By David Glover, Cora Kaplan
An attractive quantity which discusses concept, feedback and exemplary genres and texts, supplying a priceless historic chronology of the advance of the time period in a variety of contexts.
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Neither accolade nor accusation seems quite deserved. Nor does the division of public and private inscribed in this analysis bear much relationship to the way in which early and mid Victorians themselves saw those issues, for while conservative social commentators of both sexes advanced the view that ideal femininity conformed to ‘natural and instinctive habits’ of women, ‘love, tenderness and affectionate solicitude’ for children, spouses and parents, such moral qualities were at the service not just of men as individuals, but of men as ‘citizens’ (Gaskell 1972: 165).
How could someone ‘Be a woman’ through and through, make a final home in that classification without suffering claustrophobia? To lead a life soaked in the passionate consciousness of one’s gender at every single moment, to will to be a sex with a vengeance – these are impossibilities, and far from the aims of feminism. (Riley 1988: 6) The recognition that one need not be a woman all of the time in all aspects of one’s life at best throws open a world of transformative possibility and creative potential and at the very least poses femininity as a part-time occupation for full-time humans.
Fiction, she argues, has been unfairly and condescendingly seen as the ‘humble’ domestic drudge or dependent wife of the arts, unaesthetic, ‘feeble’ and a ‘parasite’ (Woolf 1992: 124). The trope of femininity gives Woolf a flexible weapon with which to attack the lapses and prick the pretensions of literary criticism, but it is a weapon that can easily turn on its wielder. The figurative strategy of ‘The Art of Fiction’ depends on the prevalence of the cultural misogyny which it both invokes and derides, deflecting in passing the chauvinism that might greet the woman critic and writer herself.