I know many of you have read this Woolf classic. But if you have never heard it “performed,” I recommend you download Juliet Stevenson’s rendition for a special treat. Listening to the words as they may have been intended to be read (this was, after all, based on a series of lectures), the diction, the cadence, the tone, really strikes home what a remarkable piece of work this was, this still is. And although it is always a delight to pick up a book that is relevant almost a 100 years later, it also makes me sad that this book is “relevant almost a 100 years later.”
Woolf’s historical examination of gender parity in the literary field and other feminist themes such as the roles of marriage, domesticity, economic dependence, and straight up misogyny in determining women’s opportunity (their right) to pursue a creative life, still resonate–if not with the clang of pre-suffrage fetters, most certainly with the hush of silken tethers of progress. I found myself nodding and amen-ing through the entire work as if I were reading it for the first time.
There was, however, one small thought, previously overlooked by my 20-year-old mind, that stood out for me: Somewhere in the last third of the book, Woolf writes, “Chloe liked Olivia . . . Sometimes women do like women . . . .” For many, this is a reference to lesbianism, and it may well be. But for me, this is a call to arms, a reminder that, despite the cultural imperative to set ourselves as adversaries, we are indeed friends, partners, sisters in art as in life.