Literature

Virginia Woolf: Art and Class by David Ayers (Summary)

Virginia Woolf: Art and Class is a chapter from David Ayers (1960)’s Modernism: A Short Introduction.

Summary:

According to David Ayers, the world knows Virginia Woolf as a feminist author and it would be interesting to see how the term “feminist” applies to Woolf. If we look into her essays, she seems to be a great advocate of women rights and her “literary politics are feminist”. For her, these women rights consists of women’s art and the nature of female consciousness. (p.92)

Virginia Woolf argues in her anti-war piece of writing Three Guineas (1938) that her class which she refers to as the “daughters of educated men” was politically the weakest in the state. According to Ayers, “Educated men are those who have passed through the principal educational structure of the ruling classes, but whose influence stems from their education rather than from their economic power”.(p.93)

Ayers says that the period after World War 1 was a time of crises for the educated class and Woolf says that the daughters of these men were harmed more in the sense that they could not get access to the universities and were excluded from professions. (p.93)

Ayers claims that the “modern category of feminism which is frequently applied to Woolf does not properly fir her own explicit analysis of her situation”. Modern feminism is borrowed from Marxism. Marxism believes that all workers of the world have common interests regardless of ethnicity or nationality. Feminism claims that the women of the world can be united as a class regardless of differences in ethnicity or social class, the only thing that matters is they all are women (p.93,94).

Ayers debates that his only intention is to point out that Virginia Woolf did not stand for the universal interests of women, but she only focused on her own class and its functioning.

In both To the Lighthouse and Mrs Dalloway, Woolf presents the “figure of a mother in a wealthy family as a hostess and depicts the role of the hostess in her ability to bind together isolated consciousnesses. The hostess is a kind of artist of the moment. The feminine art of the hostess is contrasted with the masculine art of the artist”. (p.104)

Ayers says that the “Art, women and class are on full view in To the Lighthouse”. Ayers compares the family that Woolf presents in her work to her family in real life. He compares the holiday home presented in To the Lighthouse to Woolf’s holiday home in real life. He compares the characters of Mr Ramsay to Woolf’s father Sir Leslie Stephen and Mrs Ramsay to her mother Julia.

Ayers claims that “Woolf is largely influenced by the ideas and methods of modern art and this can be seen by the figure of Lily Briscoe (one of the guest) who is in the process of making a painting of Mrs Ramsay according to principles which are clearly those of post-impressionism”. (p.98)

Lily’s art plainly reflects the stance of the post-Impressionism of Picasso and Braque. To the Lighthouse, in its examination of the art of Lily Briscoe suggests the importance of art and Woolf could surely have been more assertive about art (p.107).

Source: (Modernism A Short Introduction by David Ayers, Chapter: Virginia Woolf: Art and Class)

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