Study Guide

Virginia Woolf Women & Gender

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Women & Gender

At the same time that she was experimenting with language, Woolf was also experimenting with ideas about gender and relationships between the sexes. Like many members of the Bloomsbury Group, the Woolfs had an open marriage, in which they gave each other permission to pursue outside relationships. In 1922, Virginia met Vita Sackville-West, a poet who also had an open marriage with her husband Harold Nicolson. The two women had a romantic relationship for several years, and even after the affair ended they remained friends for the rest of Woolf's life.

Woolf was interested in bisexuality—not in the modern definition of wanting to make out with girls as well as boys, but in the more intellectual possibility of fusing both male and female identity in a single person. Woolf was a feminist. She argued not that women were better than men but that they were equally necessary. To her, a mind that was able to reconcile both its masculine and feminine parts was the most creative. "The normal and comfortable state of being is that when the two [genders] live in harmony together, spiritually co—operating. If one is a man, still the woman part of his brain must have effect; and a woman also must have intercourse with the man in her," Woolf wrote in A Room of One's Own. "It is when this fusion takes place that the mind is fully fertilized and uses all its faculties. Perhaps a mind that is purely masculine cannot create, any more than a mind that is purely feminine." She didn't mean it in a nice way.

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