Feminism is a concept which entails defining, establishing, and fighting for gender equality in political, economic, and social platforms. Feminism believes that men are “an integral part of the movement” for gender equality. They believe that for women to gain equality, men should be liberated from their old school of thought, which included a superiority complex. Virginia Woolf and D.H Lawrence are two of the important representatives of feminism. Virginia Woolf in her essays openly advocates for women’s equality. She seems to believe that men and women should have an equal footing, when it comes to access to education, white collar jobs, and equal treatment in church issues. The two authors seem to have conflicting thoughts on feminism. Woolf advocates for gender equity, she wants a society that would treat men and women as equals. Lawrence on the other hand, castigates women’s attitude in relation to sex.
Feminism is clearly exhibited in Woolf’s novel To the Lighthouse. The characters like Mrs. Ramsay embrace modern ways of doing things. This is a clear break away from the norm in which women were relegated to periphery in the society. They show Victorian ideologies and the question of existence of a supreme God. Woolf also explores feminism’s challenge in this novel. The novel shows the treatment of women members of the society. She also explored the manner in which men and women lived in the society in terms of their social standing. The society treats women as junior members of the society. Women are not given preferences, as it is the case with men. This is clearly depicted in the way Mr. Ramsey threats his wife. He regards her as minor in their marriage, her opinion does not count. He often makes major decisions without her input. That does not seem to surprise her wife; it is the norm in the society. Mrs. Ramsay believes that women are there to serve others and bring harmony among people. She also believes that the role of women is to protect and care for men. In this novel, the question of the woman’s position in the society is given emphasis. Mrs. Ramsay in the narrative is the “angel of the house”, while the Woolf’s ideal woman is Lily. The death of Mrs. Ramsay is symbolic to the death of the angel of the house. The angel of the house is depicted in terms of the feminine delicateness.
In the essay, Women and Fiction, Woolf shares her thoughts about the issues of women and fiction. She explores the question whether women can produce an excellent piece of work, just as Shakespeare did; why was there “no continuous writing done by women before the eighteen century… and why to some extent does their art still, take the form of fiction” (Woolf, 143) Also, she explores women and the fiction they write; what is written about them, and the way women are portrayed in the fiction. Woolf has an idea that women must be independent in their choice to write. She says that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction” (128).
Woolf thinks that women have not been able to write as creatively as Shakespeare did, because of the patriarchal nature of the society that could not allow a woman to creatively express herself or gain the access to education. Only women from the rich backgrounds could have the access to education and money making opportunities. In addition, Woolf believes that “Before a woman can write exactly as she wishes to write, she has many difficulties to face. To begin with, there is the technical difficulty – so simple, apparently; in reality, so baffling – that the very form of the sentence does not fit her” (Woolf, 84).
Woolf juxtaposes men and female in terms of spiritualism verses materialism. She reckons that men are mostly concerned with material things. In her narration, she seems to believe that women are cautious when it comes to spiritual matters. They value spiritual gains as opposed to material ones. In the text, she writes that “If we fasten, then, one label on all these books, on which is one word materialists, we mean by it that they write of unimportant things; that they spend immense skill and immense industry making the trivial and the transitory appear the true and the enduring” (Woolf, 148). Woolf also urges readers to “examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day” since the mind receives a myriad impression – trivial, fantastic, evanescent, or engraved with the sharpness of steel” (Woolf, 149-150).
Woolf places spirituality and realism as some of the factors making a piece of literature worth reading. She asserts the fact that modern fiction must be concerned with the “reality of life and spirituality”. Modern fiction is, therefore, a piece of wring that signifies the modernity in some literature forms because it incorporates the aspects of reality and spirituality.
Woolf and Lawrence concur in their views about women’s interior lives. Woolf in her essay The Light House emphasizes that women value love in their lives. Similarly, Lawrence in Women in Love demonstrates that male writers seem concerned about women in their thoughts. He narrates how Ursula falls in love with Birkin, while Gudrun was in love with Gerald. This builds the theme of the story. Women in Lawrence’s novel Women in Love are just like the women described by Woolf in her two pieces of writing, Women and Fiction and Modern Fiction. Woolf has the view that women are independent minded in their literary works. She believes that “when a woman comes to write a novel, she will find that she is perpetually wishing to alter the established values –to make serous what appears insignificant to a man, and trivial what is to him important” (Woolf, 146).
There is an apparent contrast between Woolf and Lawrence; the latter creates a sense that makes women to be criticized. He is hostile concerning the idea of female writers altering the established values in life on the opposite sex
The modern woman in Woolf’s essays Women and Fiction and Modern Fiction is also portrayed like being independent of anyone’s opinion. These are women who regard themselves as equal to men in the society. They embrace modernity and go about life just as their male counterpart. In the essay, Woolf shows how versatile a woman can become in the society. Unlike men, women are independent minded, they broach topics that are characteristically dominated by men with vigor. They challenge the existence of God, a subject that was feared by men. The author used this to show how objective women are in their thinking. She reiterates that man and woman should have equal opportunities in education and in other important roles in the society.
The woman in Lawrence’s novel Women in Love conforms to Woolf’s manifesto of modernism, because the women in Lawrence’s novel are also portrayed as liberal and undergoing the sexual revolution. This is in sharp contrast to Lawrence; in his novel used an example of a Mino, male cat, thrashing a female cat, as an example to women. According to Lawrence, men should be in charge of everything. He hates modernity and women’s freedom. He believes that women should always remain subjective in the society. According to Lawrence, modernity is the cause of promiscuity in the society. The novel presents the clash of the liberal ideology and conservatism, which made women more liberal and independent.
Woolf would, of course, condone some qualities of women in Lawrence’s novel Women in Love as well as disapprove some of the qualities of women in the novel. Woolf fights for the empowerment of women for the greater access to education and opportunities in life. Women represented in Woolf’s novel of modern fiction are independent and strive to achieve the independence.
However, Woolf would probably oppose the sexual attitudes of women in Women in Love, because women are undergoing the sexual revolution portrayed in the novel. This novel centers on the courtships of two women with their men; this depicts the strong connection between the two sisters and the close friendship between the two men, both relationships heading in the opposite directions. The sexual revolution portrayed in Women in Love can be opposed by Woolf.
The form of modernity portrayed in Woolf’s modern fiction and women in fiction are somehow similar to the form of modernity in Lawrence’s novel Women in Love. Both novels present the society in transition under the influences of liberalism. Woolf’s portrayal of modernism in modern fiction presents the society fighting with ideals of liberalizing and empowering women in the society to achieve their goals, since there is a need of maintaining the status quo of making sure that women remain behind in the society. Lawrence’s novel portrays the society struggling with liberalism, but is more concerned with sexual liberalism occurring here.