Was Virginia Woolf a Feminist?

In the year 2013, a hundred years after her birth, Virginia Woolf remains one of the most misunderstood and influential writers in the British canonical tradition. Generations have deconstructed her essays and novels, in an attempt to better understand her feminist aesthetics and many have questioned the ambiguity of the ideology encoded in her work.
For me, her feminist credentials are not explicit in her texts, but are affirmed in the recorded details of her life. Her involvement in the suffrage movement, estrangement from the traditional heterosexual archetype and frequent retreats into mental distress, highlight her rejection of patriarchal authority. One could argue, however, that more interesting than her endorsement of feminist ideas is an exploration of the extent to which her feminism was a conscious political decision to challenge the prevailing social (patriarchal) order. Was her feminism really given to textual primacy of her aestheticism? Arguably, it is the aesthetics of her texts which live on, but Woolf’s feminism which makes her seem more real.

Sentencing Woolf: Do Women Write Differently From Men?

Engaging in a conversation with a customer in the charity book shop in which I volunteer to work, I touched upon a subject which demanded further exploration. For, after mentioning that the central character in, and narrative voice of, the novel I have recently had published is male, he asked if I felt that I, as a woman, could accurately represent the male perspective? I replied that I had tried to and that it was, now, incumbent upon the reader to decide to what extent I had been successful.
Ruminating about the subject, reminded me of Virginia Woolf’s assertion in her essay, “A Room of One’s Own,” that the best writers possess a form of mental androgeny which transcends the restrictions of gender and penetrates the essential consciousness of the characters, whom they have created. Arguably, the actual representation of language in a text is as relatable to the author’s gender as the plot.
Virginia Woolf cited Dorothy Richardson as the originator of the, “women’s sentence.” Richardson’s rejection of traditional linguistic structure signifying, also, a rejection of the patriarchal order, by which the novel had previously been defined. Elaborating upon Richardson’s semiotic magicianship, Woolf ventured beyond the battleground of content into the arena of form. Her defining moment, the novel, Mrs Dalloway, whose action takes place during a single day, eschewed linear causality and embraced a form of elliptical progression which was at odds with the traditional male produced novel.
Although, at first glimpse the concept of the women’s sentence may appear to be contingent on a belief in biological determinism, Woolf did not propose that gender differences were inherent. Rather, she looked outwards into a society which not only produced, but reinforced difference. Thus, men and women were not born different, society reproduced our differences. Reflective of this was the pursuit of a women’s sentence; the pursuit of a woman’s voice.