Writing Women in the 20th and 21st Century

Personalities FJ 32












Charlotte Perkins Gilman


Starting on Monday, 28th January, I will be running a course on Writing Women at Kingston University.  My students will be reading a variety of works, both literary and critical by and about women writers in the 20th and 21st century, and will be commenting on those works here.


The first week we will be looking at the following works:


  1. Charlotte Perkins Gilman ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ (1899) http://www.library.csi.cuny.edu/dept/history/lavender/wallpaper.html
  2. Virginia Woolf A Room of One’s Own (1928) http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/woolf/virginia/w91r/


  1. Dale Spender, “Women and Literary History”


Some of the key questions we will be asking this semester are:

—  Do men and women respond and read differently ?

—  Is there anything essentially feminine or female about what we are reading?

—  How would this story in particular be different if it was told from John’s point of view?

—  How does the form of the story (the symbolism, the narrative voice, the point of view) relate to its content?

—  What does the story tell us about how men and women feel, think, respond and read?

I do hope you will join us in our reading and discussions!

15 thoughts on “Writing Women in the 20th and 21st Century

  1. Gilman, “The Yellow Wallpaper”

    This novella challenges a number of key late 19th century American beliefs about the relations between men and women, the extent of the role of wife and mother, the limitations put on women by these roles, and the manner in which middle class marriage gave rise to men who deemed themselves as father/protector to their child/wife, rather than enabling or expecting marriage to be a partnership. Gilman does this by offering the tale of a married young mother descending into madness, as told in her increasingly fragmented and lively voice.

    Is there anything essentially feminine or female about what we are reading?
    How would this story in particular be different if it was told from John’s point of view?

    Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

    Here, Woolf poses a simple question and extrapolates from its answer the whole history of Western Patriarchal society: why haven’t women done great public things, she asks? And the quick answer is lack of money and privacy. Using the example of Shakespeare’s sister to make this point, Woolf demonstrates that all genius needs certain basic supports, none of which have historically been available to most women.

    Why does Woolf make use of an ironic tone to write this serious political statement?
    What does she mean by a “woman’s sentence”? Is such a thing identifiable in her writing or that of any woman, or is this another irony?

    Dale Spender “Women and Literary History”

    Spender challenges Woolf’s assumption that women didn’t write by arguing for the supremacy of women’s writing, particularly in the form of novel. The problem, Spender suggests, is not lack of women’s writing, but its perceived lack of value in the 20th century. What happened to all those women writers she asks?

    How can knowledge of Women’s supremacy effect political change in the way Spender suggests?
    How does the arrival of writers like JK Rowling and PD James change the tenor of this whole debate about women’s writing tradition?


  2. Week One.

    The Yellow Wallpaper. GILMAN

    This short story is about confinement, insanity and repression of women. The narrator depicts women’s society as though she is trapped within the wallpaper, part of the fixtures, as opposed to being someone who has a voice. The narrator’s voice is heavily influenced by her husband, and her illness is dismissed, which is brought about by confinement.

    Q. Is there anything significant about linking women to madness?

    Q. Has the relation between men and women changed a century on?

    A Room of One’s Own. WOOLF

    Woolf questions a woman’s ability to write in a male world, amidst the distractions of not having her own space and with the criticisms and the discouragement that surrounds a woman’s world. She states that a woman is not born into a world where she has power, therefore doesn’t have the influence of foremothers to guide and advise her as women see differently from men and therefore cannot use a mans advice. She also states that there should be the balance between a woman and a mans writing world. Woolf believes that women need to find their own voice and style to exist as writers.

    Q. Is the new presence of feminism supporting Woolf’s argument or is it instead trying to overrule the patriarchal society and create a matriarchy?

    Q. Has the woman writer benefited from the oppression, due to their ability to prove themselves in the war movement?

    Q. Is the world now representative of Woolf’s ideal world where women exist as equals?

    Women and Literary History. SPENDER

    Spender in this essay demonstrates how women have been given an inferior position due to living in a patriarchal society as they have been removed from the history books as being influential and co-creators of the novel. Spender states that only half of the world has a viewpoint and that you cannot fully understand the “truth” unless you get the whole view, which should be provided by women.

    Q. Would a book written about the rise of the novel which eliminates the great novels by men be critiqued and questioned in the same way?

    Q. Are these novels written by women perhaps un relevant in the critics view in today’s world?

    Q. Is the literary culture of the present dominated by women?


  3. Modern Fiction. WOOLF

    In this essay, Woolf states that fiction is becoming better and better as time goes by due to less focus on the ‘material’ and more emphasis on the soul, the mind and the realistic portrayal of life which is depicted in the more recent fiction. She uses James Joyces ‘The Portrait of the Artist as a young man’ as an example of the improvement. She feels that ‘[he] attempts to come closer to life’ without worrying about the conventions of novel writing.

    Q) Woolf feels that the improvement in ‘coming closer to life’ has improved the novel overall. Do people think that this aspect of a novel is essential or even important at all times?


  4. Modern Fiction- WOOLF
    In this essay Woolf describes how literature has improved since Austen. She feels that the collapse of such strict conventions and rules in literature have led to novelists becoming more inventive and therefore coming ‘closing to life’. They are focusing less on the ‘material’ of conventional novels and more in the soul, the heart and the thought of the modern people; revealing the ‘flickerings of that innermost flame which flashes its message through the brain’.
    Q) Is it essential for the novelist to include these elements in their characters? Is it maybe too strong a statement to say that by introducing these elements into novels, they have improved?


  5. Week 2

    Katherine Mansfield, ‘The Prelude’

    This short modernist narrative offers a picture of domesticity as the Burnell family depart from their home town and retreat to the country. The story is driven by character’s emotions and development rather than plot, as the idyllic scenery allows children and adults to fantasize, their symbolic surroundings exposing the repressions present in the family. Likewise, Linda is unable to reciprocate the interests and sexual desires of her husband Stanley, as she dreams of an independent life, the birds epitomising her yearning for freedom. Furthermore, she observes the tree, reminiscent of sin and temptation as she wishes to leave the home yet, realises that she is entrapped in her marriage as she ‘shall go on having children and Stanley will go on making money,’ reinforcing gender roles. Similarly, whilst the large aloe plants and their thorns signify Linda’s frigidity, their swelling could also insinuate a possible pregnancy.


    1.The references to the moon, a symbol of women’s menstrual cycles and swellings hint at a possible pregnancy. Do you think Linda could already be carrying another child?
    2.The aloe plants appear to be a major symbol throughout the story. Do they have any further significance, apart from their contribution to family life and relationships, in the power they assert over the characters?

    Katherine Mansfield, ‘A Ship Comes into the Harbour’

    Katherine Mansfield questions the future of the novel, suggesting that the ‘new world’ is demanding a more experimental literary form. Although the novel may be outdated, its popularity continues to rise as a vast response, whether positive or negative, secures it place in the literary world. The allusion to the ships reinforces this argument as it represents the exploration open to the novel form. This image implies that whilst literature is on the verge of change, society wants to hold onto literary traditions, reluctant to surrender them ‘out to sea.’

    1.How do other readers interpret Mansfield’s references to the ships on the harbour?
    2.Do you agree that the novel needs to be replaced by a new form or adapt to a modern society?

    Virginia Woolf, ‘Modern Fiction: The Common Reader’

    In contrast to Katherine Mansfield’s argument in ‘A Ship Comes into the Harbour,’ Virginia Woolf suggests that modern fiction is closer to real life than traditional literature and therefore, is more appealing and applicable to the everyday common reader. In her essay, Woolf makes distinctions between writers from different areas and times, spanning centuries from Jane Austen to James Joyce; a ‘young writer’ who she believes to fulfil modern standards of literature. Although she insists that no writing form is of higher importance than the other, Woolf believes that the conventional author has no freedom and as a result, their writing is constrained, and unnatural. By abandoning these conventions, Woolf argues that fiction will become contemporary in striking the reader and challenging their minds, mirroring reality and focusing on meaning, emotion and the ‘consciousness,’ becoming a free ‘spirit’ rather than a plot-driven text.

    1.Do you agree with Katherine Mansfield’s views or do you favour those of Virginia Woolf? Do you believe that writer’s need to divert from literary traditions in order to live up to the expectations of today’s society?
    2.Do you favour modernist literature over the traditional novel form? Is one more significant than the other in contemporary literature?

    Meg Jensen, ‘The Writer’s Diary as Borderland: The Public and Private Selves of Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield and Louisa May Alcott’

    In her essay, Meg Jensen examines how writer’s journals represent the dichotomy of public and private identities where fictional characters, motifs, and symbols are informed by the author’s own personal experiences and conflicts. Both Virginia Woolf and Louisa May Alcott struggle to claim their place in literature and lineage, using their diaries as an outlet for repressed feelings, exploration, experimentation and escape. Whilst, Woolf uses her diary to rework and construct her writing, experimenting with ‘the loose material of life’ and separating it from ideas capable of fiction; Alcott expresses her resentful feelings and the desire to break away from the obligations she feels she owes to her family. Also, by secretly writing thrillers, Alcott establishes her true rebellious self, diverting from her public image of the ‘dutiful daughter,’ reflected by her famous stories of The Little Women and therefore, escapes the authority of her father. Alternatively, Katherine Mansfield’s awareness of her position is marked by her altering attitude towards symbols that change as her diary enables her to recapitulate the private in different stories.

    1.Could it be argued that Virginia Woolf’s writing is too contrived as the process of experimentation and constant reconstruction is demonstrated by her journals?
    2.By ridiculing the image of the subservient woman she appeared to portray in her public image, could Louisa Alcott represent conformity in her secret tales, as a mask for the repression and immorality present in all women?


  6. Week Two:

    Meg Jensen,  Writer’s Diary as Borderland: The Public and Private Selves of Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield and Louisa May Alcott.

    This essay offers examples of three authors, Woolfe, Mansfield and Alcott, and the ways in which their diaries serve to bridge the divide between their private and public lives / selves. In particular, the symbolic use of mirrors and windows serve to reflect and bridge the tensions between the author’s true self, presented in their private journals, and the facade of their public selves as expressed in their works of fiction. Through reading their journals, we are able to glimpse something of their real selves seeping subliminally through into their fiction.

    Question: I understand this essay in relation to women’s writing, and the importance their journals play in bordering their public and private identities, and providing in many ways an outlet for their truer selves, but in what ways does this relate to modern fiction?

    Virginia Woolf “Modern Fiction” (1919)

    In Modern Fiction Woolf comments on the state of modern fiction writing: the process which the writer takes to write, and their common failure to meet the demands of fiction writing which Woolf considers to be the creation of life, a window to reality. These three writers, dubbed my Woolf as ‘Materialists’ ‘spend immense skill and immense industry making the trivial and the transitory appear the true and the enduring’. For Woolf, the modern writer ‘should attempt to come closer to life…even if to do so they must discard most of the conventions which are commonly observed by the novelist’. He or she should write unfettered, and with life, to create meaningful modern day fiction.

    Katherine Mansfield “Prelude” (1918)

    Mansfield’s short story appears on the surface to offer an idyllic picture of family life, tracing Stanley, Linda and their family’s move and resettling from town to countryside. However, Mansfield provides grinding undertones of unhappiness, aggression and fear. The killing of the duck and the domineering presence of the aloe plant, alongside the troubling relationship between Linda, Stanley and Beryl act to challenge the traditional, aesthetics of the picturesque. Mansfield does so to subtly question and reinvent the story within a modernist context. The story is also underpinned by Mansfield’s own life in New Zealand, picking up on themes of colonialism – the repressed history of brutality and duplicity – as well as echoing Wordsworth’s ‘Prelude’ and themes of the sublime.

    Question: References to ‘IT’ and ‘THEM’. Who are they? What is their relevance?

    Katherine Mansfield “A Ship Comes into Harbour”

    Here, Mansfield poses that whether the novel ‘only now begins to live’ or whether it is in the throws of death, it must either bring about change to the form of the novel or create a new form in its place. Either way, for Mansfield, with reference to modern writing and with particular reference to Woolf’s Night and Day, ‘this is to be an age of experiment’.

    Question: In what ways does this directly relate to women’s writing? Purely as it is in response to Woolf’s text? Or is women’s writing considered here to be central to the ‘age of experiment’?


  7. Modern Fiction- WOOLF
    In this essay Woolf describes how literature has improved since Austen. She feels that the collapse of such strict conventions and rules in literature have led to novelists becoming more inventive and therefore coming ‘closing to life’. They are focusing less on the ‘material’ of conventional novels and more in the soul, the heart and the thought of the modern people; revealing the ‘flickerings of that innermost flame which flashes its message through the brain’.

    Q) Is it essential for the novelist to include these elements in their characters? Is it maybe too strong a statement to say that by introducing these elements into novels, they have improved?


  8. Prelude, MANSFIELD

    Mansfield writes that women present a “false self” to men, hiding away their true identity to obey the patriarchal society. This highlights the power that men have in society that they can exist, however women have to portray a false being, not being true to themselves, and existing merely to serve men as an act. Mansfield uses a lot of ellipses to demonstrate women’s silence, to portray what is left unsaid.

    Q. In writing Prelude, has Katherine Mansfield portrayed her hidden self?

    Modern Fiction, WOOLF

    In this essay, Woolf demonstrates the inferiority of women in writing in the fact that all the great writers she states are men. However, she symbolises that the Art of Fiction is “she”, therefore stating that the proper stuff of fiction can be assisted in due to the emergence of the importance of women in society. Woolf mentions a “voice of protest”, suggesting the relevance of men being more powerful in society. As this was written just after women were granted the vote, this is relevant in highlighting that women are protesting how men are more free in society.

    Q. Is Modern Fiction a political text in suggesting the emancipation of women can open up the possibilities of fiction?

    Borderland, MEG JENSEN

    This essay highlights the confliction of women between being considered respectable or being considered rebellious. The symbolism within the works of these three writers suggest the borders that exist between women and the emancipation that men have in society. The journal therefore exists as portraying women’s true self as seen in the mirror. The symbolism symbolises the restrictions that women may never be as free as men due to society being patriarchal.

    Q. Is the process of writing in journals more liberating than writing novels?

    A Ship Comes Into The Harbour, MANSFIELD

    Mansfield states that there will be “two camps” in the readership, which could be read as being male and female readers. The new world that Mansfield talks about is that the war has ended, and with it, the female liberation, which could be also related to what Mansfield is saying that people may be in two minds about.

    Q. Is Woolf’s writing particularly feminine due to the stream-of-consciousness type writing?


  9. WEEK 2

    Virginia Woolf ‘Modern Fiction’
    Virginia Woolf uses this essay to show how fiction has changed since Jane Austen was writing. Woolf believes that those who write something “worth while”, a camp she places herself firmly in, along with James Joyce, create good fiction as “life escapes” into it. Woolf suggests that fiction often “misses” the point, but readers often persist with modern fiction, in the hope that they will find what they are looking for in the next novel that they read. Woolf wants more than what is “customary” from the novels that she reads.

    Katherine Mansfield ‘A Ship Comes Into Harbour’
    Mansfield’s review neatly and succinctly summarises ‘Modern Fiction’, in clear support of several of Woolf’s points. Her divisions of the types of reviewers could be seen as the split between the two genders, suggesting that men and women prefer different types of literature. The metaphor of fiction as ships, shows how although fiction tends to take a similar form, each is uniquely different and built in a new way.

    Q: If there is such a difference of opinion amongst readers, would they really all agree on the presence of an “age of experiment”?

    Katherine Mansfield ‘Prelude’
    It seemed as though this novella has no conclusion: it is merely a window into the lives of a family, who seem to be happy on the surface, but underneath have a series of strained relationships with each other, which emphasised by the way the perspective of the narrator regularly changes between the various members of this unhappy family. These difficult relationships contrast with the idea of female kinship that was presented as the ideal at the time. As well as looking in on the family, it could be suggested that the characters are looking out at other lives that they could live.
    Beryl’s moment of reflecting upon her reflection is a clear example of what Meg Jensen was discussing in her essay, and sheds light upon the hidden lives and feelings of women, as she practices the smile that she often puts on in public.

    Q: What is the symbolism of the moment at the end of the story with Kezia and the calico cat?

    Meg Jensen ‘Writer’s Diary as Borderland: The Public and Private Selves of Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield and Louisa May Alcott’
    This essay presented a lot of interesting ideas, that explain so much about the work of female writers, and the difference in their personal and published writings, and how “diaries functioned as borderlands mediating private and public identities”. The use of windows and mirrors in the works of Alcott, Mansfield and Woolf is interesting.

    Q: Is it more common for women to write about the metaphors of windows and mirrors than men?


  10. Katherine Mansfield, ‘A Ship Comes into the Harbour’

    Mansfield in this extract discusses the novel and how it is widely talked about amongst her contemporaries. She states that there are two different ‘camps’ of critics – those who ‘praise’ novels and those who do not. Mansfield argues that there has never been so much ‘ignorance, stupidity and dreariness’, nevertheless, this shows that Mansfield’s era is one of experiment.

    1. Would a man have the same outlook as Mansfield on reviewing novels, that it is ignorant, stupid and dreary?
    2. What does Mansfield mean by ‘if [the novel] lives it must accept the fact of a new world’?

    Katherine Mansfield, ‘Prelude’

    This short story begins in medias res, and its narrative jumps frequently. It does not have a set structure, something which is common in modernist texts. ‘Prelude’ discusses women’s issues in the twentieth century, a time where women were campaigning for the right to vote and other rights on equal terms as men. At one point in the story, Aunt Beryl wishes that she had ‘money of her own’ and is unhappy with the way her life is, and fantasizes about having a lover. The story also focuses on the need to be free and individual, Linda dreams of escaping the life she lives. It could be argued that some of the characters, Beryl, Linda and Alice in particular have to wear masks to hide who they really are.

    1. What is the significance of the duck’s decapitation in Section 9 of the story?
    2. What does the aloe plant symbolise?

    Virginia Woolf, ‘Modern Fiction’

    This essay discusses how literature has changed since the era in which Jane Austen began writing and publishing her work. Woolf discusses the shift that literature has taken from ‘materialist’ Victorian and Edwardian writers (Arnold, Galsworthy and Wells) to ‘spiritual’ and modern writers of the heart, mind and emotion (James Joyce). Woolf argues that traditional novelists were not necessarily ‘free’ to write their own work, but ‘constrained’ by ‘some powerful and unscrupulous tyrant’. They are restricted to make a work of fiction that has an interesting plot, comedy, tragedy, love and many more things. To be ‘free’ is to be modern and ‘spiritual’, something which Woolf defines herself as. ‘Material’ authors cannot capture the reality of life.

    Is it correct to say that ‘materialist’ authors cannot truly capture the essence of life and modern writers can?

    Meg Jensen ‘The Writer’s Diary as Borderland: The Public and Private Selves of Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield and Louisa May Alcott’

    In this essay, Jensen discusses the contrast between the public and private lives of Woolf, Mansfield and Alcott. They are ‘split selves’ and ‘diaries functioned as borderlands mediating their public and private identities.’ Jensen then discusses the fascinating point that mirrors and windows could reflect the splitting of the self and the struggle to repress desires and portray a different personality to the outside world or dreams of escaping the lives that they live, while looking out of the window and visualising a better one.

    Is it significant that female writers write about mirrors and windows? Are they trying to escape from the patriarchal world that they live in?


  11. Week 2
    ‘A Ship Comes into Harbour’ Katherine Mansfield
    Summary: Mansfield describes the debate surrounding the novel as a form. Some critics say that the novel is dying while others think that ‘only now it begins to live’. Mansfield comments that if each group of critics were presented with the same book, one group would be full of ‘praise’ while the others would be full of ‘blame’. Mansfield writes that the two groups agree that they are living in ‘an age of experiment’. Mansfield argues that if the novel dies it will be replaced by ‘some new form of expression’. Night and Day may be a ‘new form of expression’, it is a ‘strange sight’ compared to the other ships (other novels).
    Questions: What makes Mansfield think Night and Day is a ‘strange sight’? Is Woolf’s ability to write something different or ‘strange’ or different related to her gender?
    ‘Modern Fiction’ Virginia Woolf
    Summary: Woolf begins by discussing the problems with some of her contemporaries’ work. Woolf criticises these contemporaries for being ‘concerned not with the spirit but with the body’ and labels them ‘materialists’. Woolf describes a new way of writing which can portray ‘an ordinary mind on an ordinary day’. Woolf argues that ‘an ordinary mind’ receives impressions as ‘an incessant shower of innumerable atoms’ and this is what this new method f writing will convey. This method of writing is important, Woolf argues, because life is not ‘symmetrically arranged’ and so a writer cannot portray life accurately in conventional ways. Woolf praises James Joyce and other writers who ‘attempt to come closer to life, and to preserve more seriously and exactly what interests and moves them’. The influence of Russian writers on English fiction is also discussed. Woolf writes that characteristics of Russian literature such as ‘sympathy for the suffering of others’ show the ‘triviality’ of English fiction. Woolf concludes the essay with the argument that ‘everything is the proper stuff of fiction’.
    Questions: What does Woolf mean by ‘trivial’ when describing the ‘materialist’ writers? Could the modernists’ focus on everyday life be seen as trivial? Is Woolf challenging what we see as trivial and what we see as important?
    ‘Prelude’ Katherine Mansfield
    Summary: Mansfield writes about the domestic life of a family through the viewpoints of multiple characters. The characters such as Beryl and Linda feel dissatisfied and confined by their lives which are restricted to traditional female roles. These limiting roles prevent the female characters from being themselves because they live to please others. This lack of identity is expressed by Beryl when she says: ‘“I’m always acting a part. I’m never my real self for a moment.”’ Mansfield also demonstrates how gender roles can be confining to men. For example, the Burnell girls’ cousin, Rags, is ashamed because ‘He adored dolls’.
    Questions: What does the bird and animal imagery represent? How does it relate to the themes of the text? Why does Mansfield write about dreams?
    ‘The Writer’s Diary as Borderland: The Public and Private Selves of Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield and Louisa May Alcott’ Meg Jensen
    Summary: In this essay Meg Jensen discusses how the diaries of Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield and Louisa May Alcott function as mediators between the writers’ public and private selves. Jensen explores the different ways that these writers use their diaries to engage with the theme of identity in their work. For example, Woolf’s fiction utilises symbols such as ‘windows, mirrors, waves and the sun’, the diaries, however, concentrate on ‘the centrality of the business and the craft of writing to her sense of self’.
    Q: Do modern female writers find a ‘divide between their public and private selves, between family duty and artistic desire’?


  12. ‘A Ship Comes into The Harbour’ MANSFIELD

    This piece by Mansfield begins with the debate as to whether or not the novel is only just beginning to ‘live’ or of it is slowly dying. She then splits the categories of writing into two sets of people which we assume to mean men and women. She says that the way the two camps percieve literature is very different; where one camp would praise a text the other would criticise it. Despite the opinions of either camp, there was still clearly a strong opinion on the form of the novel, furthermore the ship analogy enforces a metaphor relating to the exploration of new texts in the future and the change occuring in the classic style of writing.

    Q: Do men and women really read novels so differently? Are our preferences as different as stated or is this too general?

    ‘Prelude’, MANSFIELD

    This novella focuses on the pretence of society and more specifically on the false image that women portrayed of themselves to maintain their pride, despite what they are feeling. This is shown right at the beginning when Kezia is mocked by the Samuel Josephs and ‘a tear rolled down her cheek, but she wasn’t crying…as the tear dripped down…she caught it…before any of them had seen’. This pretention is very obviously instilled by Beryl who eventually admits to herself that she is ‘always acting a part. I’m never my real self for a moment’. It seems that both Kezia and Beryl can go through life pretending, that is until they look in the mirror and see their unavoidable, true reflection.

    Q: Prelude is said to be based on Manfield’s own family, so is this idea of pretention and putting on an act something that she has merely witnessed? Or something that she also finds herself doing as a result of her upbringing?’

    ‘The Writer’s Diary as Borderland: The Public and Private Selves of Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield and Louisa May Alcott’, JENSEN

    This essay is an interesting portrayal of the reasons for the symbolism in each woman’s writing. Finding out the reasons gives a very different slant to the stories written by these women as the initial innocence which seems to be portrayed is replaced with much darker meanings. Eg, Woolf’s terrible experience in front of a mirror which led to her ‘looking-glass-shame’ allows the reader to understand more fully the importance of mirrors in her pieces, they serve as an unavoidable veiw of the private self. Alcott is most famous ofcourse for her novel ‘Little Women’. To find out that the character of Jo is the one she identifies with the most is interesting as she is remembered as the most feisty and frustrated tomboy of the sisters. Furthermore, Alcott felt that she had to maintain the manners and restrictions of a lady to please her father, no matter how much it annoyed her.

    Q: After reading the Mansfield section in Borderland it seems that Mansfield’s writing was not semi-autobiographical, but almost a mirror image of her private diaries. Where is the line between story-writing and autobiography?


    Mansfield discusses the objectivity and debate surrounding the effectiveness of the novel. She does not conclude her views but rather expresses that readers could be divided into ‘two camps’ and each have opposing but valid arguments. Regardless of the outcome, Mansfield states the necessity and inevitability of a literary expression and the need to modernise is impending.
    Question: Are the two camps only male and female? Or is this discretionary?

    Prelude depicts a tale of suppression. On the surface the Burnell family adhere to society’s perception of the perfect life : marriage, children, servants, money and the big country house. By utilising altering viewpoints in her narration, Mansfield explores how, beneath the surface, the characters are not happy with serving patriarchal ideals. The women serve Stanley, finding his slippers and moving house while he works: Beryl dreams of money whilst Linda imagines freedom. Due to the female suppression, power struggles arise between the women: Isabel dominates Lottie and Kezia. Beryl lords unnecessarily over Alice who’s double bind with class suppression means that just the thought of answering back ‘kept her alive’. Female isolation is represented through the country house, segregated from society, where women cannot be ‘freed’ without men driving them. Additionally men are also portrayed as suffering beneath the strict patriarchal ideals of the time, for Rags is ashamed of his love for dolls.
    Question: What is the relevance of ‘it’ and ‘them’?

    Modern Fiction discusses the advancement of the novel form, describing it’s ‘circular tendencies’ rather than linear progression. Woolf highlights how stagnation occurs with the literary Greats ‘excite’ then ‘disappoint’ their readers with the lack of life and soul in their well crafted texts. She praises James Joyce for revealing the ‘flickerings of that innermost flame’ by disregarding conventions, making way for progression and new perspectives, free from authorial slavery. This mentality also allows women to write for themselves and not in the angry tone of patriarchy. Society’s binds still affect Woolf’s writing for, when referring to the literary historian, she calls the generic being a ‘him’.

    The Writer’s Diary as a Borderland highlights how diaries, specifically Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield and Louisa May Alcott’s, are the window between an author’s private and public life. The social acceptable and successful author, is segregated from the troubled, indecisive, struggling but ultimately very human character shown through the free flowing hand of the diary. Jensen explains how the worlds overlap when experience from the diary is shown through symbolism in the novel, for example Woolf’s ‘looking-glass shame’.
    Question: Is it more common for women to keep diary’s? If so could it be argued that this make them weaker, more emotional subjects?


  14. ‘Prelude’, Katherine Mansfield

    On the surface, the family presented in ‘Prelude’ are obedient with the patriarchal culture surrounding them, but the heavy undertones of resistance against suppression and a yearning for liberation resonates throughout. Katherine Mansfield uses the domestic sphere as a microcosm for greater society. She shows that although relationships may seem to be established (the connection between mother and child, and husband and wife), they are in fact playing roles: she bears children while he earns the money. Linda’s desire for freedom, to escape the domesticity that traps her is alluded to throughout. An example of this would be the motif of the car; it is the men who are allowed the freedom to drive and move away from the domestic sphere. This motif ties together the patriarchy with the entrapment that Linda feels. Furthermore, the ‘lumps of children’, suggest that Linda regards them as a lump of illness or disease which she must carry with her all the time. Linda is forced to accept the burden of having ‘lumps’ of children because she knows this is what is expected from her as female. Similar to ‘A Room of One’s Own’, ‘Prelude’ describes Linda in need of her own space and the image of her ‘fatigue’ and strain is dominant throughout the text. Prevalent throughout, the window, the mirror and the diary are noticeable as symbols, supported by Jensen’s idea below

    Q: Does Mansfield indicate that Linda’s yearning for freedom is purely a fantasy or does she hint a possibility of it become her reality?
    Q: How does Mansfield use the symbol of the maid? Is she perhaps suggesting that her approach to suppression is sufficient?

    ‘Writer’s Diary as Borderland: The Public and Private Selves of Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield and Louisa May Alcott’, Meg Jensen

    The symbol of the diary being a space between the inside and the outside world, like a window, suggests that there is an interior side where the female writer contains her truer, private self and on the flip side there is an externalised idea of the woman who creates an appearance in accordance with the culture’s idea of a woman. The balancing and coordinating between the two personas is shown as a struggle for the woman writers, Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield and Louisa May Alcott.
    – A window which opens and closes and is a passage for light symbolises the merging and the controlling of the two spheres, interior and exterior.
    – The diary as written expression, like the mirror, reflects the two different sides of the female writer and narrator: her private self which is expressed in the form of writing can also become publicised. Like the window, it ‘frames’ their ‘split-voiced selves’

    Q: Can this analysis be applied to further texts and other female writers?
    Q: Were the writers aware of the distinction that they were creating between these two spheres?
    Q: Was it this limit on their private selves and the maintenance of their public selves that lead to their success?
    Q: If their private selves were released through their writing, would the literature have been as successful, if at all successful?

    ‘Modern Fiction’, Virginia Woolf

    ‘Modern Fiction’ expresses the idea that typically, the writers seen as worth noting are men making Virginia Woolf critical of the politics within literature. She describes the shift from the realistic element of writing to the internalisation of writing dependent upon the writer. Like Mansfield’s ‘A Ship comes Into the Harbour’, Woolf indicates the notion of a new way of thinking in literature; ‘the proper stuff of fiction is a little other than custom would have us believe it’ and we should accept that there are ‘no limits to the horizon’ when composing literature.

    Q: Does she believe that this shift is happening now? Is it taking place successfully?
    Q: Will this acceptance of everything as the ‘proper stuff of fiction’ arise in a world where ‘she’, the female, is accepted as an equal in politics and education?
    Q: If so, have we already reached this point or are we struggling to reach this point?

    ‘A Ship Comes into the Harbour’, Katherine Mansfield

    Katherine Mansfield declares the fate of the novel as ‘dying’, unless it can be accepted that a breakthrough into the ‘new world’ is needed, through a ‘new form of expression’. In relation to women’s writing, perhaps Mansfield is suggesting that for the novel to continue and remain a prevalent feature of culture, education and life (to live on), then we must shed a new light upon women’s writing (their expression). A focus that allows us to see women’s literature in a way that is central to society, rather than a subculture or a rarity, bringing about the acceptance of the ‘fact of a new world’.

    Q: Is it women’s writing that defines our time as an ‘age of experiment’ and has the potential to become the ‘new form of expression’, bringing us to the ‘new world’?
    Q: Do the two different camps (perhaps referring to men and women) really differ so drastically in their readings and understanding of literature?


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