or: The Woman With Many Heads
Exactly seventy years have passed in October 1988 since October 1982, when Virginia Woolf started her short journey to Cambridge to give the two lectures on the subject; “women and the novel”, in front of a female’s student audience, from the Newnam and Girton colleges. On her very first lecturing, she travels to Cambridge in the company of her sister, the painter Venessa Bell, the granddaughter Angelica and her intimate friend Victoria Mary Sackville-West, a famous author of few bestsellers herself and also a model for the main character in Woolf’s most successful novel “Orlando”. On her second presentation in the women’s colleges, her husband, Leonard Woolf, accompanies Virginia. These two lectures will be the framework of her brilliant essay A Room of One’s Own that she will finish up with right after, in extremely short period of time, while staying in a hospital for 8 weeks in February and March 1929. These two lectures at Girton and Newnam, according to the circumstances, are strong and highly authentic statement in their essence, therefore supporting the feminist “struggle” in the year in which the women in England finally won the right to vote. In difference to this, A Room of One’s Own must be seen not only as a feminist libel, but also as a huge classical work of the feminist criticism, which has transformed the political strategy, into a text. Moreover, it is a text that gives voice to the real woman’s “difference” – the difference that has been condemned to silence for ages.
In 1928, Virginia Woolf turned 46, and after publishing the novel “Towards the lighthouse” in 1927, she became a well known, though not a very popular author. The publishing of the novel “Orlando” in 1928, is followed by a huge (and unexpected) success: until December, that same year, it was sold in 7000 copies and it underwent its third edition. Thomas Elliot highly respects Virginia Woolf in his essay on English literature in the influential Nouvelle Revue Francaise; the first French translations from Sharl Moron are coming out; she wins the only reward she has ever received – Femina-Vie Heureuse for the novel “Towards the lighthouse”. Again, Woolf creates a public political statement out of the receiving of the reward, concerning the fact, that she is not coming from an institution based upon patriarchal social order (whose rewards she has constantly rejected), but from an institution that belongs to the “marginal” feminine ways of social organizing.
Woolf’s photos from that period, reveal an image far from being similar to those images captured on the famous, early photos of Virginia Stephen, made by Berseford, which seem to carry that well known veil of extreme sensibility and vulnerability. In 1927/28, Virginia is being photographed by the eminent Man Ray, the one that has specialized in presenting the most important names of the modern culture: Joys, Elliot, Gertrude Stain, Hemingway, Breton… Allowing Man Ray to highlight her social personality, Virginia Woolf reveals few different images on those photos: an image of a professional woman with clearly emphasized social status whose “dreamily” beauty turns into a combination of sensibility and readiness; or an image that reminds of Aubrey Beardsley, an image carrying that subtle sexual ambiguity which evokes the “symbolic” Orlando in a similar way as the photos of Victoria Mary Sackville-West do. The presence of this aristocratic woman who wrote bestsellers (and was known after her sophisticated affairs and the gardening virtuosity) on the photos of Man Ray, as well as on the first Woolf’s lecture at Newnam and Griton, the center of the patriarchal culture in Cambridge, is again, a subtle “public statement” of the author of A Room of One’s Own.
This essay, as Catharine Simpson will notice, has been “supplying” the feminist critics with enough material to analyze, for already seven decades. By trying to historically conceptualize this hundred pages of text, divided into 6 chapters, (a text which indispensably belongs among the least compromising, feminist, propagandistic texts, such as those of Millicent Gareth Phoset from the mid Victorian age, up until winning the right to vote in 1982), one may trace the way of interpreting its complexity of meaning. This complexity clearly constellates around two centers: the systematic subversion of the male’s domination in the patriarchal languages of culture is the first one, while the second one is the questioning of the relation between the sexes and the writing, and consequently finding the way towards the textualised women’s imagination.