Over most of the last millennia there has been a struggle to equalize the sexes. In the late 14th century the struggle was on possibly for the first time in the public domain. Christine de Pisan stepped into the literate world to rebel against the common prevailing views of her time. The view was that women were in many way’s inferior to men. Pisan argued that women were equal. The movement slowly made its way to become common knowledge. Women given the same opportunities as men can achieve an intellectual equality. By the later part of the 17th century a few vivacious women had stepped into the world of professional writing. It was defiantly a turbulent life for the likes of women like Aphra Behn, who opened the door for the future female authors to step through.
One of those writers was Virginia Woolf, an early 20th-century female author who agreed with what the English romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge had to say in Specimens of the Table Talk of S.T. Coleridge “The Truth is, a great mind must be androgynous.” He wrote that in September of 1832. The way people see sexuality has undertaken a massive transformation since Coleridge introduced the idea of androgyny and its association to perfection.
Virginia Woolf called that homeostatic relationship within the psyche “the unity of the mind”(Woolf 607). Woolf offers us a reflection of the soul as she understood it,
so that in each of us two powers preside, one male, one female; and in the man’s brain, the man predominates over the woman, and in the woman’s brain, the woman predominates over the man. The normal and comfortable state of being is that when the two live in harmony together, spiritually co- operating.”(Woolf 607)
A good example of the type of mind Coleridge and Woolf are defining is the mind of William Shakespeare, Woolf say’s “it would be impossible to say what Shakespeare thought of women.” (Woolf 608) The qualities that lead exceptional literature through the ages seem to hold an ambiguous characteristic. Shakespeare is to this day a mystery as an individual yet his literature still encompasses much of our currents belief and culture. That transparency is something that critics like Virginian Woolf believe is necessary in the production of quality literature. An invisibility of the author, a directive she believes men of her time failed to adhere too. The male’s world of “I” is forced upon her,
honest and logical; as hard as a nut, and as polished for centuries by good teaching and good feeding. I respect and admire that “I” from the bottom of my heart. But --- here I turned a page or two, looking for something or other-- - the worst of it is that the shadow of the letter “I” all is shapeless as mist. Is that a tree? No, it’s a woman. (608 Woolf)
The contrast is to her so apparent that to her the male authors of her time were preforming “indecent” act’s, in plain daylight. She goes on to talk about how “Shakespeare’s indecency uproots a thousand other things in one’s mind, and is far from being dull. But Shakespeare does it for pleasure.” Woolf says a typical tactless writer “does it in protest. He is protesting against the equality of the other sex by asserting his own superiority.”(Woolf 609) Equality within the mind pertaining to both sexes creates a unity that produces the most powerful works of art.
Bringing the sexes together is an art of its own and Woolf uses several unique ways to guide us into a world where our minds are in tune with both sexualities. A male dominated fascist regime for example is incapable of manufacturing poetry without nurturing it, “Poetry ought to have a mother as well as a father.”(610Woolf) She goes on to say “The Fascist poem, one may fear, will be a horrid little abortion such as one sees in a glass jar…such monsters never live long.” Woolf also recognizes that the issue isn’t one sided, that women need to step out of the shadow of mans ego and into a light of their own, yet in an androgynous female male way. Uniting the minds of people to think in a way where both sexes are at peace with one another seems to grant any artwork that can do it, a right to longevity and life within the creative world of literature.
In accordance with the literary world Woolf made a declaration that humanity needs to hear the female voice from the source to create a more accurate portrayal of reality. Woolf looks back into the past to produce a portrait of the women who were on the forefront of literature by the 20th-century. Bronte, Austen and Eliot are all put under the spot light to help her produce a perspective of the female mind as it was by that point in history. Though she has a small selection of female authors who’s works were accepted into the mainstream culture, she is able to assume several valid points that will reflect her ideology. Woolf paints out the characteristics of the female novelists through their flaws, as she perceives them, throughout their pros. According to Woolf, all three authors are genuinely geniuses, yet not all the women are capable of fully expressing themselves without exposing their resentment towards the other sex; in turn deforming their prose to reflect a twisted a disjointed piece of art.
George Eliot was woman who used a male name to represent herself. Right away we find her to be disjointed, broken away form the “unity” Woolf talks about. Middlemarch is a village set in England in the 19th—century. Eliot paints a world that radiates reality, “but” as Woolf would say, Dorothea, Eliot’s main protagonist seems to exemplify the repressed woman. Dorothea is a strong-minded young woman who decided to marry and old nasty backward clergymen. Her uncle, an old bachelor, Mr. Brooks can see she’s making a mistake but willingly participates in the union. Dorothea realizes her mistake within a few weeks of her honeymoon in Italy, from that point on Eliot locks herself up in a character that is forced to repress her desires to remain in the patriarchal light the novel sets itself in. Eliot’s work is genius, here characters are real as can be, but they are set in the world of man. There is no room in it for the author. She’s not playing for the right team, so any advancement she might be making well only be seen as helping the other team (men) define themselves with more clarity. Throughout most of the novel Dorothea lives like this
She entertained no visions of their ever coming into nearer union and yet she had taken no posture of renunciation. She had accepted her whole relation to Will very simply as part of her marriage sorrows, and would have though it very sinful in her to keep up an inward wail because she was not completely happy, being rather disposed to dwell on the superfluities of her lot.
The break in unity of the mind of Dorothea is clearly evident. This is a direct reflection of the mind of George Eliot, or the disjointed and twisted psyche of Mary Anne Disreali.
Bronte’s Jane Eyre also can’t seem to hold herself together and is found to betray her creator and subjugate the audience to the anger and resentment of her inexperienced female author. Charlotte Bronte exposes us to the life of a woman who wants to witness the world. She does it pretty well, drawing out the oppressive world of the young girls who were force to live out their lives without a father figure. Bronte depicts the life of the noble family in a way that allows the modern reader to sense the level of hypocrisy that was formed throughout the Aristocratic ages. Jane Eyre is perfectly forgotten, a young orphan looking to be shaped by her surroundings, yet every step of the way she’s forced to embark in menial small-minded tasks, that is until she meets Mr. Rochester. The king of a castle, he opens the door to the mind of Jane Eyre. It is he that set’s her free. Her mind is capable to wonder, but it doesn’t, not really until Mr. Rochester accepts her, “The ease of his manner freed me form painful restraint: the friendly frankness, as correct as cordial, with which he treated me, drew me to him. I felt at times as if he were my relation rather than my master: yet he was imperious sometimes still, but I did not mind that; I saw it was his way.”(171Bronte) This relationship is not healthy in a modern sense, Eyre isn’t in control of herself and Rochester is. Bronte developed the character in such a way to live up to the lie of the Victorian crowd of men that she needed to impress to get the book published. This lack of unity, this pull to make her intentions pronounced diverts the attention of the reader from what Charlotte Bronte was actually trying to offer us, her view of the horizon, the everlasting landscape of life.
One author of the 19th—century can hold the right light emitted by her genius to the message imprinted on the minds eye and her name is Jane Austen. She was a woman who had the audacity to call herself by her real man, exposing her sex, and the truth through her eyes as a woman. Woolf argues “Jane Austen looked at it … and devised a perfectly natural, shapely sentence proper for her own use and never departed from it.”(606 Woolf) She was someone who stuck to her guns, “with less genius for writing then Charlotte Bronte, she got infinitely more said.” (606 Woolf) Austen’s ability to carry her femininity into all the parts of her novels with so much integrity gives them the honor to hold tremendous weight. Her pros speak volumes to men about women, “Emma fancied there was a something of resentment, a something bordering on it in her style, which increased the desirableness of their being separate .—It might be only her own consciousness; but it seemed as if an angel only could have been quiet without resentment under such a stroke.” (Austen 422). Austen reveals how closely she reads here, she knows how to stand her ground because she is always focusing on maintain her connection to Emma, the character, not here own connection to the life she is creating for Emma. Jane Austen said what she wanted too, she wanted to leave a message that wasn’t going to be replaced, to do so she cut off all ties to herself as she managed to scribble out the manuscripts of her books. She developed a tradition for women, and gave Woolf a portrait of reality she can trust is 100% authentic, not a reflection of some other guy’s idea of what to write.
The rise of a cultural revolution begins in the heart of the artist. Pisan’s realization that submitting ones ideal to maintain the ideal of the next guy could only be combated through a lack of complacency and an aggressive personal ideology that relates to oneself as an individual honestly. In other words if women want freedom they got to fight for it every step of the way. Through the ages there hasn’t been a tremendous amount of real geniuses. None really that amounts to individuals such as Shakespeare, people like Woolf and Coleridge understood that, and clued into why. Integrity to ones true self is fundamental to the success of the work being produced. Accurate portrayals of the events being carried out in a storytellers mind can make the audience truly believe in the existence of the artist’s reality. The possibility are there, as long as we reflect what we actually know, not what they tell us to say.
Austen, Jane "Emma". London:Penguin Classics, 1996. Print.
Bronte, Charlotte “Jane Eyre”. London:Penuine Classics, 1996. Print.
Eliot, George “Middlemarch”. London:Penguin Classics, 1996. Print.
Woolf Virginia. From “A Room of One’s own.” The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and
Contemporary Trends. ED. David H. Richter.3rded. Boston:Bedford, 2007. 1933-35.Print