Virginia Woolf - Moving Beyond a Convoluted Memory of Her Parents

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Virginia Woolf - Moving Beyond a Convoluted Memory of Her Parents

Why would I start with Julia Duckworth Stephen to get to Virginia Woolf? One answer is Virginia’s often quoted statement that "we think back through our mothers if we are women" (Woolf, A Room of One’s Own). Feminism is rooted not just in a response to patriarchy but also in the history of females and their treatment of each other. Part of feminism is a reevaluation of the value of motherhood.

But what does Virginia’s mother have to do with Virginia’s writing? I chose to look at the problem of inheritance by starting with Julia’s first influences on Virginia, particularly her stories for children. I then move on to portraits of mothers in Virginia's novels. This
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Julia was not only central to her children, husband, and extended family, but a person defined by her effects on others. This can be seen in the portrait of Mrs. Ramsay as mother, committed nurse, gracious hostess, and matchmaker, among other things1 (Gillespie and Steele 22). This made it difficult for her to give any one person, including herself, more than a few minutes of her time.

Angels from the Start

One could say that the feminism that Virginia will evolve is a rebellion against "how the patriarchy represses women (Johnsen)." While the patriarchy is an unquestionable active repressor, I put forth that the matriarchy can also repress women, as in the pressure (primarily from one’s mother, by example) to be the Angel in the House, forever smoothing things over and giving of oneself. This leads me to ask: did Julia Stephen try to make her daughters into Angels? Julia showed her daughters through the examples of her stories and her behavior that female behavior was meant to be helpful, caring, and moderately subservient.

The stories she wrote for her children have female characters that are defined and limited by their "tenderness of heart and anxiety to please" (Gillespie and Steele 31). One anomaly can be found in the character of Maggie in "Cat’s Meat," who solves an arithmetic problem that stumps her brother. (31) This reminds me of Rhoda in The Waves sitting alone, held immobile by a math problem while everyone else goes on with their

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