Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Not Just the Androgynous Man

For some reason, Virginia Woolf always makes me reflect upon the reasons I did not like Howards End. A Room of One’s Own clarified my own anger just as Mrs. Dalloway did. I was, like Woolf, “ confused and disturbed by the woman-hating of her [Woolf’s] homosexual friends” (Marcus 177). Forster depicted the Schlegels as educated witty women, but there is definitely an undercurrent of misogyny, difficult to place, in the novel. Forster seems to suggest that the liberation of women, their independence, requires the complete destruction of the vigorous man, Henry Wilcox. The women in Howards End must have his house. Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own is a rebuttal, though not necessarily an intentional one, of Forster’s obscured claim that female power necessarily destroys the man from which women wrest that power. Woolf herself, as Marcus explains, does not wish to merely “reverse sexual prejudice”; her desire for women is small—one room as opposed to an entire house, one moderate income as opposed to the control of multiple incomes.
I didn’t feel, however, as Marcus argues, that the “male reader must deny his own gender and Shakespeare” in order to “find a place for himself” in the text (173). I think Woolf attempts to have even the patriarchal and misogynist male identify with the text. There are certainly instances of sympathy with him, which seem to cushion the blow of disapprobation. After being barred from the Oxbridge library, which certainly makes the narrator angry, she catches herself in the midst of her anger, saying “and I thought how unpleasant it is to be locked out; and I thought how it is worse perhaps to be locked in” (24). This thought suggests a moment of sympathy with patriarchal men; she is acknowledging that these men are not entirely in control of themselves.
The narrator’s anger with Professor von X contains similar moments. Angry at the professor, the narrator pauses to look at the less than flattering image she has created of him, and, instead of denouncing him, takes the time to understand him. This suggests at least some level of sympathy. Indeed, the narrator wonders if women could be complicit in the creation of his anger: “Could it be his wife, I asked, looking at my picture. Was she in love with a cavalry officer?” (31). Of course, women are not to blame, but that the narrator considers it as a possibility is illustrative of Woolf’s empathy. Interestingly, the situation is not exactly Professor von X’s fault either. Susan Gubar has linked Professor von X’s behavior to the “psychosis of fascism” (24), and indeed, it seems as if Woolf does not lay the blame for male behavior entirely upon them. Their behavior is a kind of sickness, for which they cannot be entirely responsible for until that sickness has become clear to them: it is “an anger that had gone underground. . .anger disguised and complex not anger simple and open” (32) and an anger that is “ an eagle, a vulture , forever tearing the liver out and plucking out the lungs” (38). I would argue that part of A Room with a View’s project is to show men to themselves. It is in part because they do not know themselves that they do such damage to women. Men are sick rather than evil.

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