Academic journal article Woolf Studies Annual

"Tilting at Universities": Woolf at King's College London

Academic journal article Woolf Studies Annual

"Tilting at Universities": Woolf at King's College London

Article excerpt

Women's education was a constant concern for Virginia Woolf. She read widely about the historic exclusion of women from higher education, the social reformers who fought for women's higher education, and the prejudices that persisted even after colleges opened their doors to women. Her novels are full of female characters--Clarissa Dalloway, Mrs. Ramsay, Eleanor Pargiter--lamenting the insecurity and constraint bred by their lack of education. It was not enough that women's colleges such as Newnham at Cambridge, Somerville at Oxford, or Bedford in London simply existed; Woolf's writing continually questions the nature, aims and methods of education itself. Particularly during the 1930s as she was writing The Years and Three Guineas she considered the psychological effects of the inequities between male and female education. Her 1937 novel is full of evidence of the untold emotional divisions between siblings caused by the amount of money and time spent on educating boys as opposed to girls. (1) As research for The Years she read and collected quotations from scores of memoirs and biographies about Victorian education and attempts to reform the provision for girls and women. In this period, too, she was forever "tilting at Universities," arguing in particular that the roots of imperial and patriarchal violence lay in the training boys received at public school and Oxbridge (D4 79). In the notes to Three Guineas she argues that

psychologically eminence upon a platform encourages vanity and the desire to impose authority. Further, the reduction of English literature to an examination subject must be viewed with suspicion by all who [...] wish to keep one art at least out of the hands of middlemen and free, as long as may be, from all association with competition and money making. (TG 379)

Given the prevalence of questions of gender and pedagogy in Woolf's own writing it is curious that her own formal education has received relatively little attention. Recently examined archival records at King's College London reveal that Woolf had much more first hand experience of women's higher education than either she or her biographers have acknowledged. Her extended studies at King's College Ladies' Department brought her into direct contact with some of the early reformers of women's higher education such as Clara Pater, George Warr and Lilian Faithfull. (2) This article will not only reproduce, for the first time, the enrolment lists, syllabi (course reading lists) and examination pass lists relating to Virginia and her sister Vanessa's studies at King's College between 1897 and 1901, but will also place those studies in their institutional context. We will link aspects of the ethos and environment of King's Ladies' Department to Woolf's later writings. The absence of references to her early education in her subsequent writing career has meant that this important archival material has gone unnoticed, and also that the impact of her studies on her later theories of education has not been explored. Biographical material from Woolf's teenage years is sparse--only intermittent letters and journals remain--therefore this discovery provides valuable information about a relatively undocumented portion of her life.

The impression given by Woolf's biographers, and indeed by Woolf herself, is that she was almost entirely self-educated. The appended chronology in Quentin Bell's biography of Woolf does list attendance at King's College in November 1897 (Greek and History), January 1898 (Greek with Dr. Warre [sic]), October 1898 (Latin with Miss Pater and Greek with Dr. Warre [sic] and October 1900 (Bell 191-2). In the biography itself, however, her attendance at King's is not mentioned, just her private tuition with Clara Pater. When Bell outlines a typical day in the Stephen household he depicts Vanessa cycling off to her art classes at Mr. Cope's School, and Virginia left alone in the nursery at the top of the house reading Greek (Bell 68 and 73). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.