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In this highly
materialist argument, to what degree does Woolf leave open the possibility
that an individual genius may rise above such limiting circumstances
as poverty or lack of education?
Woolf concedes, by means of examples like
that of John Keats, that such cases are possible. But their possibility
is more or less irrelevant to her argument, which in its sociological
aspect concerns itself with probabilities and statistical "facts."
That the odds are against an aspiring author who has no income is
sufficient for Woolf's contention. In Woolf's view all geniuses,
by definition, manage to transcend their own particularities insofar
as their work achieves incandescence.
How would you
describe the form of this essay? Is it an argument? If so, how does
it differ from more conventional forms of argumentation, and to
Woolf wants to avoid the rigidly logical
structure of most academic argumentation, which she rejects for
its blind self-assurance and unspoken biases. Her ideal of argumentative
truth is one that does not appeal just to "objective" facts. She
is highly conscious of the subtleties of meaning that are already
implicit in what we call facts, and the way their values and meanings
can change over time. Woolf chooses to give her interpretations
through a shadowy persona so that she can handle her topic ironically
and introduce surprises and twists to the story without seeming
disingenuous. She counterbalances this narrative manipulation by
telling her audience exactly what she proposes to do. The style
of the essay is not meant to be a trick or a self-protective disavowal
of the ideas it contains, but rather a means of dramatizing those
ideas to greater effect. Her argument is not a logical progression,
but rather a gradual unfolding, by indirection and accident, of
a complex of ideas that casts the conventional landscape of women's
literature in a new light.
that the particular social realities in which women live create
distinctively female values and outlooks. Does she think this is
a good thing or a bad thing?
Political, legal, and social oppression are
never "good things." But given that historical reality, Woolf thinks
that cultural diversity is something to be embraced and cultivated.
Even had women not been subjugated for centuries, differences in
experiences would have generate different outlook, and our cultural
and literary richness depends on such differences. Engagement with
difference allows us to see ourselves, not just in the "mirrors"
where we project our own images, but from behind—that spot on the
back of the skull that no mirror can reach and only another person
can reveal to us.
Ace your assignments with our guide to A Room of One's Own!