Section # 4: Privilege and Perspective
Discussion: Woolf's “Shakespeare’s Sister"
Questions for Critical Reading
Who is Virginia Woolf?
A Brief Biography
Adeline Virginia Woolf was born
January 25, 1882, into a large family,
in London, England. She grew up in
an atmosphere conducive to her
future career as a writer since her
father, Leslie Stephen, was a
respected and well-known
intellectual and writer. Although she
was not sent to a university as were
her brothers, she was able to educate
herself thoroughly by delving into the
volumes of her father's vast library.
Woolf grew up during a period of
intense feminist activity in London and
was an active member of various
women's organizations. By the time
she came into her own as a writer,
significant advances had been made in
women's rights. By 1918, a limited
franchise (vote) had been granted to
women in England. Also, since World
War I (1914-18) had thinned the ranks of
working men, women had begun to
enter the professions in large numbers.
Woolf began her career by writing
literary criticism, published her first
novel in 1915, and published both
fiction and nonfiction copiously until
her suicide in 1941.
She is well known internationally for her
many superb novels and collections of
essays. A Room of One's Own (1929)
and Three Guineas (1938) are important
feminist tracts written by Woolf.
Woolf and the man who would become
her husband, Leonard Woolf, were part
of a group of artists, writers, and
intellectuals known as the Bloomsbury
This group met regularly at Woolf and her brother's house
in the Bloomsbury neighborhood of London before Woolf
married, when she was still known as Virginia Stephen.
After their marriage, the Woolfs began a small publishing
house, Hogarth Press, in 1917.
After Virginia Woolf met fellow
writer Vita Sackville-West in the
early 1920s, the two women had a
romantic affair that lasted for a
number of years.
Virginia and Vita first met at a dinner
party in 1922. After learning that Vita
was a writer, Virginia invited her to
publish a novel with her small press,
Vita was from an aristocratic family,
the Sackville-West’s of Sevenoaks in
Kent where they lived in their
ancestral home called Knole house.
Vita and her husband, who were
both bisexual and both writers, had
an open marriage.
Knole: Sackville Estate
Woolf suffered bouts of depression throughout her life. After each
bout, especially as her life advanced, she worried that the next
time she might not return to full sanity. It was this fear, combined
with her sense of horror at the events of World War II (1939-1944),
that led her to take her own life. She drowned herself in the river
Ouse in Sussex, England, on March 28, 1941.
Get into your groups!
In groups, Discuss
Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own
Consider her rhetorical strategies, the essay’s
content, and the “Questions for Critical
Reading” (page 776)
Controlled and cool tone
o Woolf imagines the career of of
Shakespeare's fictional sister, Judith. What
happens to Judith, and why?
o How does Judith's fate show that "genius"
is not above history and material
o What was granted to Shakespeare that
would not have been granted to a sister
with equal potential?
o Why were men so prosperous and women so poor?
o What conditions are necessary for the creation of
works of art?
o Are the obstacles in the way of women’s success
also in the way of the Working Classes?
o Woolf has sometimes been criticized for being elitist:
how does Woolf’s class position affect her views?
o Are her theories about writing and poverty—for
both men and women—valid today?
• How did
gender roles limit
• Why does Woolf
begin by referring
to an eminent
• Why does history
treat sixteenthand seventeenthcentury women
with so little
• What is Woolf’s
the behavior of
What is the
between the way
history and the
way they are
depicted in fiction?
Why does Woolf
• Q : Why does Woolf use
an imaginary sister for
compare a man and a
woman’s life to explain
the limitations of
• Q: Would this example
be as effective if Judith
had been born into a
• Q: Why is a father
“shamed” when his
daughter refuses to
• Q: How would an
Elizabethan era wife
react to her daughter
refusing to marry?
• Q: Why does Virginia
Woolf think that
women who have a
talent in writing will
end up killing
• Q: Does “Judith
in our society today?
Q: Did Judith
Shakespeare kill herself
because she became
pregnant? Or was it
because her desire to
become an actress and
writer caused her to kill
herself since she had to
always hide her works
• Q: Does Plato’s The
Allegory of the Cave
actually depict the
situation that we are in
• Q: How is it possible
that people can
believe in illusion
and accept it as
• Q. Why do people
choose to remain blind
from the truth and
• Q: Is it better to live
Options: Essay # 4 Will be an in-class essay in response to
either Plato’s “The Allegory of the Cave” Or Woolf’s
Essay #4: Class 19
You will respond to one of several prompts provided.
There will be prompts addressing each Plato and
Your essay will be between 500 and 750 words. The
number of pages will depend on your handwriting!
You will have two hours to write.
Please bring a clean, large Blue Book:
(Approx. 8x10). You can buy them at the bookstore.
You may write with either a number 2 pencil (dark
lead) or blue or black pen.
Prepare for essay test 4
Post # 32 QHQ: How can we
apply the ideas of Plato and
Woolf to A Game of Thrones?
Make sure to include textual
support in your post. You
might consider how Woolf’s
notions can be extended
beyond the realm of women.