Law, Literature, and the Legacy of Virginia Woolf: Stories and Lessons in Feminist Legal Theory

By Brody, Susan L. | Texas Journal of Women and the Law, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

Law, Literature, and the Legacy of Virginia Woolf: Stories and Lessons in Feminist Legal Theory


Brody, Susan L., Texas Journal of Women and the Law


I. INTRODUCTION 2

II. LAW AND LITERATURE AND THE IMPORTANCE OF STORYTELLING FOR THE STUDY OF FEMINIST LEGAL THEORY 3

III. VIRGINIA WOOLPS FEMINISM

A. A Room of One 's Own 8

B. Mrs. Dalloway 9

IV. THE HOURS' FEMINISM 12

A. The Women and Plot in The Hours: Three female characters relive Mrs. Dalloway 's day at different times in the twentieth century 12

B. Women 's Work and Careers in The Hours: Virginia, Laura, and Clarissa show their work to be valuable and integral to society 14

C. Relationships in The Hours: Virginia, Laura, and Clarissa seek an interconnectedness that is unique to women 23

D. Emotional and Mental Health in The Hours: Virginia, Laura, and Clarissa seek independence, self-worth, and freedom to determine their own identities 29

V. THE HOURS' CLARISSA AS A BEACON OF HOPE FOR WOMEN IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY 33

VI. THE HOURS AS A FRAMEWORK FOR TEACHING FEMINIST LEGAL THEORY 37

VII. CONCLUSION 45

"Clarissa stands not only for herself but for the gifts and frailties of her entire sex."1

I. INTRODUCTION

Virginia Woolf is in many ways an icon for the study of feminist jurisprudence. Although Woolf never aligned herself with any of the women's political movements of her time,2 her works "waged a spirited campaign in favour of the moral emancipation of women."3 Her 1925 novel, Mrs. Dalloway, encompasses the full range of WooIfs feminist views. Michael Cunningham's 1998 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Hours, embraces and expands upon Woolfs feminist views by projecting them into middle and late twentieth century contexts. The Hours provides law students with a rich resource from which they can access-and perhaps even experience-feminist views that span nearly a century.4

Cunningham's novel reproduces, but insightfully updates, the elements of Mrs. Dalloway''s story.5 Cunningham's three versions of Clarissa Dalloway's day reveal feminist elements that could not be as profoundly expressed without being told as a narrative story. Indeed, "stories" can reach the heart of what is true in a way that descriptive writing cannot. This Article will first review some of the basic concepts of the Law and Literature movement and its relevance to a review of The Hours. More specifically, it also will address the importance of storytelling in the study of feminist jurisprudence and the use of stories, real and fictionalized, to teach feminist legal theory. Next, this Article will discuss Virginia Woolfs feminism, as expressed through her works A Room of One 's Own and, at greater length, Mrs. Dalloway. This Article will then explore feminism in The Hours as a continuation of Woolfs vision. Specifically, this section will examine Cunningham's characters in three different spheres: women's work and careers; relationships; and emotional and mental health. The characters will be analyzed through a feminist perspective, ultimately viewing Cunningham's character Clarissa Vaughan as her own person and a postmodern6 feminist. This Article will then move on to analyze and suggest how Clarissa Vaughan can be viewed as a beacon of hope for women in the twenty-first century, perhaps representing what Virginia Woolf envisioned for women in the future. Finally, this article will conclude by showing that The Hours is a rich resource and teaching tool for the study of feminist legal theory.

II. LAW AND LITERATURE AND THE IMPORTANCE OF STORYTELLING FOR THE STUDY OF FEMINIST LEGAL THEORY

The Law and Literature movement began with a focus on the way in which specific legal doctrines and rules are reflected in literature.7 Like law, literature reflects culture; thus, because fiction can often accurately reflect the world as it is, Law and Literature theorists drew parallels between the law and the Iiteratiwe in which it was reflected.8 Further, as it developed, literary analysis provided a way for scholars to consider portions of cases not reported in the official reporter versions. …

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