More Than A Room and Three Guineas:
Understanding Virginia Woolf's Social Thought
by Brigitte Bechtold1
To feminist social thinkers and activists, Virginia Woolf's writings offer early and
rich insight into the socioeconomic processes of occupational segregation, wage
discrimination, imposition of separate spheres, social exclusion and trickle-down
patriarchy. Her implied views on distributive justice permeate her novels and diaries, and
show remarkable insight into recent work by feminists on female tasks related to
provisioning, and also to a long tradition of work specifically dealing with
considerations of social welfare and a critique of utilitarianism. In shaping her views,
Woolf often found herself dealing with her immediate personal surroundings, sometimes in
an overt manner and at other times influenced by these surroundings in a rather more
subconscious manner. As they took shape, her socioeconomic ideas were interwoven with the
fiction of the novels and the stuff of essays. Moreover, the voluminous diaries of
Virginia Woolf provide many reflections on servants, friends, acquaintances and family
members that provided role models for the more formal discussions of socioeconomic
theories. More importantly, as I demonstrate in this paper, the fiction and diaries help
readers locate in Woolf's socioeconomic thought both a decidedly feminist theory of value,
and an underlying philosophy of social justice that transcends gender boundaries.
This paper begins with a brief survey the basic arguments of interest to feminist social
thinkers and activists that are found explicitly in Room of One's Own (1929), Three
Guineas (1938) and other essays. It then turns to insights provided by Woolf's
fiction, which helps us understand, illustrate and generalize the themes of the essays.
The following part outlines the usefulness of Woolf's diaries, which both provide a rich
database of personal acquaintances and experiences that have become the content of her
thinking. The diaries are helpful in developing our understanding that Woolf's
socioeconomic though does not merely attack male patriarchy in favor of gender equality.
They contain important examples showing that Woolf despised social elitism among women as
among men, and that some of the role models for women in her essays and novels were
actually played by men in her life, notably young men who became emotionally and
physically damaged in war. Moreover, in her diaries, which span the period 1915-1941 (Bell
1997), Woolf demonstrates adherence to a theory of value rooted in provisioning, which
differs from classical, neoclassical and Marxist theories. I conclude in the final section
that we can only gain a thorough understanding of the importance of Virginia Woolf's
social thought if our study incorporates her fiction and diaries.
TEN YEARS AND TWO TREATISES
In addition to numerous essays2, Virginia Woolf
authored two well-known book-length works that became known as sources
for her socioeconomic thought. These are Three Guineas(1938)
and A Room of One's Own (1929). The main themes elaborated
on in these two work also permeate the settings of several of her
novels, in particular Jacob's Room (1922), Mrs. Dalloway (1925)
and The Years (1937). As we begin to understand Woolf's concern
with the valuation of paid and unpaid work done by women in a patriarchal
society, we also gain understanding of the role of the soldier, paid
a fairly low wage to fight other people's wars, in a patriarchal society.
Although Three Guineas follows Room of One's Own
chronologically and is more developed in many ways, taking its ideas
to greater societal implications, Woolf takes a major step in Room
that can be seen as a continuation of a theme pursued in Three
Guineas. Indeed, in the chronologically earlier work, she moves
beyond the valuation of unpaid labor and into the realm of "potential"
labor. In Three Guineas, the focus is more on the valuation
of work done by women versus women's paid work. Look, for example
at the well known quote from Three Guineas: "The work
of an archbishop is worth £15,000 to the state ... but wives and mothers
and daughters who work all day and every day, without whose work the
state would collapse ... are paid nothing whatsoever..." (Woolf
1938:54). Woolf's work suggests that more is necessary than the mere
appreciation of work done, and we thus find that she concerns herself
with issues similar to those occupying the minds of feminist economists
today. I propose, accordingly, that Room of One's Own
and Three Guineas are best read side by side rather than sequentially,
because the more recent work is not a mere continuation and improvement
upon the earlier work. In considering people's potential work and
not merely the work they actually perform, Room of One's Own
goes beyond Three Guineas and invites more radical interpretations
for distributive social justice. Let us consider in some detail the
specific arguments made in the two essays, and draw inferences only
to the extent allowed by the essays themselves and by reference to
social philosophies preceding Woolf's.
A Room of One's Own
This work is essentially a lengthy essay, which is "based upon two
papers read to the Arts Society at Newnham and at Girton in October
1928" (Woolf 1929:1). Woolf explains that she was requested to
deliver a lecture on "women and fiction." The two papers
resulting from the request were combined, and the institutions renamed
"Oxbridge," a transparent contraction of the names Oxford
and Cambridge. Each chapter brings home one particular point. To begin
with: is the assignment for the lecture one where we are asked to
deal with (1) women who write fiction, (2) women and what they are
like in general, or (3) the way women are portrayed in fiction (Woolf
1929:3)? The first point is that all three of these ways of looking
at the subject are interrelated. The second is that the interesting
question to address is this one: what kind of environment and situation
are the necessary conditions for a women to be able to write fiction,
or stated differently, what are the economics of "women writing
The first chapter of Room deals with trespassing. A woman
trespassing on the grass of Oxbridge will be shooed away by a beadle3.
Only Fellows and Scholars are allowed on the grass4.
Yet, Oxbridge has been financed with money that comes from women as
well as from men. Still, their money is not placed to use for them.
In Guineas, Woolf develops this idea further and de scribes
"Arthur's Education Fund," the AEF, to which every one must
contribute, including the female siblings. The AEF provided not only
an education, but also several years worth of spend able income beyond
college, to get the young men started in life.
The money issue leads Woolf to compare meals eaten in male societies
and those eaten in female societies: sumptuousness vs. drabness5.
Chapter 2 delves further into the question "why are women poor?"
which leads into the attitudes and opinions of men relative to women.
The views of the "professors" or "patriarchs"
are described. In Woolf's view, these terms are synonymous for university
professors: they were all male in her time and all considered women
deficient in some way. They also represented power, money and influence.
It's a chapter filled with great sentences one wishes to quote, but
let me get to the essence quicker than Woolf does.
The essential point is that a woman, in order to be able to write
fiction, needs an allowance of at least £500 a year as well as a room
of her own, i.e., the freedom of being unencumbered by demanding family
members. This is something few women in the world possess, even today.
Moreover, Woolf also suggests that many a poem signed by the name
"Anonymous" was often written by a woman. In a well-known
metaphor, Woolf describes what would have been the likely scenario
if Shakespeare were to have had a sister, as talented as himself.
Upon the completion of a great works, she might have tried to get
a theater producer interested in having it performed. Alas, during
this endeavor, she would very likely have been raped in the alley
behind the theater, would have become pregnant, abandoned, and be
condemned to a life of destitution.
The conclusion to be drawn from Room of One's Own is
that people, women in particular, are endowed with all kinds of potential,
some of which will be expressed and much never to be expressed. Yet,
those whose potential cannot be expressed are just as valuable socially
or maybe more so than the fortunate ones. Hence, social justice requires
that people should be valued for their potential, be it realized or
not, in addition to being valued (mainly via wages) for work they
have actually performed.
Woolf's intense aversion to war fits in with her views of people's
unrealized potential. Several of her novels are centered around the
injustices and deaths (unrealized potentials) caused by it. Here,
Woolf shows herself to espouse views similar to the young Keynes,
who brought this aversion and fear of a continuation of the Great
War to the talks at Versailles. Although Keynes certainly never came
to favor war, his later opposition has been characterized as equivocating
(Lee 1997:340), while Woolf remained unequivocally true to her original
views and protesting fascism and war till the end.
While one of the possible implications of the valuation of labor by
its potential may be that wages should be the same for every one and
that society should become egalitarian and, therefore also diversified,
Woolf did not go this far. Lee (1997: 556, 566) comments in detail
on the contradictions in Woolf's character, which at various times
expressed cruelty and compassion, condescension and open mindedness.
Her extremely prejudiced views of the disabled and members of nonwhite
populations strengthen this conclusion.
As a thinker violently opposed to totalitarianism Virginia Woolf would,
at least in an intellectual sense, be driven to reflect on the opposite
side of the spectrum from totalitarianism, i.e., egalitarianism. Whenever
Woolf's most recent biographer, Hermione Lee, finds herself engaged
in a conversation about her subject, she points out that she is inevitably
asked one or several of the same four questions, one of which is "Wasn't
she the most terrible snob?" (Lee 1997:3)6.
Even if the answer to this question is affirmative, this does not
provide an entirely adequate answer to our own query. While Woolf
was obviously a member of a privileged social class, "... descended
from a great many people, some famous, others obscure; born into a
large connection, born not of rich parents, but of well-to-do parents,
born into a very communicative, literate, letter writing, visiting,
articulate, late nineteenth century world..." (Lee 1997:51),
she was an outsider to that class in more ways than one. Despite the
literary background of her family, she herself did not attend any
schools, belonged to no public institution, rarely appeared in front
of an audience and had bouts with mental illness (Lee 1997:16).
For Woolf's social theories to be of value to present day scholars
and activists, it does not really matter whether she herself made
the inference from the valuation of human potential over work performed
to an egalitarian society. The inference is there for readers to make
in a very non- egalitarian society at the turn of the millennium.
Woolf's work has an effect that is similar to that of Mencius (372-289
BCE), Plato (428-348 BCE), Aristotle (384-322 BCE) and, more recently,
Shakespeare and Marx7. Their work is always
ready for interpretations appropriate to the society the reader lives
in. Thus, Mencius' views have been described as early socialist, while
Plato's description of the scene in the cave could be viewed as foretelling
the effect of motion pictures. Lee (1997:3) writes that "...
like Shakespeare, she is a writer who lends herself to infinitely
various interpretations. In all, the reality that Woolf's work spawns
debates about what she did or did not imply shows that she gets her
readers to think beyond the simple text and to make inferences from
that text. In Lee's words (1997:4), "... the full, immense extent
of her life's work has only revealed itself gradually."
Virginia Woolf elaborates on her views about the valuation of women's labor in a second
"economics" book, Three Guineas (1938), a work that supposedly resulted
from three separate requests for financial support made to her. The first was for a
women's college building fund, the second for a society providing employment for
professional women, and the third from a society to prevent war.
The structure of Three Guineas is similar to Room of One's Own. It starts
with the author pondering for two years over a letter that needs answering. The question
implied by the letter is: "How, in your opinion, are we to prevent war?" (Woolf
1938:3) She plans to attempt to answer, knowing full well it is an attempt "doomed to
failure," since "when before has an educated man asked a woman how in her
opinion war can be prevented?" Both she and the letter writer are members of the
educated class and both earn a living (Woolf 1938:5). Thus, superficially they look the
same. Yet, there are immense differences. Once again, Woolf resorts to
"stand-ins" such as the characters from biographies of Mary Kingsley and others,
and proceeds from there to craft her arguments.
First, much more money is spent on men's than on women's education. She alludes to the
term "Arthur's education fund" or AEF, to which Arthur's sisters contributed as
well. Men have been educated at universities for 600; women for 60 years (Woolf 1938:17).
Yet, that sex which has had the least money spent for its education, has been the most
peaceful: "scarcely a human being in the course of history has fallen to a woman's
rifle," (p. 6) while the majority of men today again favor war (Woolf 1938:8), in
spite of being educated. This leads to the question "what sort of education will
teach the young to hate war?" (p. 22, emphasis added). Unfortunately (Woolf 1938:
29), education of the young has focused on teaching them how to use rather than how to
abhor the use of force. Since all the money has been going primarily to men's colleges,
maybe it's time to support women's colleges, but only if they are rebuilt versions of
men's colleges (Woolf 1938:39), i.e. college education must be altered. This alteration is
where Woolf declares her first guinea will be spent.
The second guinea supposedly will go to educate the daughters (of
educated men) and to help them earn a living (Woolf 1938:84)8.
In this way, they may be endowed with "an independent and disinterested
influence with which to prevent war" (Woolf 1938:84).
Finally, the third guinea must go to protect culture and intellectual liberty (Woolf
1938:100), but Woolf cautions that we must not go so far as to join their society. There
is a link between culture and intellectual liberty on the one hand and the deaths and
ruins of war on the other (Woolf 1938:97). How to prevent war? Somehow the right of all
people must be asserted, men and women alike, and justice and liberty achieved. This again
invites consideration of a more egalitarian society, similar to the conclusion just drawn
from Room of One's Own.
INSIGHTS FROM WOOLF'S FICTION AND DIARIES
While the two basic treatises described above can be summarized and
analyzed in their own right, supplementing their reading with the
fiction and diaries of Virginia Woolf enables us to make additional
inferences about more general underlying themes, to identify persons
in Woolf's personal surroundings who served as role models, including
some who transcend traditional gender roles, and to distill the elements
of a decidedly feminist theory of value, which rooted in the human
task of provisioning, and which stands in contrast to the classical
and neoclassical theories of value adhered to by most social scientists
to this day. Interestingly, both the novels of most interest in this
context and the diaries represent writings that were completed at
a fast pace and thus can be seen as expressing spontaneous thoughts
fostered by elements in Virginia Woolf's upbringing and immediate
surroundings9. At one stage, she herself commented
on the speed of her writing: "I'm letting my pen fling itself
on paper like a leopard starved for blood..." (Diaries, Vol.
II, 6/28/23, p. 250).
Four distinct themes emerge in the fiction and diaries, which illustrate, supplement and
complete the socioeconomic ideas presented directly in A Room of One's Own and Three
Guineas: parallels between women and soldiers; an implicit theory of value based on
viewing human tasks as rooted in provisioning; a sense of distributive justice which
nevertheless remains upper class; and blueprints for characters in the two social
treatises that are sometimes surprising and occasionally even cross gender lines. These
four elements are considered in turn below.
Soldiers and Women: Similarities
Virginia Woolf wrote novels picturing soldiers long before she addressed
the issue of war in Three Guineas. There are strong parallels
between the characters of the soldiers depicted in Jacob's Room
(1922) and Mrs. Dalloway (1925) and the women of Three Guineas.
In Three Guineas, as well as in The Years (1937), these
parallels also appear in the subtext. Soldiers and women are similar
when it comes to their lack of choice, their being forced to work
for the benefit of others than themselves, and their inability to
control the events of history, despite obvious "contributions"
or "work" performed. Like soldiers, women suffer physically
as they work for the benefit of others10. In
Three Guineas, Woolf reflects on the characteristic weight
loss of low-wage female workers, which can be likened to the soldier's
emaciation after a lengthy stay in the trenches. Most of all, just
like the women, soldiers have unrealized wasted potential. Each of
these four characteristics of the soldier are prominent in the above-mentioned
novels. Below are a few examples from Jacob's Room, followed
by a few quotes from The Years, which show the interconnectedness
between male decision making, especially in war, education and the
vantage point of the woman. This triangle mirrors that of Three
With respect to lack of personal choice, we read (Woolf 1922:26) that "Jacob was the
only one of her sons who never obeyed [his mother]." Jacob senses that he has
unfulfilled potential: " 'I am what I am, and intend to be it,' for which there will
be no form in the world unless Jacob makes one himself" (Woolf 1922:36). Yet he obeys
the call to become a soldier in the Great War, and his life is taken, maybe during the
battle that sent faint echoes of a few dull thuds of canon fire to Jacob's mother. The
wasted potential of Jacob's unfulfilled life is painfully clear on the last page of the
book, when Mrs. Plumer enters her son's undisturbed student room to pack up his
belongings. Her own lack of choice and her work for the benefit of helping others enters
her thoughts when she remembers her deceased husband, George: "... once begotten, how
could she do other than grow up cheese-paring, ambitious, with an instinctively accurate
notion of the rungs of the ladder and an ant-like assiduity in pushing George Plumer ahead
of her to the top of the ladder? What was at the top of the ladder? A sense that all the
rungs were beneath one apparently" (Woolf 1922:34). We also get a foretelling of the
main theme of Room of One's Own when we read (Woolf 1922:91) "... the
unpublished works of women, written by the fireside in pale profusion, dried by the flame,
for the blotting paper's worn to holes and the nib cleft and clotted."
The Years was begun in 1932 and finished in 1934, after Hitler's rise to power. In
this novel, Woolf is once again the "outsider" that was portrayed in Room of
One's Own, and bitterly lashes out at the "male-dominated, imperialist,
warmongering, and class-ridden society" (Lee 1997:664). As did Woolf herself in Three
Guineas, the main protagonists of this novel, Eleanor and Elvira/Sara, "diagnose
from the vantage point of women outsiders, the links in the masculine domain between
education, government and war making" (Lee 1997:664). More flamboyantly than in
Guineas, Woolf describes "agents of tyranny" in Years, i.e., men who
"always say I, I, I," and are "loudspeakers, searchlights, hectoring voices
at Speakers' Corner; lawgivers in the low courts; the national anthem; ... Creon's law
against Antigone; bombs interrupting conversation" (Lee 1997:664). Men who are
"bullies" in wars (Lee 1997:666) are similar to the loud men who oppress women
in the civilian sector. In Years, Woolf also shows that her anti-totalitarianism goes hand
in hand with the wish for a different, more egalitarian world. She writes (Lee 1997:665):
"In inarticulate bits and pieces, the idea of resistance to force, laws that
"fit," reeducation, some better form of communication, makes itself felt, summed
up in the phrase from Dante which Eleanor reads: For by so many more there are who
say ours, so much the more of good doth each possess.' " This is consistent with
conclusions reached in Three Guineas. The novels and books where specific
socioeconomic treatises of Woolf may be found thus form a whole, with recurring themes
that become stronger and progressively better analyzed as Woolf reached the end of her
A Theory of Value Rooted in Provisioning
The diaries span the impressively long period of 1915-1941, a period
that encompassed two world wars, the great depression and the Spanish
Civil War11. Throughout good years and bad,
Virginia Woolf displayed in her entries a near obsessive preoccupation
with provisioning. Every check to be received for an essay or book,
every honorarium, was tediously placed in the context of long-run
predicted household expenses. For example, in her diary entry for
2/28/28 (Diaries, Vol. III, p. 175), she wrote "Out of my £60
I have bought a Heal bed, a cupboard, ... & now a strip of carpet
for the hall" and on 1/3/36 (Diaries, Vol. V, p. 3): "L.
says I have not made enough to pay my share of the house, & have
to find £70 out of my hoard. This is now reduced to £700, & I
must fill it up." While her own provisioning concerns usually
dealt with purchases other food, she was also well aware of the constant
quest for income by people needing to feed their family, as in "How
tremendous a pull a very little money has in the world!" (Entry
for 6/14/25, Diaries III, p. 29). While a preoccupation with provisioning
does not directly translate into a ready theory of value, linking
this preoccupation in the diaries with more direct descriptions of
feminine acts of provisioning in Room of One's Own and Three
Guineas permits to suggest that Woolf sensed that there was a
problem in the perceived concept of value in mainstream social philosophy
of her time. Indeed, classical and neoclassical theories of value
were rooted in utilitarianism and classical economics. In these theories,
which are also utilitarian, material goods and services derive value
from the fact that they foster utility, which is considered the main
pursuit of human activity. To obtain goods and services, one must
purchase them in markets, hence the need for income, be it inherited
or obtained through offering one's labor services in return for a
wage. The scarcer is a good or service, the higher its value. While
Marx continued the classical tradition of utilitarianism, he emphasized
a labor theory of value, in which surplus labor (the portion of the
price of goods in excess the wage paid to the worker) leads to profits
and wealth of the owners of the means of production, he did not recognize
the role played by unpaid women's work in relation to provisioning
in the household. Taking account of the importance of the role of
provisioning is a necessary requirement, however, to obtain a comprehensive
theory of value. In their gendered roles, females do not command a
wage, neither do they produce many goods sold in markets. Their provisioning
tasks include a range of activities such as growing and preparing
food, making and maintaining clothes, and furnishing the home. Woolf
recognized these tasks, and a thorough investigation of the extent
to which she contributed to a feminist theory of value is facilitated
by a careful reading of the diaries.
Upper-class Distributive Justice
The prolonged traumatic experience Virginia Woolf endured with a
longtime servant (Nelly Boxall), described in her diaries, demonstrates
a distinctly upper-class sense of distributive justice. Underneath
the complaints about Nelly we discover a concern for providing long-term
income security and health care for this servant. When Nelly fell
ill and required surgery, the procedure was paid for by the Woolfs
without hesitation. Occasion ally, though not usually, Woolf senses
that the privileges of her class are unjust. On 12/10/29, she wrote
in her diary "What right, I said to myself, have we to sit here
& see those poor fellows carrying bricks? Oh their lives
carrying bricks to the roof in this gale & I sitting here
(in pink hotel bedroom)." (Diaries, Vol. III, p. 271). On other
occasions, however, we notice blatant disregard of the underprivileged,
especially the nonwhite or disabled12. It would
thus be wrong to conclude that Virginia Woolf's social philosophy
was truly egalitarian.
Blueprints for Characters in the Social Treatises
Reading the Diaries are filled with references to episodes and persons
close to Virginia Woolf who became blueprints for characters in the
novels and in the social treatises. As in the analysis of the similarities
between women and soldiers, we see occasional crossovers of gender
boundaries here as well.
First, while everyone expects Keynes to emerge as an example of the
elitist patriarch in Three Guineas, the reader sees many other
examples, one of them a woman friend Ethel Smyth who tended to be
overly impressed with her own achievements and always sought higher
recognition than was her fair due. Most examples of patriarchy and
its privileges, of course, come from male acquaintances. In reviewing
relevant entries, we also notice that Woolf did not aspire to extend
similar privileges to women. She despised the system too much for
that. He was fond of describing pompous patriarchs as "doing
their little owl,"13 and when
she was given the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of her famous
father, Leslie Stephens, and deliver a university lecture series,
she actually declined because she did not want to take that much time
away from her writing. This helps us formulate the extent of Woolf's
social egalitarianism: she did not criticize patriarchal elitism in
Three Guineas because she wanted similar accolades to be available
for women. Rather, she wanted to demonstrate that other things are
important, for both men and women, such as free time to explore intellectual
pursuit, and gearing those pursuits to social goals like education
and the end of human aggression.
Second, Virginia's brother Adrian emerge as a composite of the characters
of Arthur (the recipient of the AEF) as well as both the bungling
psychiatrist and his victim in Mrs. Dalloway14.
Adrian Leslie Stephens (1883-1948) was Virginia's younger brother,
who lived with her in 1907 after the marriage of their sister Vanessa15,
and again in 1911. Adrian studied law at Trinity College (helped no
doubt by his AEF) but did not enter a profession until five years
after his own marriage. He then enrolled to become a medical student.
During the war, he declared himself to be a conscientious objector
and shirked the obligatory alternative assignment of farm work by
obtaining a physician's determination that he was not "robust"
and the work "strained his heart" (See Vol. I, p. 67). Virginia
Woolf estimated that it would take five years for Adrian to take up
a practice in psychiatry, at age 41. Did he inspire the analyst who
was indirectly responsible for the death of Septimus Smith in Mrs.
Eerily, we sometimes also see that Virginia Woolf reports tragedies
in her diary that are reminiscent of scenes she had already described
in books published several years earlier. A prime example of this
type of entry is the senseless death of Julian Bell in the Spanish
Civil War, which echoes that of the fictional Jacob in the Great War.
That there are several such entries shows that Woolf's work withstands
the test of time.
There is much in Woolf about obvious factors used in social exclusion,
in denial of social justice and valuation of human beings, subjects
definitely of interest to feminist thinkers and activists today. The
main purpose of this paper has been to demonstrate that readers can
gather a more complete understanding of Woolf's socioeconomic theories
if they do not confine their study to the two major treatises, but
extend it to include the fictional works and the diaries.
This paper also invites suggestions for further research . The first
is that, if literary authors with a keen eye on the society surrounding
them could analyze what it is that deprives some humans from the choices
available to others, why are political economists, sociologists and
other scholars whose advice is influential in public policy not routinely
engaged in this study? They possess not necessarily more powerful
tools of analysis than did Virginia Woolf, but certainly they at least
possess additional tools. It also becomes increasingly obvious that
economics, the discipline which concerns itself with the mechanisms
by which well-being is distributed among the members of society, can
ill afford to remain isolated from other social sciences and the humanities.
Even mainstream social scientists, many of whom are members of the
"regaled class" so despised by Woolf, must constantly study
the world around them in both a direct fashion and, indirectly, via
the literature, arts, and religions practiced in this world.
For feminist political economists, who in their own mainstream views
have (only) stressed the need to value unpaid work, Virginia Woolf
offers possible exploration of another frontier, i.e. the valuation
of people for their potential, regardless of whether this potential
is realized in the form of a recognized position in society. The value
of unpaid work and unpaid human potential cannot be expressed in terms
of material units, such as money income or property. By implication,
political economists and social thinkers must place reduced emphasis
on material property. On the one hand, material property is unjustly
distributed, not only because of imposed gender roles, but also because
of other social injustices that are amply addressed in the writings
of social philosophers from St. John Chrysostom to P.-J. Proudhon).
On the other hand, utilitarianism and the pursuit of material property
in a society tends to make that society more aggressive and war prone.
The central message of Three Guineas was the interconnectedness
between male patriarchy, education and war. If society stresses compassion
and nonaggression in the education it provides to its children, and
if this education translates into advise given to political leaders,
aggression and wars over the acquisition of property may lessen and
a more peaceful coexistence of humans as equals will result. It is
encouraging to see that both Germany and Japan, two nations that have
experienced the devastating consequences of their own aggression in
World War II, elementary school education now emphasizes appreciation
of human diversity, including race and social class, while simultaneously
discouraging competition and individualism (Smith 1994).
Finally, for both political economists and environmentalists, Woolf's
work offers ways to explore paths to sustainable development and preservation
of the world's natural environment. The deterioration of the natural
and human environment has very much been the result of the pursuit
of profits, property and material well-being by capitalist nations.
The elements of sustainable development include stress on education,
in particular education of women, and appreciation of the importance
of provisioning within the family as the main human activity. While
Woolf never mentioned the environment herself, her social thought
was consistent with policy advise underlying sustainable development
and environmental preservation.
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published by Hogarth Press).
Woolf, V. (1928) Orlando: A Biography. London: Hogarth Press,
Woolf, V. (1929) A Room of One's Own. New York: Harcourt, Brace
& World, Inc., 1957. (based on two papers read in October 1928
and originally published by Hogarth Press).
Woolf, V. (1938) Three Guineas. San Diego, New York and London:
Harcourt Brace & Company, 1966 (originally published by Hogarth
Woolf, V. (1979) Women and Writing. Edited and with an introduction
by Michèle Barrett. New York and London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Woolf, V. (1937) The Years. New York: Penguin, 1994 (originally
published by Hogarth Press).
1. Professor of Sociology, Central Michigan University. Address
for correspondence: 137 Anspach Hall, Mt. Pleasant MI 48859. E-mail:
email@example.com. While retaining responsibility for
any errors remaining in the paper, I wish to acknowledge the insightful
comments of Diana Fox, Jennifer Manion, Don Socha, and the editorial
board of the Journal of International Women's Studies.
2. See Lewis (1975) for an overview.
3. A name used to designate a low-level parish officer, who is charged
with the task of maintaining order in the Church of England.
4. It becomes immediately clear that the grass is metaphorical for
hallowed ground, not to be used for common purposes, as that surrounding
a church, hence the choice of the term beadle.
5. To this middle-class American college professor who eats on the
run, even the drab meal described by Woolf seems rather sumptuous,
though exhibiting a preference for low-fiber foods.
6. The other three inevitable questions relate to Woolf's madness,
sexual abuse as a child, and whether or not Leonard Woolf was a good
7. The theories of Plato and Aristotle are easily accessible in
their respective works The Republic and Politics. Mencius' writings
about social justice are quoted in de Bary et al. (1960: 100-1 and
197 and their meaning within the history of ideas related to social
justice is evaluated in Bechtold (1996: 57-58).
8. This is one of many ways in which Woolf demonstrates a stubborn
adherence to upper-class morality. She does not generalize the need
for education to all women, regardless of social standing of their
9. The main novels referred for this purpose are Jacob's Room, Mrs.
Dalloway, and The Years. While the writing diaries obviously spanned
the period 1915-1941, the diary entries were themselves generally
written in a hurried and unrehearsed pen. The novel Orlando: A Biography
is also important because it helped Virginia Woolf to express crossovers
of gender lines and to generalize her thought beyond strict female
and male roles.
10. In addition to parallels in the traditional gender roles of soldiers
and women, Virginia Woolf occasionally saw actual examples of women
used as soldiers. Her diary entry for 6/7/18 (p. 153) reads, in part:
AL. Was told the other day that the raids were carried out by women.
Women's bodies were found in the wrecked aeroplanes. They are smaller
and lighter, and thus leave more room for bombs.
11. Few scholars are willing to face the daunting task of studying
Woolf's diaries. The five volumes each exceed 300 pages, including
footnotes and comments by the editor. They often cover tediously petty
material that awaits evaluation relative to other more relevant entries.
For example, the incessant complaints about a loan Virginia Woolf
made to a friend whose spending habits she disapproved of are annoying
at best, until they are placed in the context of Woolf's concern with
women's tasks of provisioning.
12. See, for example, the entry made on 1/9/15: On the towpath we
met & had to pass a long line of imbeciles ... It was perfectly horrible.
They should certainly be killed.@ (Diaries, Vol. I, p. 13). Similarly,
on 5/17/25 she wrote: A...passing a nigger gentleman, perfectly fitted
out in swallow tail & bowler & gold headed cane; & what were his thoughts?
Of the degradation stamped on him, every time he raised his hand &
saw it black as a monkey's outside, tinged with flesh colour within.
(Diaries, Vol. III, p. 23).
13. In the well known children's story, little owl sits on a tree
branch playing the grownup and saying to himself: Here sits Little
Owl, guardian of the forest, keeper of the trees
14. The relevant portions of the diaries are: Volume I, p. xvi, fn.
48 p. 18, p. 20, p. 68, p. 183 and p. 282; Volume II, p. 242); Vol.
3, p. 141 and Vol. 4, p. 234. As an example, see Vol. II, p. 242:
Adrian is altogether broken up by psychoanalysis... His soul rent
in pieces with a view to reconstruction.@
15. Vanessa was the mother of Quentin Bell, whose wife Anne Olivier
Bell took on the enormous task of editing and annotating the diaries.
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