This essay addresses Virginia Woolf’s personal stand in her answer to “women can’t paint, women can’t write”, a reflection on the Victorian prejudice of the role of women in the family and society shared by both her parents, Leslie and Julia Stephen. By bridging a close textual analysis with the most recent psychological critical analysis, I argue that apart from the political, social and artistic implications, Woolf’s attitude to the Victorian stereotypes related to gender roles carry a deeply personal message, being undeniably influenced and determined by the relationship with her parents and her need to lie to rest some unresolved issues concerning her status as a woman artist. This essay focuses on Woolf’s 1926 novel, To the Lighthouse, which is, undoubtedly, her most autobiographical novel. Lily Briscoe, the unmarried painter who finally manages to conceptualize Woolf’s vision at the end of the novel, has a double mission in this novel. First, she has to resolve her own insecurities and come to peace with the memory of the deceased Mrs. Ramsay, a symbol of the Victorian woman and Julia Stephen’s artistic alter ego. Second, she has to connect with Mr. Ramsay and prove to herself that women can, indeed, paint. As she matures as a painter Virginia Woolf is overcoming her anger and frustration caused by the fact that she didn’t not fit into the generally accepted pattern of the woman’s role in society and in the family life, and especially of the status of women as artists. By creating one of the most challenging novels of the English Literature, Virginia Woolf also proves to herself and to the readers that women can, indeed write.
Virginia Woolf’s Answer to “Women Can’t Paint, Women Can’t Write” in To the Lighthouse.
Journal of International Women's Studies, 10(4), 276-289.
Available at: https://vc.bridgew.edu/jiws/vol10/iss4/17