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

By Munca, Daniela | Journal of International Women's Studies, May 2009 | Go to article overview

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


Munca, Daniela, Journal of International Women's Studies


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

**********

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! …

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

    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.