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literature

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Woolf, Virginia (1882-1941)  
 
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In this world, such a politicized identity, embodied by the masculinized woman, evokes the familial patriarch.

To the Lighthouse

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In To the Lighthouse (1927), the Miss Killman figure is more positively portrayed via Lily Briscoe, who is also poor and unmarried, yet nevertheless an artist. Like Elizabeth Dalloway, she has "little Chinese eyes," connoting an exoticism associated with a younger generation of independent women.

This novel also recounts a day and another day ten years later in the life of a family, the Ramsays with their six children, in the Hebrides. The homoerotic content takes the form of the relationship between Lily, a guest at the summer house, and Mrs. Ramsay, who both is and isn't a figure for the mother.

Mrs. Ramsay once again represents the hostess who views Lily in terms of an inferior version of femininity, not beautiful, not marriageable, whose paintings hold no interest for her, or potentially anyone else.

Lily needs Mrs. Ramsay as the lost maternal figure whose recovery remains essential to the production of art and yet whose renunciation must be complete if a woman is to actually become an artist.

Again the language is highly eroticized:

Could loving, as people called it, make her and Mrs. Ramsay one? for it was not knowledge but unity she desired, not inscriptions on tablets, nothing that could be written in any language known to men, but intimacy itself, which is knowledge, she had thought, leaning her head on Mrs. Ramsay's knee.

The novel also contains two minor characters, two of the Ramsays' children, a daughter who imagines Constantinople when another woman about to become engaged holds her hand, and a son who becomes the mourned love object of the poet Mr. Carmichael, when he receives news of his death on the battlefield.

Between the Acts

In her final novel, Between the Acts (1941), Woolf represents her protagonist, Miss La Trobe, as not only a more successful artist than Lily Briscoe but also as an avowed lesbian:

Since the row with the actress who had shared her bed and her purse the need of drink had grown on her. And the horror and the terror of being alone. One of these days she would break--which of the village laws? Sobriety? Chastity? Or take something that did not properly belong to her?

Reminiscent of Miss Killman, the more openly lesbian, the more socially deviant the character becomes. And yet she is also the author and producer of a literary historical pageant held yearly at a country house, where it remains unclear whether the audience or the actors are those enacting a performance, and where every person is simply an assumed part, the most worn-out being that of the heterosexual couple.

Orlando

A similar retelling of literary history as parody structures Orlando, the work that has most contributed to Woolf's reputation as a lesbian writer. Subtitled "A Biography," it attempts to revolutionize the genre by telling the life of Orlando who lives for three hundred years--from Queen Elizabeth I's reign to the present day (October 11, 1928).

Sometime during the eighteenth century, while ambassador to Turkey, Orlando changes from a man into a woman, although the sex of the original love object, Sasha, remains unchanged:

though she herself was a woman, it was still a woman she loved; and if the consciousness of being of the same sex had any effect at all, it was to quicken and deepen those feelings which she had had as a man. For now a thousand hints and mysteries became plain to her that were then dark.

As a woman, the character continues to cross-dress although she eventually marries and bears a child.

Yet the most important relationship in the novel remains the one between Orlando and the biographer, who frequently enters the text to discuss how difficult it is to adhere to the conventions of biography. One such convention assumes that the person being written about is dead.

Vita, who posed for several of the photographs that accompany the text, was delighted with what Woolf had written. On her first reading, she writes in a letter, "you have invented a new form of Narcissism,--I confess,--I am in love with Orlando--this is a complication I had not foreseen" (October 11, 1928).

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