

(Résistance aux) interprétations féministes et au féminisme dans A Room of One’s Own
Valérie Favre


Cet article se propose d’étudier l’ambivalence de la relation qu’entretient A Room of One’s Own aussi bien avec la critique littéraire féministe qu’avec le féminisme en tant que tel. Il a pour ambition d’examiner les réappropriations féministes de l’essai en esquissant un panorama des interprétations contradictoires que le texte a suscitées et des différents points de vue féministes qui ont été attribués à Virginia Woolf. Mais il vise également à explorer par quels moyens ce texte éminemment féministe résiste, paradoxalement, au féminisme. Woolf développe ainsi dans A Room of One’s Own une stratégie textuelle qui résiste aux directions féministes et met à mal toute interprétation ou appropriation qui souhaiterait faire autorité sur le texte et son autrice, une stratégie textuelle qui va de pair avec le désaveu explicite, bien que pour partie ironique, que Woolf émet à l’encontre du féminisme, alors même qu’elle esquisse l’ébauche d’un féminisme bien à elle.

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1On Wednesday, 23 October 1929—that is on the eve of A Room of One’s Own’s publication—Virginia Woolf famously wrote in her diary:

I will here sum up my impressions before publishing a Room of One’s Own. It is a little ominous that Morgan [Forster] won’t review it. It makes me suspect that there is a shrill feminine tone in it which my intimate friends will dislike. I forecast, then, that I shall get no criticism, except of the evasive jocular kind . . .; that the press will be kind & talk of its charm, & sprightiness [sic]; also I shall be attacked for a feminist & hinted at for a sapphist . . . . I am afraid it will not be taken seriously. Mrs Woolf is so accomplished a writer that all she says makes easy reading . . . this very feminine logic . . . a book to put in the hands of girls. I doubt that I mind very much. . . . It is a trifle, I shall say; so it is, but I wrote it with ardour & conviction. (Woolf 1980, 262)

2The contemporary reception of A Room of One’s Own only partly confirmed Woolf’s conjectures. Indeed, contrary to her expectations, some critics argued that the essay displayed a very ‘masculine’ logic. This was, for instance, the case of the review which was published in The Times Literary Supplement, one week after the essay’s publication: ‘It is certainly of interest to find an artist who has (one is tempted to say) so masculine a sense of literary form as Mrs Woolf . . .’ (Anon 256). But the idea also appeared in Mary Electa Kelsey’s 1931 article entitled ‘Woolf and the She-Condition’ in which she asserted: ‘At any rate—here is Mrs Woolf, possessed of as keen a critical mind, as masculine a wit, as any purely male writer of the day’ (Kelsey 261). Yet if Kelsey stated that ‘[Woolf’s] mind is, I think, more manly-womanly than woman-manly’ (Kelsey 261), Vita Sackville-West, on the other hand, highlighted the idea that Woolf’s balance of stereotypical ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ elements epitomized the androgynous ideal her persona advocated within the text: ‘[Virginia Woolf] enjoys the feminine qualities of, let us say, fantasy and irresponsibility, allied to all the masculine qualities that go with a strong, authoritative brain’ (Sackville-West 258). As for Arnold Bennett—whose literary discord with Woolf had been ongoing since the publication of Jacob’s Room—he associated, perhaps quite unsurprisingly, A Room of One’s Own with a rather preconceived notion of the ‘feminine’:

[Virginia Woolf] is merely the victim of her extraordinary gift of fancy . . . . If I had to make one of those brilliant generalisations now so fashionable, defining the difference between men and women, I should say that whereas a woman cannot walk through a meadow in June without wandering all over the place to pick attractive blossoms, a man can. Virginia Woolf cannot resist the floral enticement. (Bennett 259)

3But Bennett did not confirm Woolf’s dread of ‘being attacked as a feminist’ as he argued that A Room of One’s Own was ‘a book a little about men and a great deal about women. But it is not “feminist”. It is non-partisan.’ (Bennett 259); a feeling shared by Vita Sackville-West who asserted: ‘Mrs Woolf is too sensible to be a thorough-going feminist.’ (Sackville-West 258).

4In the 1930s, however, the adjective ‘feminist’ became more and more recurrent in discussions of the essay, from the British novelist and essayist Franck Swinnerton who stated that A Room of One’s Own was a ‘charming book, . . . a mingling of feminism with reverie and invention’ (Swinnerton 357), to North-American professor of literature Herbert Muller, who asserted that it was both a ‘well-mannered plea’ and ‘a notable preamble to a kind of feminine Declaration of Independence’ (Muller 365). Rebecca West, however, might well be the only critic who made room for the ‘ardour’ and ‘conviction’ Woolf evoked in her diary. Putting aside the essay’s ‘reverie’, ‘good manners’, or what Cambridge scholar Muriel Bradbrook—who attended Woolf’s 1928 lecture on ‘Women and Fiction’ at Girton College—characterised as the essay’s ‘smoke screen of feminine charm’ (Bradbrook 313), Rebecca West argued that A Room of One’s Own was ‘an uncompromising piece of feminist propaganda: . . . the ablest yet written’ (West 211).

5Yet little did either Woolf or her contemporary reviewers and critics know how A Room of One’s Own would eventually become a landmark of feminist literary criticism—‘our literary feminist bible’ (Marcus 5)—or how Woolf herself would be turned into ‘the object of a feminist cult of the ‘great foremother” (Bowlby 24). Indeed, looking back to the last decades of the twentieth century, it appears that Woolf’s 1929 reflection on ‘women and fiction’ (Woolf 2015, 3) covers a variety of issues which have been at the centre of feminist literary debates from the 1970s to the 1990s, such as the importance of the material conditions of writing, gender norms and their impact on history, literature and the literary canon, the status of women as objects of discourse, the existence of a female literary tradition or that of a feminine sentence. Woolf’s complex and rather ambiguous treatment of those issues has made her the paradoxical emblem of the divides between feminist literary critics, despite the fact that, as Rachel Bowlby argued in Feminist Destinations and Further Essays on Virginia Woolf: ‘in A Room of One’s Own [. . . Woolf] moves through just about all the positions that have been attributed to her as definite stances’ (Bowlby 14).

6As such, this article does not endeavour to explore Woolf’s feminist resistance to a male dominated literary tradition or to a patriarchal restraining of female literary development and flourishing. Its twofold ambition is to re-examine the principal feminist appropriations of the essay, by mapping out a panorama of the contradictory feminist interpretations of the text and of Woolf’s feminist stance, and to explore by what means A Room of One’s Own, this highly feminist text, paradoxically resists feminist interpretations and feminism in its various forms. Indeed, Woolf develops a textual strategy which both resists (feminist) direction and precludes any definitive feminist interpretations or appropriations of the essay, but she also openly, if partly ironically, disavows feminism, and sketches out an elusive feminism of her own.

7In or about the 1970s, literary criticism changed, as feminist literary critics reclaimed a room of their own in academia and turned Virginia Woolf into one of the most discussed authors on the planet of feminist literary criticism. Throughout the period encompassing the 1970s, 1980s and the early 1990s—which may well be characterised as Virginia Woolf’s feminist golden age—many feminist critics borrowed and pursued Woolf’s approach to ‘women and fiction’ in A Room of One’s Own, as they attempted, among other things, to analyse images of women in fiction (Cornillon), to exhume women’s writings from the silences of the literary tradition in order to rewrite literary history (Gilbert and Gubar 1985 and 2000), or to determine the specificity of their styles and works (Jacobus, Ostriker)—a perspective which has often been aligned with the notion of écriture féminine (Cixous). If some critics highlighted A Room of One’s Own’s blind spots and urged to renegotiate the essay’s seemingly universal message and to interrogate its social (Childers, Olsen) and racial bias (Walker), they did not, however, entirely disavow the text’s feminist message. For indeed, although Elaine Showalter’s dismissal of the essay’s feminism (Showalter) has been much discussed, rare were the feminist literary critics who disregarded the text’s feminist potency, however contradictory their interpretations may have been—and contradictory they were.

  • 1 See ‘In the past few years, “equality-versus-difference” has been used as a shorthand to characteri (...)

8Although the critical and theoretical stances adopted by feminist literary critics were subject to change and not always clear-cut, feminist interpretations and appropriations of A Room of One’s Own reflected how feminist politics were permeated by dissension from within and partly organised around the ‘equality versus difference’ paradigm.1 As such, the material concerns of A Room of One’s Own and the prominence it gives to women’s economic, intellectual and creative oppression—‘it is necessary to have five hundred a year and a room with a lock on the door if you are to write fiction or poetry’ (Woolf 2015, 79)— appealed to socialist feminists, who drew their materialist orientation from Marxist theory and radical feminism. On the other hand, the essay’s foregrounding of feminine values and experience, as well as Woolf’s defence of a feminine sentence and literary form—‘The book has somehow to be adapted to the body, and at a venture one would say that women’s books should be shorter, more concentrated, than those of men’ (59)—drew the attention of difference feminists whose perspective was most notably influenced by the works of Hélène Cixous, Luce Irigaray and Julia Kristeva, in other words by what was then called ‘French feminism’—despite the conflicts amongst French feminist theorists and activists. Quite tellingly, however different the concerns of socialist and difference feminisms were, both claimed A Room of One’s Own as a text exemplifying their ideas and their critical approaches, and critics from both sides aligned Woolf’s feminism with their own critical and political stances and agendas. Thus, Frances Restuccia asserted in 1985 that ‘between Woolf and most contemporary feminist theorists a vital, unacknowledged kinship exists, based on a feminist revaluation of the feminine’ and reclaimed ‘[A Room of One’s Own] as a manifesto for female difference’ (Restuccia 254–55), while on the other end of the feminist spectrum, Jane Marcus argued that Virginia Woolf ‘was one of the first socialist feminist critics’ (Marcus 5).

  • 2 In Sexual/Textual Politics, Toril Moi locates Woolf’s and A Room of One’s Own’s feminist perspectiv (...)

9Among the notions and questions raised in A Room of One’s Own which have received the most attention from feminist critics, Woolf’s use of androgyny was the topic of several studies published in the 1970s and has been, since then, the centre of an intense and one could argue never-ending feminist literary debate (Bazin, Heilbrun, Moi, Showalter, Ryan 58–78). In terms of feminist criticism, androgyny has been perceived as a move away from feminist politics, most notably by Elaine Showalter who claimed in A Literature of Their Own that ‘[a]ndrogyny was the myth that helped [Woolf] evade confrontation with her own painful femaleness and enabled her to choke and repress her anger and ambition’ (Showalter 264). While, Michèle Barrett—herself a member of the British Marxist-Feminist Literature Collectiveasserted that ‘in retaining the concept of an androgynous art which goes beyond social and political questions Virginia Woolf continually resists the implications of the materialist position she advances in A Room of One’s Own’ (Barrett 22). Yet, Woolf’s use of androgyny has also been characterised as a necessary step towards feminist politics which would recognise the social construction of gender and dismantle the gender binary—a step which has since been linked with queer politics, or with a ‘post-feminist’ perspective (Regard 2002a, 88-96). Toril Moi was among the first critics who brought this idea forward as she asserted in Sexual/Textual Politics that Woolf’s foregrounding of androgyny was ‘a recognition of the falsifying metaphysical nature [of gender identities]’ and that Woolf had ‘understood that the goal of feminist struggle must be precisely to deconstruct the death-dealing binary oppositions of masculinity and femininity’ (Moi 13).2

10While these contradictory feminist appropriations and interpretations of A Room of One’s Own all rely on Woolf’s essay, they do not all fully acknowledge the complexity and the elusiveness of Woolf’s stance itself, an elusiveness which has since been touched upon and examined by various critics (Allen, Briggs, Caughie, Goldman 2007, Spivak 32–53). Jane Goldman notably highlighted the contradictory feminist facets of A Room of One’s Own by exploring the numerous conflicting statements Woolf’s persona makes as the essay unravels, pointing out that ‘A Room of One’s Own can be confusing because it puts forward contradictory sets of arguments’ (Goldman 2007, 75). Yet, A Room of One’s Own’s confusing dimension goes beyond the essay’s conflicting feminist assertions. In her renowned ‘Penelope at Work: Interruptions in A Room of One’s Own’, Peggy Kamuf thus stated that Woolf’s text ‘describes a zig-zag, a repeated reversal of direction’ (Kamuf 7–8), a suggestion which Elena Gualtieri developed in her 2000 study of Woolf’s essays, in which she argued that Woolf devises in A Room of One’s Own, ‘a strategy of indirection’ (Gualtieri 118). Borrowing yet slightly altering both these ideas, I would argue that Woolf develops a textual strategy which resists aiming towards a certain and definite direction, a textual strategy which ultimately partakes in the text’s resistance to feminist interpretations and to feminism in its various dimensions.

11This textual strategy involves various interrelated features of the essay, such as its complex narrative orchestration, its ambiguous generic affiliation, its reclaiming of fictionality, its extensive—and at times bewildering—use of irony, as well as its reversed general economy, most, if not all, of which Woolf highlights in a textual tour de force in the first paragraphs of the essay. As such, the first lines of A Room of One’s Own hint at the subversion of the lecture genre, at the dialogue Woolf’s persona establishes with her audience, and readers, at the tentative posture of the narrative voice, and at the convoluted structure of the text, elements which all contribute to the text’s resistance to (feminist) directions.

12It may however seem rather paradoxical to argue that Woolf resists aiming towards a definite direction whereas her persona delivers the conclusion to her thinking on the topic of ‘women and fiction’ in the opening sentences of the text: ‘a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction’ (Woolf 2015, 3). Yet, this is a highly deceptive feature of Woolf’s narrative strategy as she introduces this statement by pointing out—quite ironically—that it is only ‘an opinion upon one minor point’ (3) and by asserting: ‘I should never be able to come to a conclusion. I should never be able to fulfil what is, I understand, the first duty of a lecturer to hand you after an hour’s discourse a nugget of pure truth’ (3). The essay’s textual resistance to direction is here exemplified: what stands for a conclusion, that is the ultimate direction of an essay or a lecture, is offered as an introduction. It is moreover defined as the mere opinion of someone who rejects the authority of the lecturer and who also rejects the lecturer’s mission to direct their audience as she asserts: ‘One can only give one’s audience the chance of drawing their own conclusions as they observe the limitations, the prejudices, the idiosyncrasies of the speaker.’ (4). At the diegetic level of the text, Woolf’s persona thus enjoins her audience to find their own directions, a word of advice which readers should follow as they enter a text which sometimes becomes, as pointed out by Jane Goldman, a maze of confusingly contradictory ideas among which, as the speaker asserts: ‘there may perhaps be some truth mixed up . . .; it is for you to seek out this truth and to decide whether any part of it is worth keeping’ (4).

13Yet as Woolf’s persona informs her readers that she is ‘going to develop in [their] presence as fully and freely as [she] can the train of thought which led [her] to think this’ (3–4), it might be tempting to believe, that she is indeed directing her readers towards a conclusion; however, the adverbs ‘fully and freely’ warn her readers that this direction might not be reached in a straightforward manner, as indeed the narrator underlines from the start of her speech: ‘I give you my thoughts as they came to me’ (5). Readers thus soon realise that the narrator’s train of thought is pervaded by ideas that are not always related to the conclusion which was offered as an introduction. As such, the narrator’s thinking process can be characterised as a spiralling chain of ideas and statements which confound the readers’ expectations. Woolf reinforces her readers’ loss of direction at the argumentative level of the essay by highlighting the tentativeness of the text and of her narrator’s thinking process. This—partly—ironical tentativeness is emphasized by the multiple occurrences of various signifiers, such as ‘perhaps’, ‘might’ or ‘seem’—each of them amounting to more than fifty occurrences within the text—but also by the use of phrases which ironically accentuates the narrator’s lack of confidence and certainty, such as ‘I will try to explain’ (3), ‘I would venture to guess’ (38), ‘This may be true or it may be false—who can say?’ (38).

14These features of the narrator’s discourse point to her resistance to reclaiming authority, and to Woolf’s development of a rhetorical strategy which actually impedes any wish to posit A Room of One’s Own’s discourse into a definite feminist stance. This strategy is reinforced by the speaker’s reclaiming of her own fictionality as she announces ‘“I” is only a convenient term for somebody who has no real being’ (4). Thus Woolf, the writer who in 1929 was being recognised as an important literary figure, resists directing her readers in her own name by adopting the persona of a speaker who refuses to be identified and pinned down and who uses another persona as a narrator: ‘Here then was I (call me Mary Beton, Mary Seton, Mary Carmichael or by any name you please—it is not a matter of any importance)’ (4). As such, the elusiveness of A Room of One’s Own’s narrative orchestration reinforces the textual strategy of resistance to direction, by subverting and debasing the authority of the author. Especially as, by the end of the text, the speaker interrupts Mary Beton’s narrative, to end the lecture ‘in [her] own person’ (79), yet while reclaiming her own authority she only reinforces the readers’ loss of direction, by drawing their attention to the ‘failings and foibles’ (79) of the narrator and by ironically reasserting the readers’ need to find their own direction:

You have been contradicting her and making whatever additions and deductions seem good to you. That is all as it should be, for in a question like this truth is only to be had by laying together many varieties of error. (79)

15The ironic distantiation between the speaker and the narrator echoes and highlights the ironic distantiation between the author and both speaker and narrator, an ironic distantiation which paradoxically both hinders and reinforces the wish to equate the speaker’s or the narrator’s elusive feminist stances to Woolf’s—a paradox which emphasizes both the text’s resistance to direction and the central device of this textual strategy, irony.

16Woolf’s extensive use of irony reinforces the part devoted to her readers and confronts them to the following predicament: how to pinpoint and distinguish ironic statements from statements which could, or should, be taken at face value? Irony is located on various scales and levels of the text, from that of word or concept, to that of statement or sentence. Quite tellingly, Woolf’s ironic treatment of the concept of ‘truth’, throughout A Room of One’s Own, highlights the elusiveness of her feminist stance. As such, the notion is openly dismissed by the speaker at the opening of the essay (Regard 2002b, 59): ‘At any rate, when a subject is highly controversial—and any question about sex is that—one cannot hope to tell the truth’ (4). Yet the text ironically unravels the narrator’s quest for truth as she hopes to ‘reach the pure fluid, the essential oil of truth’ (20), before realising that truth keeps ‘running through her fingers’ (24), and acknowledging that in the case of ‘women and fiction’ what stands for ‘truth’ is often but ‘personal’, ‘accidental’ and ‘prejudiced’ (20) opinion. A statement which effectively, if quite ironically, jeopardises any wish to find out the truth about Woolf’s feminist stance in A Room of One’s Own. Yet, irony is also a distinctive feature of the general economy of A Room of One’s Own. If the essay opens on what is introduced as the speaker’s conclusion, the narrator’s story ends on what should have been the first lines of the lecture. This reversal, which is one of the most striking signs of Woolf’s resistance to leading her readers towards a single and definite direction, quite ironically reverses the essay’s feminist stance. Indeed, if the speaker offered us an initial emphasis on the material conditions of writing as the direction point of the lecture, it eventually appears that the narrator is led and thus leads her readers to another conclusion, which highlights issues of gendered identity and difference:

Even so, the very first sentence that I would write here, I said, crossing over to the writing-table and taking up the page headed Women and Fiction, is that it is fatal for anyone who writes to think of their sex. It is fatal to be a man or woman pure and simple; one must be woman-manly or man-womanly. It is fatal for a woman to lay the least stress on any grievance; to plead even with justice any cause; in any way to speak consciously as a woman. (78)

  • 3 For another reading of this passage, see Spivak 40–41.

17This conclusion sends the readers back to the beginning of the text as it is presented as what should be, or should have been, the first sentence of the lecture although it is not the first one of the essay.3 If this somehow reinforces the readers’ loss of direction, it also opens up the field of possible interpretations of the essay’s feminist direction(s), as these two poles, which mirror and reverse one another, lay emphasis on three aspects which feminist critics have focused upon and highly debated: Woolf’s foregrounding of materiality, androgyny, and—albeit less explicitly—female, or feminine, difference. Woolf’s strategic reversal of direction thus impedes our ability to attribute any definite feminist stance to A Room of One’s Own, or at least a feminist stance that would lay emphasis either on materiality, androgyny or difference, as it points to the idea that Woolf’s feminist perspective is located at the crossroads of these numerous feminist directions.

18The feminist crossroads which lie at the core of A Room of One’s Own epitomise Woolf’s resistance to direct her readers towards a particular feminist direction, but also, in the different pathways it outlines, towards feminism itself. Quite tellingly, Woolf’s dismissal and critique of the word ‘feminism’ is often commented upon while referring to Three Guineas, in which her persona considers destroying this ‘vicious’ and ‘corrupt’ word:

What more fitting than to destroy an old word, a vicious and corrupt word that has done much harm in its day and is now obsolete? The word ‘feminist’ is the word indicated. That word, according to the dictionary, means ‘one who champions the rights of women’. Since the only right, the right to earn a living, has been won, the word no longer has a meaning. And a word without a meaning is a dead word, a corrupt word. (179)

  • 4 For MacCarthy’s views on ‘women and fiction’, see his famous exchange with Woolf on the subject in (...)
  • 5 Before becoming a critical paradigm in modernist studies (see Gilbert and Gubar 1987; Goldman 2004, (...)
  • 6 For a discussion on the various aspects of the feminist struggle in early 20th century Britain, and (...)
  • 7 If this is true of A Room of One’s Own itself, this statement is equally appropriate when consideri (...)

19To my knowledge, the occurrences of the words ‘feminist’ and ‘feminism’ in A Room One’s Own have not drawn the same critical attention. These words only appear three times in the essay (27, 27, 44), and quite significantly, each of their occurrences is introduced by the word ‘arrant’, an intensive which, the Oxford English Dictionary reminds us, is especially if not exclusively used with opprobrious terms—such as thief, traitor, coward. This turning of the word feminist into an opprobrious term, is not however the doing of the narrator. It is explicitly attributed to Z, the ‘most humane, most modest of men’ (27)—who, in fact, was non-other than Woolf’s friend and Bloomsbury acolyte, Desmond MacCarthy.4 Yet the anti-feminist streak the ‘arrant feminist/feminism’ syntagm testifies to is not entirely absent from the narrator’s own discourse. Looking back to the suffrage campaign, the narrator dismisses—partly, yet not entirely, ironically—the value of the right to vote in favour of financial autonomy: ‘Of the two—the vote and the money—the money, I own, seemed infinitely the more important.’ (29). While, later on, the narrator ridicules the scope of the suffrage campaign by turning its militants into ‘a few women in black bonnets’ (75), who, according to her—and this time, perhaps not ironically—are to blame for the ‘sex-consciousness’ (78) characterising the turn of the century, a period which was qualified by many at the time of ‘sex war’.5 A Room of One’s Own thus openly resists early 20th century feminism in what we remember today as its main concern and objective—the suffrage6—while, paradoxically, articulating a feminism of one’s own, the various aspects of which were to blossom into some of the central concerns of both feminism and feminist literary criticism in the second half of the century.7

  • 8 A Room of One’s Own has been rewritten several times since the turn of the 21st century, see Gubar, (...)

20A Room of One’s Own’s resistance to feminism participated, rather ironically, in initiating and developing feminist literary criticism. Yet, the ultimate irony is directed back towards Woolf herself. Indeed, while devising a textual strategy of resistance to (feminist) direction which forecloses any definite feminist interpretation and appropriation of A Room of One’s Own, Woolf opened up so many ways of interpreting the essay and its feminism that no interpretation can entirely betray it—the ultimate proof of the text’s richness and complexity being its ability to withstand the many contradictory interpretations which have been referred to at the beginning of this article. While A Room of One’s Own’s centenary approaches, the text is considered today—as we explore and retrace the history of feminism(s)—as an early twentieth century landmark of feminist criticism and theory, however the essay continues to be read, discussed and negotiated by contemporary readers, critics, authors, and feminists,8 a process which testifies to both the essay’s and Woolf’s continuing feminist relevance in the age of #MeToo. Yet I would ultimately argue, as Naomi Black did in Virginia Woolf as Feminist, that if ‘feminist critics have constructed and reconstructed a variety of versions of Woolf’s feminism’ (Black 8), ‘in the end, categories have to be jettisoned for the project of mapping the feminism of a given writer or activist’ (Black 10) and that instead of attempting to pinpoint Woolf’s ‘feminism of her own’ according to our contemporary feminist standards and agendas, we should rejoice that Woolf’s elusive feminist stance in A Room of One’s Own encompasses antagonistic feminist perspectives and subverts feminist divides.

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1 See ‘In the past few years, “equality-versus-difference” has been used as a shorthand to characterize conflicting feminist positions and political strategies. Those who argue that sexual difference ought to be an irrelevant consideration . . . are put in the equality category. Those who insist that appeals on behalf of women ought to be made in terms of the needs, interests, and characteristics common to women as a group are placed in the difference category.’ (Scott 38)

2 In Sexual/Textual Politics, Toril Moi locates Woolf’s and A Room of One’s Own’s feminist perspectives thanks to a framework drawn from Julia Kristeva’s ‘Le temps des femmes’—or ‘Women’s Time’—(Kristeva) and asserts that they stand in the third phase of feminism—a phase corresponding both to Kristeva’s and Moi’s standpoints—which Moi outlines as: ‘3 . . . Women reject the dichotomy between masculine and feminine as metaphysical.’ (Moi 12). However, one could argue that, by doing so, Moi dismisses some of the arguments Woolf develops in A Room of One’s Own which are also in keeping with the first and second phases of feminism: ‘1 Women demand equal access to the symbolic order. Liberal feminism. Equality.’, ‘2 Women reject the male symbolic order in the name of difference. Radical feminism. Femininity extolled.’ (Moi 12)

3 For another reading of this passage, see Spivak 40–41.

4 For MacCarthy’s views on ‘women and fiction’, see his famous exchange with Woolf on the subject in the New Statesman, published under the title ‘The Intellectual Status of Women’ in Woolf 1992, 30–39.

5 Before becoming a critical paradigm in modernist studies (see Gilbert and Gubar 1987; Goldman 2004, 80), the notion of ‘sex war’, also known as ‘sex antagonism’ or ‘sex discord’, was repeatedly used at the turn of the century, notably by Arnold Bennett and Rebecca West.

6 For a discussion on the various aspects of the feminist struggle in early 20th century Britain, and of Woolf’s involvement in and connections with feminist organisations, see Black 23–50.

7 If this is true of A Room of One’s Own itself, this statement is equally appropriate when considering Woolf’s numerous writings on women and gender, as Pamela Caughie underlines: ‘Taken as an oeuvre, Woolf’s writings represent the multiple directions which feminist writings have taken historically; rather than fitting into a ready-made definition of feminism, we might see her writings as having mindfully raised many of the issues that have defined, and will continue to define, feminism as new writers and historical circumstances emerge.’ (Caughie 314)

8 A Room of One’s Own has been rewritten several times since the turn of the 21st century, see Gubar, Wilson.

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Valérie Favre, « A Room of One’s Own’s (Resistance to) Feminist Interpretations and Feminism »Études britanniques contemporaines [En ligne], 58 | 2020, mis en ligne le 01 mars 2020, consulté le 10 août 2020. URL :; DOI:

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Valérie Favre

Valérie Favre holds an agrégation in English and is a PhD student in Anglo-American literature at the Université Lumière Lyon 2 where, after having been awarded a doctoral contract, she works as an assistant lecturer (ATER) in the Department of Anglophone Studies. Her research, conducted under the direction of Pascale Tollance and Christine Planté, focuses on the posterity of A Room of One’s Own in Anglo-American literature and literary criticism from the 1960s to the present day.

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