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Although Three Guineas is a work of non-fiction, it was initially conceived as a "novel-

essay" which would tie up the loose ends left in her earlier work, A Room of One's Own.
[1]
The book was to alternate between fictive narrative chapters and non-fiction essay
chapters, deonstrating !oolf"s views on war and woen in both types of writing at
once. This unfinished anuscript was published in 1#$% as The Pargiters.
!hen !oolf realised the idea of a "novel-essay" wasn"t working, she separated the two
parts. The non-fiction portion becae Three Guineas. The fiction portion becae !oolf"s
ost popular novel during her lifetie, The Years, which charts social change fro 1&&'
to the tie of publication through the lives of the (argiter faily. )t was so popular, in
fact, that pocket-si*ed editions of the novel were published for soldiers as leisure reading
during !orld !ar )).
Structure and overview
The entire essay is structured as a response to an educated gentlean who has written a
letter asking !oolf to +oin his efforts to help prevent war. !ar was looing in 1#$,-% and
the -uestion was particularly pressing to !oolf, a coitted pacifist.
[.]
)n the
gentlean/s letter 0he is never naed1, he asks !oolf her opinion about how best to
prevent war and offers soe practical steps. !oolf opens her response by stating first,
and with soe slight hyperbole, that this is 2a rearkable letter3a letter perhaps uni-ue
in the history of huan correspondence, since when before has an educated an asked a
woan how in her opinion war can be prevented.4
[$]
5espite the rearkable nature of the
letter, !oolf has left it unanswered because as the daughter of an educated an, without
access or place in the public world of professions, universities, societies, and governent,
she fears that there are fundaental differences that will ake her 2ipossible for
[educated en] to understand.4
[6]
This sets up the fundaental tension of the work
between, on the one hand, the desire to leave behind the stifling private hoe so as to
help prevent war, an ai that !oolf certainly shares with her interlocutor, and, on the
other, an unwillingness to siply ally with the public world of en. 27ehind us lies the
patriarchal syste8 the private house, with it nullity, its iorality, its hypocrisy, its
servility. 7efore us lies the public world, the professional syste, with its possessiveness,
its +ealousy, its pugnacity, its greed.4
[9]
)n the course of responding to the educated an"s -uestions and practical suggestions,
!oolf turns to two other letters: a re-uest for funds to help rebuild a woan/s college and
a re-uest for support for an organisation to help woen enter the professions
0professional life1. 7oth allow !oolf to articulate her criticiss of the structure of
education and the professions, which ostly involves showing how they encourage the
very attitudes that lead to ;ascis both at hoe and abroad.
[,]
!oolf does not refuse the
values of education and public service outright but suggests conditions which the
daughters of educated en will need to heed if they are to prevent being corrupted by the
public order. <he iagines, for e=aple, a new kind of college that avoids teaching the
tools of doination and pugnacity, 2an e=periental college, an adventurous college>. )t
should teach> the art of understanding other people/s lives and inds>. The teachers
should be drawn fro the good livers as well as fro the good thinkers.4
[%]
)n the final section, !oolf returns fro the topics of education and the professions to the
larger -uestions of preventing war and the practical easure suggested for doing so. )n it
she argues that although she agrees with her interlocutor that war is evil, they ust
attept to eradicate it in different ways. 2And since we are different,4 !oolf concludes,
2our help ust be different.4
[&]
Thus, the value of !oolf"s opinion 0and help1 on how to
prevent war lies in its radical difference fro the ways of en. )ts ipossibility of being
copletely understood is, then, the condition of its usefulness.
Themes
!oolf wrote the essay to answer three -uestions, each fro a different society:
;ro an anti-war society: "?ow should war be prevented@"
;ro a woen"s college building fund: "!hy does the governent not support
education for woen@" 0Actually, the fund was a etaphor for faily private
funds to send the "boys of the faily" to college and not the woen.1
;ro a society prooting eployent of professional woen: "!hy are woen
not allowed to engage in professional work@"
The book is coposed of !oolf"s responses to a series of letters. The -uestion and answer
forat creates a sense of dialogue and debate on the politically charged issues the essay
tackles, rather than +ust presenting siple poleical diatribes on each topic. The principle
of dialogue is one that infors uch of !oolf"s work, and is also seen in her novels when
she gives voice to different classes and arginalised groups in society through a diversity
of characterisations.
[#]
;or e=aple, the sky-writing scene in Mrs. Dalloway includes
characters with a variety of class-influenced dialects. The "guineas" of the book"s title are
theselves a badge of social class, the oney aount of .1 shillings 01.'9 pounds
sterling1 for which no coin e=isted, but the coon denoination for solely upper-class
transactions 0e.g., purchase of pictures or race-horses, lawyers" or edical specialists"
fees, and so on.1
The epistolary forat also gives the reader the sense of eavesdropping on a private
conversation.
[1']
!e listen in on !oolf"s suggestions to a barrister on how to prevent war,
to a woen"s league on how to support feales in the professions, and to a woen"s
college on how to encourage feale scholarship. )t is interesting to note that all three
sources have written to !oolf asking for financial donations. !hat she donates, though,
is her advice and philosophy.
!oolf was eager to tie the issues of war and feinis together in what she saw as a
crucial point in history. <he and her husband Aeonard had visited both Ba*i Cerany and
;ascist )taly in the early part of the decade.
[11]
The ideology of fascis was an affront to
!oolf"s conviction in pacifis as well as feinis: Ba*i philosophy, for e=aple,
supported the reoval of woen fro public life.
Reception
Contemporary responses
D.5. Aeavis wrote a scathing criti-ue of Three Guineas shortly after its publication in
1#$&. <he denounces the essay, stating that !oolf"s 2ost cherished pro+ect is to uproot
criticis root and branch in the Ba*i anner".
[1.]
)n private, however, Three Guineas was
better received. !oolf reports one such favorable response in her diary of % Eay 1#$&. 2)
a pleased this orning because Aady Fhonda writes that she is profoundly e=cited and
oved by Three Cuineas. Theo 7osan-uet, who has a review copy, read her e=tracts. And
she thinks it ay have a great effect, and signs herself y grateful outsider.4
[1$]
Recent responses
The views e=pressed in Three Guineas have been described as feinist, pacifist, anti-
fascist, and anti-iperialist.
[16]
;einist historian Gill Aiddington has praised Three
Guineas as "an elo-uent and ipish attack on patriarchal structures", notes how the book
puts forward the arguent that "en"s power under patriarchy dovetails with ilitaris",
and clais "Three Guineas offers an iportant bridge between the earlier feinist
flowering and the later 1#&'s wave of a woen"s peace oveent".
[16]
)n .''., the City Journal published a criti-ue of Three Guineas by Theodore 5alryple,
"The Fage of Hirginia !oolf" 0later reprinted in 5alryple"s anthology, Our Culture,
hat's !eft of "t1, in which 5alryple contended that the book is "a locus classicus of
self-pity and victihood as a genre in itself" and that "the book ight be better titled:
#ow to $e Pri%ilege& an& Yet 'eel ()tremely Aggrie%e&".
[19]
)n response, !oolf scholar
Ili*abeth <hih defended Three Guineas and claied 5alryple"s article was full of "a&
hominem oents".
[1,]
<hih argued that 5alryple "obtusely and consistently isreads
!oolf"s hyperbole", interpreting literally !oolf"s coents about burning ale-
doinated colleges, and !oolf"s likening woen using their se=uality to control en to
prostitution.
[1,]
<hih also criticised 5alryple"s attacks on !oolf"s anti-ilitaris and her
calls for working-class education.
[1,]
<hih suggested 5alryple"s ob+ection to Three
Guineas was due to his opposition to !oolf"s "politici*ation of the private lives of
woen".
[1,]