(selections from Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, 2001, pp. 1021-1029)

  1. What are some points made in the section on Shakespeare's sister? Why do you think Woolf chose Shakespeare to make her observations?
  2. What factors most inhibit a woman's ability to exercise literary abilities? (parental attitudes, limits in education, employment, freedom to move about in a city, 1022) What final circumstance most distresses her?
  3. In what context does Woolf say, "Who shall measure the heat and violence of the poet's heart when caught and tangled in a woman's body"?
  4. What are some features of Woolf's style? How does humor or irony aid in making her points?
  5. Why does Woolf feign to agree with the bishop who allegedly said that no woman of Shakespeare's day could have had Shakespeare's genius? What is the rhetorical purpose of her choice of the bishop to represent these views?
  6. What parallels does she make with attitudes toward the possibility of working-class writing? What evidence indicates her own stance? (1022)
  7. Where may we find traces of these suppressed women of talent? (1022) What is her assessment of the possibilities of success for women writers of the past? (1023)
  8. In the section "Chloe Liked Olivia," what prompts Woolf's concern with the plot of an imaginary novel by Mary Carmichael? What does she hope for from this novel? What conventions will it break?
  9. To what is Woolf jokingly alluding when she claims she cannot speak if men are present? (1023) Why would Sir Chartres Biron be offended at her words?
  10. How would an attention to women's friendships and social bonds alter literature, in her view? How has literature been biased in its presentation of women? (1023-24) How might history/literature have been altered had Octavia "liked" Cleopatra?
  11. To what does Woolf attribute "the astonishing extremes of beauty and horror" with which women are presented in fiction? (1024)
  12. Which aspects of the lives of women have been omitted, to judge by the example of Chloe and Olivia? (their ordinary lives of friendship, work and family; their professional achievements)
  13. Why does Woolf believe it is difficult to catch the essence of women's daily lives? (1025)
  14. What does Woolf mean by literary androgyny? (1026) What are some antecedents for her views?
  15. What may have been some advantages of such a view, in a period when women's writing was discounted?
  16. Does the androgynous mind necessarily sympathize with women? (1026)
  17. Is Woolf speaking of sexuality or of gender when she says, "it is one of the tokens of the fully developed mind that it does not think specially or separately of sex"? (1026)
  18. What does Woolf believe to have been the effects of the suffrage movement? (1026) Of nineteenth-century campaigns for women's equality? (1027)
  19. Why does she select the figures of Miss Clough and Miss Davies for ironic mention? (1027)
  20. What seems to be her view of social protest writing? Which other critics we have read might have agreed with her? Does she entirely abide by her own proscription?
  21. How does she characterize "male" writing? (1026) What are its limitations? Is this fair?
  22. What does she seem to think of sexually explicit portrayals in modern literature? (1029)
  23. What writers does she seem to poke fun of, as examples of the extremes of masculinity? What are features of their novels she believes are unlikely to appeal to women? (1028)
  24. What are features of her list of canonical authors? Why do you think the list contains no women? (1029)
  25. What is the relevance of her allusion to fascism? (1028)
  26. What are the implications of her statement, "Poetry ought to have a mother as well as a father"? (1028)
  27. What type of women's writing does she consider discordant? Why is Lady Bessborough included in the same category as Miss Davies?
  28. Would later generations of critics have agreed or disagreed with her, do you think?
  29. What are some ways in which this work bears the stamp of the period in which it was written? Is Woolf correct that "much of what flames in my eyes will seem dubious to you who have not yet come of age"? (1029)