Yale Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies
Volume 2, Issue 2
spring 2012
Editor, Geetanjali Singh Chanda
Managing Editor, Linda Hase
Layout Design, Nick Appleby

Virginia Woolf

by Lily Lewis-McNeil

The blue-book and the student grapevine affirmed that Margaret Homans’s seminar Virginia Woolf would give me an unparalleled opportunity to study and discuss the renowned author in depth. We study Woolf primarily through her novels, but we also explore a variety of her other writings such as essays, short stories, and personal writing like letters and diary entries. As we enter Woolf’s world through her work, we draw connections and spot patterns – she repeatedly deals with themes of gender, art, and the life cycle. Woolf was greatly influenced by her surroundings, as a part of the social and intellectual London crowd now known as the “Bloomsbury Group.” She wrote on key social issues of her time including the after-effects of war and the restrictions on education for women. In particular, the class explores Woolf through a feminist perspective, finding that many of the questions she posed about gender equality and sexuality continue to be asked today.

Professor Homans supplements Woolf’s own writing with other relevant work. We have focused most heavily on literary criticism from authors who concentrate on the feminist implications of Woolf’s writing. It has been enlightening and thought-provoking to read conflicting interpretations of Woolf’s work and attempt to come to our own conclusions in discussions together. Elizabeth Abel, for example, claims that Woolf manages to escape from the traditional feminine novel in Mrs. Dalloway and Christine Froula concludes the same about The Waves. Meanwhile, however, Woolf’s own nephew Quentin Bell argues against a feminist or lesbian reading of her work. We felt pleased and gratified to find that Rachel Bowlby identified the same contradictions that we had found in A Room of One’s Own.
Woolf’s writing is bold, progressive and poetic. It’s pure pleasure to prepare for class, whether we’re rediscovering pieces we’ve read before or immersing ourselves in work that will soon become familiar. But the real pleasure is in the fluency we now have in Woolf’s work itself. Not many classes at Yale allow students to delve into an author’s work as broadly or in as much detail as this one. It is unique in an undergraduate setting to feel almost like an ‘expert’ on Virginia Woolf, having read both the original works and studied the various perspectives on her. It is a joy to write and discuss her work as fully-informed readers.

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