Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Review: Three Guineas by Virginia Woolf

Three Guineas
Title: Three Guineas

Author: Virginia Woolf

Pages: 144

Source: My personal library

Challenges: Read 'n' Review challenge

Rating: 10/10

First Sentence: "Three years is a long time to leave a letter unanswered, and your letter has been lying without an answer even longer than that."

Summary (From back of book):
When asked to donate one guinea for a women's college building fund, Virginia Woolf sat down and responded with a letter. As two more requests for donations came in, the much famed author and critic returned to the same letter, expanding it into this simple yet profound declaration of women's importance to society. Three Guineas became one of the foundations of modern-day cultural analysis, and Virginia Woolf's letter went on to be printed and reprinted for new generations of readers. A classic of argumentative expression and discursive style, Three Guineas is the brilliant summation of Virginia Woolf's most acute thoughts on her most impassioned topic.

My Two Cents:
I'm going to try something a little different with this review. I love Virginia Woolf and her writing, so there's really not much to be said on that topic, but I am going to give you a few of my favorite passages and tell you why they're my favorites. OK?

Your class possesses in its own right and not through marriage practically all the capital, all the land, all the valuables, and all the patronage in England. Our class possesses in its own right and not through marriage practically none of the capital, none of the land, none of the valuables, and none of the patronage in England. That such differences make for very considerable differences in mind and body, no psychologist or biologist would deny. ... Though we see the same world, we see it through different eyes. (p. 18)
In this section of the book, Woolf is writing a letter to a man who asked her for advice on how to prevent war. Here, she says that she believes that she, and other women, by extension, would never be able to prevent a solution to war that would be satisfactory to men because women have such a different realm of reference than men. Most wars are fought for money or land or property, things women in Woolf's day did not possess in their own rights. Since women did not possess the causes for wars, she says, they would be unable to find a prevention for war in the way a man would.
Even stranger, however, than the symbolic splendour of your clothes are the ceremonies that take place when you wear them. Here you kneel; there you bow; here you advance in procession behind a man carrying a silver poker; here you mount a carved chair; here you appear to do homage to a piece of painted wood; here you abase yourselves before tables covered with richly worked tapestry. And whatever these ceremonies may mean you perform them always together, always in step, always in the uniform proper to the man and the occasion. (p. 20)
This quote really has very little to do with the overall message of Three Guineas, but I marked it as one of my favorites because it reminds me of my time in England. Sure, people wear uniforms and participate in some pretty hardcore ceremonies here in the United States, especially if you're talking about the military, but never before had I seen more pomp and circumstance than at pretty much any Oxford event. Even nightly dinner (Also called formal hall) was a big deal, as students were required to wear their gowns -- Just one piece of what's known as sub fusc -- before they could even enter hall. There were processions and specific seating arrangements. I couldn't get over how much ceremony there was just in dinner!

For if you agree to these terms then you can join the professions and yet remain uncontaminated by them; you can rid them of their possessiveness, their jealousy, their pugnacity, their greed. You can use them to have a mind of your own and a will of your own. And you can use that mind and will to abolish the inhumanity, the beastliness, the horror, the folly of war. Take this guinea then and use it, not to burn the house down, but to make its windows blaze. and let the daughters of the uneducated women dance round the new house, the poor house, the house that stands in a narrow street where omnibuses pass and the street hawkers cry their wares, and let them sing, 'We have done with war! We have done with tyranny!' And their mothers will laugh from their graves, 'It is for this that we suffered obloquy and contempt! Light up the windows of the new house, daughters! Let them blaze!' (p. 83)
I love this quote because it's just so (For lack of a better term) girl power. Woolf is telling women to use whatever inch they can get, whatever small in to the professional world previously inhabited only by men (And if you read the rest, she says it is definitely a small in) and turn things upside-down. She wants women to shake things up and set the world on fire so that all their female predecessors will know that their struggles will not have been in vain.

Throughout the entirety of the book, Woolf shows her consistent gift for writing and her ability to be critical of the society in which she lived simply by showing how ridiculous some things are. This reminded me a lot of reading Mrs. Dalloway with a feminist slant.

I would recommend this book to anyone who loves Virginia Woolf or anyone interested in women's issues, especially women's issues of the early half of the 20th century.

1 comments:

Jenners said...

I just love that opening line!

And I'm going try Ms. Woolf for the first time this year ... I'm going to attempt Mrs. Dalloway. I've heard a lot of mixed reviews about it so I don't quite know what I'm in for.

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