- Virginia Woolf and War: Fiction, Reality, and Myth, and: Writing and Gender: Virginia Woolf's Writing Practice
Virginia Woolf lived much of her life in a world at war—World War I, the Spanish Civil War in which her nephew Julian Bell was killed, the beginning of World War II. She frequently wrote of war in her many volumes of essays, letters and diaries, and she depicted in her novels an array of conscripts, victims, pacifists, resisters and fellow travelers in such characters as Helen Ambrose, Jacob Flanders, Septimus Warren Smith, Lucrezia Smith, Miss Kilman, Andrew Ramsay, Percival, Sara Pargiter, North Pargiter and Giles Oliver. Mark Hussey's Virginia Woolf and War, the first collection of essays devoted to this subject, gathers together many of Woolf's comments on and representations of war, allowing the reader to follow this thread through her writings, to observe continuities and developments in her pacifist philosophy, and to see this aspect of her work analyzed from various angles.
The collection grew from conference papers delivered at the 1989 MLA Convention. While somewhat uneven in quality, it offers a useful and interesting range of perspectives on Woolf's thinking about war and peace. Taking issue with Leonard Woolf's description of Virginia as "the least political animal that has lived since Aristotle invented the definition," the essays repeatedly emphasize the insight into the continuities between public and private tyranny and violence that Woolf articulates in Three Guineas, her 1938 critique of the interrelations of patriarchy, fascism and war. Among fresh approaches, Wayne K. Chapman and Janet M. Manson offer an historical treatment of Leonard and Virginia's collaborative antiwar work, [End Page 397] including their involvement in hammering out the British position on the League of Nations; William R. Handley argues that the experience of the First World War informs the "politics of narration" in Jacob's Room, "this aesthetic and ethical ambivalence about knowledge and representation of others"; Masami Usui analyzes "the female victims of the war in Mrs. Dalloway"; Judith Lee explores Woolf's representations of the body, pain, creativity and violence in The Waves through the lens of Elaine Scarry's insights into the making and unmaking of real and imaginary worlds; Patricia Cramer discusses Woolf's encoding of "a feminist history of England from 1880 to 1937" in The Years; and Patricia Laurence traces figures of dead children and ruined houses through Woolf's later writings. Some readers may be disappointed to discover that the collection offers no extended treatment of Woolf's major antiwar essay, Three Guineas, instead drawing on it as a kind of sourcebook. Even so, these essays taken together create a tapestry of Woolf's representations of war over three decades which readers of Woolf and modernism will find a valuable resource.
In Writing and Gender: Virginia Woolf's Writing Practice, Sue Roe ambitiously attempts "a judicious appraisal of the difficulties, the agonies and the subtleties of Woolf's thinking on the issue of gender by charting her ongoing and complex attempts to construct a gendered identity within her writing practice." Roe's "primary concern in attempting to isolate Woolf's process of constructing and reconstructing gender identity within her writing practice, is not only with her own developing 'theories' with regard to both sexuality and language, but also with the problem that in the final analysis a fixed and dependable reference point for the construction of gender was precisely what she lacked." The proposition that Woolf needed and lacked "a fixed and dependable reference point for the construction of gender" will surely raise eyebrows among many of Woolf's readers. Was Woolf not deconstructing gender from the moment she sent forth her first heroine Rachel Vinrace to do battle for her life? Did she not in one book after another explore the insight that there is, precisely, no "fixed" authority for gender—that gender is a culturally constructed system of representation, indispensable to the subordination...