Critical Appreciation of Virginia Woolf’s ‘Professions for Women’


The cheapness of writing paper is, of course, the reason why women have succeeded as writers before they have succeeded in other professions”__Virginia Woolf’s ‘Professions for Women’

 Virginia Woolf’s ‘Professions for Women’ originally presented as a paper to the Women’s Service League dwells on Woolf’s own professional experiences of female sensibility. Although she is speaking primarily of her own experiences, she feels that women in all professions face the same kind of difficulties and those women starting new courses face greater obstacles than the rest. Here Woolf shows how it is difficult for women to come out of the age-old-prejudices that prevail in the society and also within women themselves. 

While writing the review she discovers that if she were going to review books she has to fight with a certain phantom. Read More Essay Many of the actual barriers preventing women from becoming successful professionals had been removed by the time Woolf was making her speech but she stresses that there are important invisible and internalized obstacles which still need to be surmounted. And the phantom is a woman whom she calls ‘The Angel In The House’ stands for womanly perfection of the so called good nurtured social identity. Whenever she begins to write ‘The Angel in The House’ comes between her and her paper. In desperation she kills ‘The Angel In The House’. She feels that it is far harder to kill a phantom than a reality. By and by she rids herself of ‘The Angel In The House’. Being a professional writer Woolf goes beyond the limits allotted to women. She cannot remain nice and modest. She has to be bold, forthright and open in her descriptions and criticism.

Woolf shares a strange experience in writing novels. She feels that a novelist’s chief desire is to be as unconscious as possible. Read More Essay She has to induce in herself a state of continuous lethargy so that nothing breaks or disturbs the illusion in which she is living. Woolf imagines herself to be a girl sitting with a pen in her hand for minutes and for hours without dipping it in the inkpot. The image that came to her mind was the image of a fisherman lying sunk in dreams by the side of a deep lake with a rod held out over the water. She let her imagination sweep unchecked. The line raced through her fingers. Her imagination had rushed away until it dashed against something hard. She was roused from her dream. She was indeed in a state of the most acute and difficult distress. She had thought of something about the body, about the passions which she found it difficult to express as she thought, men would be shocked. She could write no more. The trance was over and her imagination could work no longer. She felt that women writers were obstructed by the extreme conventionality of other sex. Woolf acknowledges that some progress has been made in the field of economic independence but a lot more has to be done before women become truly free in every sense of the word. For example, women still have to define their true selves but this is not possible unless they are allowed to participate in all arts and professions. So she calls for collective action to end discrimination, break away from stereotypes and achieve true freedom.

 Virginia Woolf thus acquired two experiences in her professional life. The first, killing the Angel in the House and the second, telling truth about her own experience as a body. She had been successful in solving the first problem by killing the Angel in the House. But she does not think that he had solved the second one. Read More Essay She also doubts that any woman has solved it yet. The obstacles against her are still very formidable and yet they are very difficult to define outwardly, what is simpler than to, write stories and what obstacles are there for a woman rather than for a man? Inwardly the case is different. She has still many ghosts to fight and many obstacles to overcome. 
 Virginia Woolf next says that if there are so many impediments in literature, the freest of all professions for women then there are more obstacles for women who, for the first time, enter in the new professions.  Virginia Woolf desires to discuss all these things because women in other professions too have the same obstacles, though in different forms. To discuss and define them, Mrs. Woolf says is of great value and importance; for in this way the labour can be shared and difficulties be solved. She also thinks that the ends and aims for which they are fighting should be continually discussed, questioned and examined to ensure greater freedom for women.
The essay presents the case for women’s freedom from economic slavery. She makes a strong appeal for women’s liberation from conventional shackles. In the late Victorian and early twentieth century women had no economic independence. They were not still free to speak, to write and to think in the way they liked. They were impeded by man-made standards of womanly conduct Virginia Woolf makes a strong but bold appeal for women’s freedom from conventional shackles. No creative work can be done in such conditions. She calls upon women to break the idol of womanly perfection which she describes as the woman in the house after the title of a long poem written by Coventry Patmore. She lays stress on intellectual freedom and artistic integrity. She emphasizes the importance of economic independence by citing her own example. Unless women earn their own money, they will not be able to take their own decisions or shape their own lives. Read More Essay But while striving for economic independence women have to contend with non-economic factors as well. 

The two major obstacles that all women, including women authors, face are the conventional notion of the role and function of women and the taboo regarding the expression of their sexuality. The idealized woman of the late Victorian age and the early twentieth century was the soft, tender, self-sacrificing domestic drudge who always catered to the needs of the men and joyfully accepted her own servility. Moreover, women were not expected to speak of or acknowledge their physical needs and desires, as this was considered highly brazen and unwomanly. Sexuality—its expression and gratification—was considered to be the exclusive domain of men as though women were completely asexual beings. Woolf urges women belonging to every profession to combat these negative stereotypes and conceptions, both externally and internally, and emerge as positive, independent individuals. While the women’s voices uttering the plights have different names, scenes, and histories, the similar language of their plights often seems more like different aspects of the same consciousness, perhaps representing the various aspects of womenfolk as a whole. 


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