Virginia Woolf & Vera Brittain: Pacifism and the Gendered Politics of Public Intellectualism

By Wisor, Rebecca | Studies in the Humanities, December 2008 | Go to article overview

Virginia Woolf & Vera Brittain: Pacifism and the Gendered Politics of Public Intellectualism


Wisor, Rebecca, Studies in the Humanities


A recent debate spurred by the publication of Richard A. Posner's Public Intellectuals (2001, 2003)--though not a matter with which he concerns himself--centers on questions of authority and valuation: that is, how one determines which cultural figures qualify as "public intellectuals," and who is qualified to make those determinations. The act of naming public intellectuals appears to be as much inflected by an individual's cultural, gender, and ideological biases as by his or her politics, background, and operating definitions. Such acts, moreover, are powerfully inflected by the omissions, and politics, of literary and intellectual history.

Several recently compiled lists of public intellectuals reflect a broader tendency among academics and intellectuals to discredit or elide the role that women have played historically, and continue to play, as producers of cultural and social knowledge circulating in the public domain. The list of "Britain's Top 100 Intellectuals" selected by the editors of Britain's Prospect magazine for its centennial issue in July 2004, for example, included only twelve women, leading a commentator in the Guardian to reflect how "a female 'public' intellectual is rarely regarded with the same deference as her male counterpart" (Barton). The lists of "100 Top Global Intellectuals" compiled in 2005 and 2008 by Prospect, and Foreign Policy likewise included only ten women among their ranks. (1) And of the 546 prominent intellectuals (both past and present) included on Richard Posner's list, only 13.2% are women and 4.8% are black (194-207). (2) That Posner includes writers of the early twentieth century rather than focusing exclusively on contemporary intellectuals invites us to consider how literary history has helped to shape this list, and the ways in which the politics of literary canonization continue to dominate contemporary discourse on the subject of public intellectualism.

With the exception of Rebecca West, Posner's list of early-twentieth century British intellectuals reads as a who's-who of high modernism and the "Auden Generation," a parade of cultural insiders who have managed to be remembered: W. H. Auden, E. M. Forster, Aldous Huxley, John Maynard Keynes, Harold Laski, F. R. Leavis, George Orwell, Ezra Pound, Stephen Spender, Lytton Strachey, H. G. Wells, and William Butler Yeats. The failure of notable British female public intellectuals to "make the cut"--among whom we might count Virginia Woolf, Vera Brittain, Storm Jameson, Nancy Cunard, Naomi Mitchison, Winifred Holtby, Lady Margaret Rhonnda, Shena Simon, Ray Strachey, Margaret Llewelyn Davies, Jean Rhys, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Margery Fry, Jane Ellen Harrison, Helena Swanwick, Sylvia Pankhurst, Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, and many others--obstructs our knowledge of their actual public interventions while perpetuating the omissions of intellectual history. (3)

Given that the female intellectuals above were fully and variously immersed in public dialogues over women's suffrage, the expansion of legal rights and educational and professional opportunities for women, racism, socialism, communism, imperialism, the rise of fascism, and the prevention of war, it would be erroneous to infer that their exclusion is justified by their absence from the public sphere; rather, it reflects the fact that "thirties women's writing has had little claim to the reserved public spaces that structure scholarly discussion" (Bluemel 65). Though famously heralded by Samuel Hynes as the "Auden Generation," the 1930s were characterized by a massive outpouring of writing by women, a fact realized by their contemporaries but later eclipsed by retrospective accounts of the period that emphasized instead the writing of W. H. Auden, Stephen Spender, Christopher Isherwood, Louis MacNeice, Cecil Day Lewis, and George Orwell. A similar critical preoccupation with the conservative political tendencies of male modernists including Ezra Pound, T. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Virginia Woolf & Vera Brittain: Pacifism and the Gendered Politics of Public Intellectualism
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    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.