The Official Blog for ENGL 41416.

Woolf to Cixous: An Evolution

  In chapter 5 of A Room of One’s Own, ‘writing’ becomes a constructing binarism. “I had come at last, in the course of this rambling to the shelves which hold books by the living; by women and by men; for there are almost as many books written by women now as by men . . .” (Woolf, 137) The narrator affirms the change that has occurred in women’s writing in her own generation. She goes on to critique Mary Carmichael’s novel titled Life’s Adventure searching to see if Carmichael had the innate “characteristics and restrictions” of women writers of the past. She determines that her prose was not as good as Jane Austen’s. “First she broke the sentence; now she broke the sequence.”(Woolf, 137)

            The awakening moment in Mary Carmichael’s novelty comes from the words, “Chloe liked Olivia.” (Woolf, 138) After reading this the narrator (Woolf) realizes that women’s literature rarely presented relationships between women. They are “. . . almost without exception [. . .] shown in their relation to men.” (Woolf, 138) The idea portrayed in Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own can be compared and contrasted with Helene Cixous’ ideas in “The Laugh of Medusa” because they are both promoting societal change through women’s writing but with different approaches.

            Woolf acknowledges that, “Very well, she [Carmichael] has every right to do both those things if she does them for the sake of breaking, but for the sake of creating.” (Woolf, 137) Woolf’s statement shows that as a writer, she was unsettled by the social restrictions of her time; where new forms or styles were accepted as long as they didn’t destroy what was done before. She acknowledged the changes in writing but with some opposition, making her idea structural. Woolf thought of women’s writing as following a gender convention because she referred to it as ‘flowery’ and ‘sentimental’.

            Although like Woolf, Cixous understands that writing will empower woman she approaches that concept differently. Woolf touches on change with opposition while Cixous wants women to reclaim their sexuality in order to “write themselves”. She wants ‘woman to write woman’.

“Write! And your self-seeking text will know itself better than flesh flood, rising, insurrectionary dough kneading itself, with sonorous, perfumed ingredients, a lively combination of flying colors, leaves, and rivers, plunging into the sea we feed.” (Cixous, 219)

This suggesting that woman not only should write a link to the body, but that woman should write of the signifying woman in order to make women writing stable. The writing would become stable because it would be defined by binary opposition of female/male not each on its own. Cixous’ approach can seem to only contrast with Woolf’s approach but what is shown through these ideas is an evolution in women’s writing.


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