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Short Stories: Women Without Oppertunity

A comparison of Virgini Woolf's "A Room of One's Own" and Katherine Mansfield's "Miss Brill"

Lydia Toorenburgh

on 9 May 2014

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Transcript of Short Stories: Women Without Oppertunity

Virginia Woolf
Plot Points
- a dead bishop once declared that "it was impossible for any woman, past, present, or to come, to have the genius of Shakespeare."
- reviews all of Shakespeare's advantages: education, opportunities in theater, choosing his wife, not having to take care of the kids.
- intro: imaginary sister Judith, equally talented and brilliant. Her disadvantages: not able to go to school, ridiculed when caught trying to write or read, is betrothed to a working-class-neighbor's son, severely beaten by father when she refuses.
- Judith runs away to London & meats more challenges: can't get a job, can't be anything in the theater, can't live alone, can't get a chance to write
- a man, Nick Greene, "takes pity" on her, she becomes pregnant and kills herself
- being gifted would isolate and torture a woman, repressed brilliance probably caused a lot of issues in women
- anonymous writer were probably often women
- so YES it was impossible for a woman to have written Shakespeare's plays, but not for lack of talent

Room of One's Own
Judith & Miss Brill
A World of One's Own
Persuasion Perfected

An essay is defined as a piece of persuasive writing, however writers throughout history have influenced readers through creative writing. When writing A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf married the two styles creating the ultimate persuasive union. By utilizing the unique influential tools of both essay and short story format Woolf insures the convincing of her readers.

Woolf begins her essay as colloquially as a personal letter, preparing the reader for her argument but quickly states her angle, taking advantage of the frankness that an essay format allows. She displays her masterful command of “the elements of grammar and logic”(A Room of One’s Own) and, without hesitation or euphemism, Woolf announces her thesis: a convention that would be patronizing in a short story is effective and leaves no room for misunderstanding in an essay. Woolf swiftly prevents her message from being dismissed as feminist rantings by repeatedly including the supportive research and findings of a Professor Trevelyan, adding weight to an already solid work. With matter and art, Woolf, as an excellent essay writer should, despite the reality that “facts are so hard to come by,”(A Room of One’s Own) lists historical evidence and true setbacks that women were (and continue to be) faced with. By doing this Woolf creates a steel infrastructure to hold up her thesis. Yet, “who shall measure the heat and violence” of the creative mind “when caught and tangled” in an essay’s “body?”(A Room of One’s Own) Woolf, after exhausting the persuasive tools of an essay, utilizes her “genius . . . for fiction” (A Room of One’s Own) by weaving a short story into the body of her essay.

The story of the imaginary, but very believable, Judith Shakespeare is so effective in it’s display of women’s opportunity-deprived lives that it could stand alone and very nearly achieve the same degree of convincing. Judith is an “every-man,” a plain, relatable character who lends herself to every reader: men, thinking of their mother, their sister, their wife, their daughter; women, thinking of their mother, their sister, their daughter, themself. Judith could be any of these women, and unfortunately, her story would not not be far removed. Wielding the power of empathy and compassion, Woolf invites the heart into the persuasion of the mind to her cause. She invites the senses as well, drizzling the brief story with visual imagery and sound imagery as Judith’s story truly becomes as real as “the genius of Shakespeare.”() Increasing the verisimilitude again, Woolf effortlessly employs allusions to other writers, prose works, and characters of William Shakespeare’s life. As Judith’s life follows a plot as tragic as one of her brother’s plays, Woolf forces the heart to feel the frustration and depression of the facts that the head had perhaps dismissed. This emotional angle allows for men and women, the educated upper class and the “uneducated, servile people”() to understand “the torture that the gift had put [Judith] to,”() and by extension, the torture suffered by “any woman born with a great gift.”()

With emotions raw, Woolf combines her wealth of facts with her imagination, creating highly plausible scenarios of other women with brilliance; these supporting pieces of evidence, reminiscent of historical non-fiction, would be utterly unacceptable in an essay, even laughable, but with the narrative ingredient in this essay these extensions of logic are as powerful and meaningful as it’s greater whole. Woolf creates a compelling and convincing argument without patronizing, without chastising, or criticizing. She combines the science, and the art of word and through her essay-short story hybrid, Woolf writes the ultimate piece of persuasive writing.
Miss Brill
Plot Points
- Miss Brill walks to the Public Gardens
- Recounts preparing her fox fur for wearing
- Arrives at gardens and sits down on bench, listening to band play
- Tries to eaves drop on silent couple next to her on the bench
- Watches, judges, and eaves drops on people in gardens
- Finds great pleasure in the drama
- Likens the Sunday at the garden to a play, everyone is actors
- Describes her afternoons reading to an unresponsive old man, imagines his waking and asking if she's an actress
- Two kids sit down next to her, start bad mouthing her and her fox fur
- She goes home, skipping her ritualistic Sunday treat, takes off her fox fur and sits alone
Women Without Opportunity
Short Stories
- The daughter of an "eminent Victorian scholar, critic, and writer."
- Grew up around highly educated and artistic people.
- Friends with many influential artists.
- Married talented writer, Leonard Woolf.
- In adulthood lived in Bloomsbury London.
- Woolf and husband formed an intellectual circle called "Bloomsbury Group."
Mental Illness
- She struggled with "mental instability" her whole life.
- Had several "severe breakdowns."
- Committed suicide when she was 59

- Wanted to tell the intricate stories of ordinary people.
- Often used stream-of-consciousness style, refined it.
- Passionate about subtlety and perception.
Women's disadvantage
Matter-of-fact, light satire
To expose the challenges women face, the inequalities.
Writing as herself
William & "Judith" Shakespeare
Women vs. Society's restrictions/ Women vs. Self-held ideal of role
London in Shakespeare's time
"Smart-casual" = accessible, not pompous
Brilliance must be nurtured for it to reach it's potential
Educated, strong verbs
references, allusion, "every-man," narrative pieces, light satire
Katherine Mansfield
1888 - 1923
- Born in New Zealand
- Daughter of a knight
- Happy childhood
- Went to Wellington Girls' High School
- Moved to London
- Had two lesbian relationships, tried to repress her homosexuality
- Had a love child with a man, but miscarried
- Married magazine editor, John Murray, had a tumultuous relationship
- Contracted tuberculosis
- Died of a pulmonary hemorrhage
- Murray published the rest of her works
When lonely or isolated, one will find meaning and purpose for one's self
Hidden-ly sarcastic, petty
To capture the imaginary-life of the lonely
Limited Omniscient
Miss Brill, park goers, young couple, elderly couples 1 & 2
Miss Brill vs young couple / Imaginary vs reality
Short story: stream of consciousness, little flash backs, day-in-the-life-of
A Public Gardens in France
Petty details, visual imagery, sound imagery & onomatopoeia, symbolism (the fox fur, the violets, the ermine toque)
loneliness, isolation, rejection, illusion vs reality
Onomatopoeia, dialogue, accessible, "fantastic"
Onomatopoeia, symbolism, flashback, metaphor, simile, imagery
Judith pursues her passion despite the challenges but ends up killing herself...
Let's imagine both women were like Judith...
Miss Brill is not as strong willed, and would have repressed her talents: seeking happiness in the tiny life that she's confined to.
Miss Brill's life acts as a contrasting life path for a woman.

"Let me imagine, since facts are so hard to come by."(A Room of One's Own)

"Who shall measure the heat and violence of the poet's heart when caught and tangled in a woman's body?"(A Room of One's Own)

"A little dab of black sealing wax when the time came - when it was absolutely necessary..."(Miss Brill)
Full transcript