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Dear Virginia Woolf,

Anne Dalke's picture


mbeale's picture

Dear Virginia

Dear Virginia Woolf,

Concerning the particular proposition of creating an “Outsiders’ Society,”  we take issue with the following:

The hypocrisy of creating a separate society to escape the selfishness and violence that such a society, any society would is troublingly selfish and violent in itself. An "escape" society of the outliers of a rejecting, predeccesor society would only bring about more selfishness and violence, highlighting that the impression of an outsider is one who rejects the idea of homogeneity. Therefore, inception of group requiring a common togetherness to sustain itself could be stifling to participants who may cling to their unique "outsider" and do not wish to be captured in a communal environment. A society of people who inherently deny the group would inevitably be destroyed from within its ranks.

Kind regards,

Maya, JD, and Rebecca

michelle.lee's picture

Dear Virgina Woolfe

Dear Virginia Woolfe,
     Your ideal of an outsider's society is very utopian and a little unrealistic and unattainable.  There is also the problem that if you leave your current society and move onto make another, you risk creating another imperfect one.   You will just continue to opt out of each society you just made because of the inevibilaty of failure to meet your high ideals.    It's a valuable standard to have but cannot be easily applied to real life and is purely aspirational.  

Ray, Debbi, Michelle 
dchin's picture

What About Race, Virginia Woolf?

Dear Virginia Woolfe,

As we mentioned in our previous letter, your vision of an outsider's society in which women can succeed professionally and academically without learning qualities that lead to war-making is inspirational, but unrealistic and ultimately unattainable. I would like to further question you on this "outsider's society". You write from a postion of privilege, having the fortune of having guineas to distribute; moreover, you write as a privileged white woman. While you do acknowledge class in your letters, I would like to hear your thoughts on how race would factor into your utopian "outsider's society". Given the realities of racism and the ways in which it manifests in social institutions, how do you plan on addressing this obstacle? You talk about the equities between men and women, but what about the inequities that exist between women? Furthermore, have you thought about how your own position as a privileged white woman affects what you say and how you are perceived in this struggle for equality? Being the daughter of an educated man, you are most likely accustomed to certain luxuries and so the prospect of choosing to be poor is an ideal rather than a painful reality. For women who are actually poor, choosing to be in such a state will be met with resistance. How do you think that your words will be received by women who have experienced not only the disadvantages of being female but also the disadvantages of being a nonwhite female? Most importantly, what will you say to those women? I truly want to believe in the "outsider's society" you've described but I need you to explain to me concretely how you plan on achieveing and sustaining it.




colleenaryanne's picture

Michael Tratner on Virginia Woolf and race

The question of Virginia Woolf and race came up in class last week, and it was suggested that someone ask Michael Tratner, Bryn Mawr College’s resident Virginia Woolf expert, what, if anything, she had to say about race.  So I asked him after my class with him last Tuesday, and he gave me a brief overview of Virginia Woolf and what her works say about the issue of “race.”

According to Tratner, she doesn’t say much on the topic – most of her discourse is on class and gender.  She is a product of her upbringing, says Tratner, and her remarks regarding race tend to be at least stereotyped, if not condescending.  Tratner described to me several works in which she discusses people of different race.  For example, in her novel Orlando: A Biography , the main character makes his way to Turkey, turns into a woman, and spends a significant amount of time with the “Gypsies.” According to Tratner, Woolf’s description of the Gypsies was definitely a product of her stereotyped ideas about them.  Similarly, in her story The Voyage Out, she discusses South America and the “Natives” without any experience with or education about the people or their culture, and consequently her narrative sounds false and perpetuates the stereotypes of her time. 

Tratner said that Virgina’s novel Flush: A Biography is probably the one book that has any kind of real racial commentary.  This novel focuses on the life of Elizabeth Barret Browning’s dog and their travels together.  Barret Browning and her dog end up in Italy, and Woolf describes the hierarchal system within the dogs of this country as based on democracy and equality.  This world of complete equality between the different dog species is depicted as far more perfect that the human world of hierarchies and discrimination.  The commentary on the Italian dog world may be said to have racial as well as class and gender connotations.  Tratner believes that this is as close to a racial commentary as Woolf ever explored; race was not an issue that she dealt with very often because it was not necessarily important to her, nor did issues of race effect her as much as class and gender issues. 

bluebox's picture

Dear Virginia Woolf,

We were struck by your proposed ceremony to cremate the word "feminist."  We still need it.  There's more to be won for women than the right to earn money. Internalized misogyny, reproductive rights, and the fact that this right is confined to rich white ladies all need correction. Economically speaking, there's more to do. Equal rights for equal work must be adressed, at least.  Feminism has not run its term.  It has, in fact, expanded and filled other spaces.  Perhaps we do need a new word, to relieve the feminist faction of the baggage and history of the movement.  But the word and the history connected to the movement should not die or be forgotten. We are simply moving into another stage of feminism.


MC, hwink, bluebox, and Sarah

colleenaryanne's picture

Dear Ginny,

Virginia Woolf dancing around the burning corpse of feminism.

Hey girl, slow your roll. Let's not throw out the baby with the bath water.  We're not quite ready to dance around the fire of feminism; it was still alive and kicking last time we checked. We understand you come from a different place, but some of us still have a word or two to say to feminism.  The meaning hasn't died, we're just looking for a new one.




pejordan's picture

Dear Virginia Woolf,

We don’t see an advantage in boycotting traditional education. It is not that easy to distance yourself from society, and you are only perpetuating this exclusivity. We don’t see a connection, necessarily, between education and war. The competitive atmosphere that you have such a problem with is not something that is caused by education; it is human nature.

AlexandraJane, Alex, Ellen, and Phoebe

aybala50's picture

Dear Virginia Woolf,

Your vision of a passive education is interesting. Don’t you think that model of education would reify the existing class structure? The way you describe women’s education will not change the amount of war that is created currently by the educated men. So wouldn’t it be more beneficial to find a way of educating women to change the existing power structures?

aybala50, frigginsushi, syaeger and sara.gladwin