Women are now using the written word as an art form, not simply a way to express ourselves and vent our frustrations. By the early 20th Century, women have become prolific; we’ve gone beyond the realm of the personal/relational (embodied by the novel – our own autobiographies), and into poems, plays, biographies, histories, philosophy, science.
She writes her own review; this book (Mary Carmicheal’s Life’s Adventures) follows in a series starting from the works of Afra Ben.What is her command of language? Does she have an axe to grind or is she creating? Woolfe feels she is to concise; she may be limiting her expression because she is afraid of being called overly sentimental (judged as a woman). She is too abrupt, too factual, but she is allowed this if this is all going to amount to something profound. So she waits for that to occur… and uncovers an intimate relationship between women! She’s onto something here.
She notices that all relationships between women portrayed in literature up to this point have lacked complexity. Women in fiction are almost always portrayed with respect to their relationships with men, as if these are the only complicated relationships women ever have in their lives. Conversely, this is also why women have been portrayed in such extremes – beautiful or vile – because they are presented as their male lovers see them. Even novelists such as Proust portrays complicated women, but the female characters still lack depth for the same reason. If were only ever seen through the emotionally biased perspective of love, portrayed only as lovers of women, so much of what is interesting about them would be obscured. So to for women – there are worlds we have yet to uncover in literature as a result.
Carmicheal is giving us a glimpse into a worlds we haven’t seen – women’s professional lives, and their relationships with one another that have nothing to do with men. This is a moment in history, and this is where Carmicheal has to “take the plunge” and portray this scene with integrity. But since the world of women is so unknown, how can we even judge whether or not she has portrayed it accurately? What is considered “success” in our world is the achievements of men – but men and women live in two different worlds. We cannot just the world of women by the standards of success set within a male world.
So how do we judge the work of women? The same way we judge the work of men. Do you illuminate the unseen corners of the world, not simply cataloguing what you find there, but in order to reveal more elemental truths? Do you reveal what this means to you, in your own (gendered) language? Both genders must use their unique creativity – nurtured and encouraged through discourse with one another. They must show us how and what they see in their world, but not simply catalogue them. They must reflect – tell us what this world means to you. By exploring our worlds through literature, we can learn about ourselves.
By revealing their own perspectives, they will also reveal insights into the peculiarities of the other sex. Brave writers employ their “outsider’s perspective” to illuminate the “dark places” in the worlds they do not occupy. Male writers have illustrated the shortcomings of women, and female writers can articulate the shortcomings that men have but cannot see. This isn’t to be done in a spiteful way, but it’s neccessary if one is to articulate the full truth.
Women writers currently enjoy benefits their predecessors did not – a measure of intellectual and financial independence borne of their nascent literary tradition and relative material gains. Even a woman with less natural genius will still be able to bring the benefits of independence into her work – she’ll be less bitter, and have more experiences to draw from. She’ll reveal more about what it means to be a women when she isn’t self-conscious about it, dragging her gender around like a ball and chain as she writes. Carmicheal’s work achieves this – she writes with a freedom and joy, and exudes sexuality in her work.
She even manages to avoid criticism, refusing to apologize for her gender as she ties all of the lose ends of her story together and articulates the deeper meaning of her narrative. However, Virginia doubts that she can maintain this integrity in the face of obstacles that still stand in her way – critics, and lack of money and idleness all prevent her longevity.
But this is an admirable start. Let’s see what women can achieve in a hundred year’s time.