Virginia Woolf's Answer to "Women Can't Paint, Women Can't Write" in to the Lighthouse

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Abstract

This essay addresses Virginia Woolf's personal stand in her answer to "women can't paint, women can't write", a reflection on the Victorian prejudice of the role of women in the family and society shared by both her parents, Leslie and Julia Stephen. By bridging a close textual analysis with the most recent psychological critical analysis, I argue that apart from the political, social and artistic implications, Woolf's attitude to the Victorian stereotypes related to gender roles carry a deeply personal message, being undeniably influenced and determined by the relationship with her parents and her need to lie to rest some unresolved issues concerning her status as a woman artist. This essay focuses on Woolf's 1926 novel, To the Lighthouse, which is, undoubtedly, her most autobiographical novel. Lily Briscoe, the unmarried painter who finally manages to conceptualize Woolf's vision at the end of the novel, has a double mission in this novel. First, she has to resolve her own insecurities and come to peace with the memory of the deceased Mrs. Ramsay, a symbol of the Victorian woman and Julia Stephen's artistic alter ego. Second, she has to connect with Mr. Ramsay and prove to herself that women can, indeed, paint. As she matures as a painter Virginia Woolf is overcoming her anger and frustration caused by the fact that she didn't not fit into the generally accepted pattern of the woman's role in society and in the family life, and especially of the status of women as artists. By creating one of the most challenging novels of the English Literature, Virginia Woolf also proves to herself and to the readers that women can, indeed write.

Keywords: gender, art, Victorian prejudices, Virginia Woolf

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Being one of the earliest and most influential feminist writers of the 20th century, Virginia Woolf has offered us with a literary heritage exploring in different forms such themes as socioeconomic processes of occupational segregation, wage discrimination, imposition of separate spheres and social exclusion. Her implied perspective on distributive gender justice nourish her novels and diaries, but no other piece of fiction reflects more faithfully her deeply personal stand in this regard as To the Lighthouse (1926), a novel which marked her as a mature, self-fulfilled modern writer. This essay addresses Virginia Woolf's personal stand in her answer to "women can't paint, women can't write" (Woolf, To the Lighthouse, 48), a reflection on the Victorian prejudice of the role of women in the family and society shared by both her parents, Leslie and Julia Stephen. By bridging a close textual analysis with the most recent psychological critical analysis, I argue that apart from the political, social and artistic implications, Woolf's attitude to the Victorian stereotypes related to gender roles carry a deeply personal message, being undeniably influenced and determined by the relationship with her parents and her need to lie to rest some unresolved issues concerning her status as a woman artist. Lily Briscoe, the unmarried painter who finally manages to conceptualize Woolf's vision at the end of the novel, has a double mission in this novel. First, she has to resolve her own insecurities and come to peace with the memory of the deceased Mrs. Ramsay, a symbol of the Victorian woman and Julia Stephen's artistic alter ego. Second, she has to connect with Mr. Ramsay and prove to herself that women can, indeed, paint.

Lily Briscoe--the struggling female artist

In the first section of the book Lily Briscoe is far from being the visionary artist whose prophetical "I have had my vision" (Woolf, To the Lighthouse, 209) accomplishes the symbolical trip to the Lighthouse and marks the end of the novel. In "The Window" Lily is presented as a young, inexperienced painter struggling to overcome her own insecurities: "She could have wept. It was bad, it was bad, it was infinitely bad! …