This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Corinne Fierro Professor Reed The Bloomsbury Group 13 December 2011 Society and The Repressed Female Let’s consider the phrase soul mate. For centuries, girls have been dedicating the entirety of their lives to one man, with the understanding that this approach to sexuality is the only societally acceptable one. The Bloomsbury Group, however, managed to defy this couple-based existence and practice the Mooreian idea of appreciating others‘ value. While the ideas of Bloomsbury hold unmeasured promise for the sexually repressed, subservient woman, they have yet to be communicated accurately to the female population. This is due to the beneficial nature of the sexually repressed woman to males in society, which has caused males to develop a mechanism that forces societal norms to communicate to women that ideas which are non-threatening to the current couple-based society are to be rewarded. At the same time, notions that encourage female sexual liberation are either altered or publicized as guaranteed failures, specifically by the media, and used as enforcement for normativity, thus preventing the Bloomsbury Group’s principles from being employed by our society. Men must limit female sexuality because doing so forces women into the caretaker role, thus allowing men to be dominant while at the same time convincing women that perpetuating the idea of repressed sexuality will allow them to fit into societal norms. In order to understand why this is necessary, one must compare the two sexes. It is immediately obvious that the main thing that women have on men is sexuality. As a sex, females are not wholly smarter, nor stronger than males, but without the female the human race would cease to exist. Why then, are we the only species on earth that reduces rather than glorifies women? Even in the simplest of animals, it is the male who must work to please the female, preening, cleaning, and during mating season dancing and singing like a fool to glean a mere glance from a female. Our society exists as it does because men understand the power of women. Men cannot exist the way they do without women taking on the submissive role; if women took the time that men have taken to
understand their ability to exist independently of men, apart from the necessity of male sperm to reproduce, women would cease to worship and encourage men the way they do, leaving men without the entire foundation on which they rest. As stated by Virginia Woolf, “That is why Napoleon and Mussolini both insist so emphatically upon the inferiority of women, for if they were not inferior, they would cease to enlarge” (Room 36). Upon realizing this, then, it is evident that the entire structure of our society has been based around man’s need to grow his ego. The societal norms that have been set merely serve to perpetuate the couple-based system, which truthfully is only beneficial to the male who needs female support to exist. Moreover, these societal norms work double time to not only program women to commit and tend to one man for their entire lives through the romanticization of marriage and punishment of liberated women, but also to distract them from acknowledging the true power they hold. By manipulating women into focusing on what is socially acceptable, i.e. not being sexual and existing to serve men, women have actually come to perpetuate their own inferiority by punishing women who do explore their sexuality. Such women have earned derogatory titles such as slut or whore, out of the collective female jealousy and bruised egos that ensue from one woman defying societal rules that have been set, and being deemed attractive by multiple men at once while the average woman is left to be satisfied with the attention of one lone male at a time. While women may remain intrigued by the idea of exploring non-subservient, sexless relationships with men, as can be noted through the recent employment of the gay best friend by single women, women ultimately remain too afraid to fully embrace radical sexual ideas, lest they become social outcasts like the women before them who dared defy the system. It is impossible, therefore, for society today to fully embrace the interpersonal behaviors of the Bloomsbury group because the Mooreian philosophy encourages women to explore their sexuality and behave as men do, declining to limit the number of people with whom they are involved, and instead making the effort to collect individuals to enrich their lives further, all of which are ideas that our male-engineered society has been created to punish. Because Bloomsbury ideals encourage women to find their own sexual independence and thus strip men of their support system, women who employ the Mooreian philosophy and maintain multiple sexual partners are stripped of their accomplishments and reduced to a social pariah. Aphra Behn, the first
successful female writer, is a perfect example of such a woman. Aphra Behn, whose origins and parents are still technically unknown, wrote seventeen plays over the course of her lifetime as well as several poems and novels (Schlueter). She succeeded in supporting herself financially through her writing, and was the first woman whose writing earned her burial in Westminster Abbey (Schlueter). However, Behn’s lifestyle and outspokenness against the institution of marriage inhibited her from being truly admired by society as she should have been. Because Behn was not dependent on a husband for financial support, she was able to maintain herself as an independent woman, which at the time was unusual enough to provoke suspicion about her moral character (Grossman). While no concrete evidence of Behn’s supposed promiscuity has ever surfaced, Behn encouraged the rumors through pushing the limits of contemporary norms in her plays, often showcasing a female protagonist who was sexually liberated in nature disregarding the institution of marriage in order to pursue true love (Grossman). In addition, Behn suggested an extremely close, borderline sexual friendship with an African man in her novel Oroonoko, based on her time spent in Africa (Grossman). While these points are merely public speculation, along with perhaps some encouragement by Behn, they were enough to make her a social pariah amongst Victorian families of Woolf’s era, the parents of which refusing to allow their young daughters to esteem Behn by stating “living the life of Aphra Behn! Death would be better!” (Room 63). But Behn herself did nothing wrong but employ the Mooreian philosophy. As a matter of fact, for a good portion of her life, Behn’s works remained in high esteem by the royal family, and she participated in many political movements in support of her country (Grossman); ultimately, Behn was an upstanding citizen and an admirable individual. Why then, should she be stripped of her significance and named a fate worse than death? By defying the couple-based system created by men, Behn sets an example of a woman defying the norm and actually succeeding, an idea extremely dangerous to those serving to benefit from subservient women. Behn, therefore, has been painted as a harlot in order to prevent women from realizing how much power they actually possess by instilling fear of political exile in the female population. And Behn is not the only successful, sexually experimental woman who has suffered this fate. Dora Carrington, who was a sort of accessory member of the Bloomsbury Group, would appear on the surface to be a woman of near insignificance in terms of life ac-
complishments; her professional career appears to be nonexistent in comparison to those around her who became famous for tokening the term “Post-Impressionism” and inventing new economic theories. However, while Carrington neglected to display any of her artwork, she was in fact a masterful painter who left several breathtaking murals behind (Spalding). Carrington was highly unusual, only painting for friends’ homes or taking on small jobs such as making signs for stores; however, her personality and charm were “something close to genius” (Spalding 1), as were later revealed in her letters to friends. Moreover, at the time Carrington was in school for art, her paintings were nothing short of award-winning. She mastered the style of painting which her school, the Slade School, encouraged, and she became a much more modern painter than those who studied at the Royal Academy Schools (Spalding). However, the image of eccentric, brilliant painter is not what one gets through the movie portrayal of her life produced in 1995. Rather, her artistic career is completely overshadowed by her multiple romantic affairs, and her seemingly desperate obsession with homosexual Lytton Strachey. In the movie, Carrington is stripped of her dignity and finesse as the complex person she was, and instead is replaced by a girl who doesn’t seem to know what way is up. Christopher Hampton, the director of the film, seems to have left out entirely that she was a painter at all, leaving out any “evidence of the internal creative struggle that caused her to paint” (Spalding 2) and thus huge portions of her personality that would have made her in any way appealing and complex to the public. Rather, what the viewer can glean from the film about Carrington is that she was a woman of desperation; denied by the man whom she truly loved, she flung herself from man to man, becoming increasingly unhappy until she attempts to kill herself, is saved, and then finally succeeds in killing herself after over two hours of pitiful whining. In short, Carrington is transformed from sexually experimental, independent woman to quivering, pathetic mess in order to appeal to societal norms. Because Carrington herself experimented with several lovers, both male and female, and did not stay loyal to one man for her entire life, she has been stripped of all of her dignity by the media. She did not follow the couple romantic model, and therefore must be put on display as a miserable failure in order to remind women of what could happen if they opt out of monogamy.
Female characters who display an interest in existing without a dominant male in their lives are altered to promote normativity when portrayed by the media, therefore Bloomsbury’s view on relationships can never be truly communicated to the population. This strategy can be observed when comparing the relationship between Clarissa and Richard of Michael Cunningham’s novel The Hours, and its movie equivilent. In the novel, Clarissa is a female designed to prompt alternative thinking. While she remains dedicated to her gay best friend and former love interest, Richard, she is in a committed lesbian relationship that has lasted eighteen years. While it would seem that she still loves Richard, as she continually reminds herself throughout the novel of when they were young, realizing that “What lives undimmed in [her] mind more than three decades later is a kiss at dusk on a patch of dead grass...There is still that singular perfection...There has been no other” (Cunningham 98). However, their relationship is much more complex than simply love lost. While Clarissa still remembers the idea of being romantic with Richard, it is not in the sense that she wishes it were so in the present, as evidenced by how she thinks of him when she smells him in his apartment, noting that “He smells, too, of unfresh flannel (though the laundry is done once a week, or oftener), and slightly, horribly (it is his only repellent smell), of the chair in which he spends his days” (Cunningham 58). Cunningham makes it clear that Clarissa’s infatuation with looking back on her past with Richard is not due to her still longing to be involved with him romantically, as she does not view him sexually; rather, it serves to add complex layers to her sexuality, as her relationship with Richard provides a sturdy example of a woman’s capability to have a non-sexual relationship with a man. As a matter of fact, Cunningham seems to utilize Clarissa’s unconventional relationship with Richard to encourage women to form bonds that are neither sexual nor purely platonic, as he showcases the dedication that Clarissa feels towards Richard, despite not being sexually involved with him. Clarissa implements the Mooreian idea of the Bloomsbury Group by appreciating the value in Richard, and rather than breaking off the relationship because it is not romantic, benefits from keeping him merely as a person whom she appreciates. Cunningham highlights the intimacy that can be felt between man and woman living by this idea through Clarissa’s behavior after Richard’s suicide. Rather than being in complete anguish, there is such a sensitivity that the reader feels as Clarissa examines Richard’s mangled body; she
handles him gently, with love “as if she fears waking him” (201) and the love that was neither here nor there proves stronger than any other defined romantic relationship shown in the novel. Unrestricted by the emotional turmoil that would have inflicted her had she been romantically involved with Richard, Clarissa is able to stay with him and communicate an intimacy unlike any other to the reader simply through her gestures and the sensitivity with which she thinks of Richard as “she leans over and rests her forehead against his spine...simply rests her head, lightly against his back” (203) refusing to leave him alone. However, because Clarissa’s relationship with Richard is neither entirely sexual or friendly, and communicates a positive message regarding women forming non-subservient roles, this relationship could not be properly depicted in the film The Hours. Rather, the film goes out of its way to destroy any suggestion of this type of relationship, and Mooreian principles, instead completely redefining Clarissa’s character. In the film, Clarissa is still desperately in love with Richard, desiring him with such force that she describes everything that is not Richard-based as “silly.” She is portrayed as a woman who has settled into lesbianism simply because she could not have Richard in the sense that she desired, and rather than being able to look at her past objectively, as she does in the novel, she proves herself incapable of thinking of the past without sobbing. Moreover, the intimacy felt in Richard’s death is entirely extracted; instead of Clarissa keeping Richard company as a final display of affection, she is shown in a crumpled heap leaning against the wall of the morgue, much as the media would portray the reaction of a widow. The media’s depiction of Clarissa and Richard’s relationship is forced and awkward; it feels altered, as the viewer can feel the strain of such a restricted life. However, because Clarissa and Richard’s relationship poses a threat to the male support system as a successful example of Moore’s idea of the appreciation rather than possession of others, it has been altered to serve as an example of normativity to women. Rather than communicating the book’s encouragement of equality of the two members of the relationship and the deep connection it can provide, the film instead advertises such relationships as lonely and unappealingly heartbreaking, thus eradicating Bloomsbury ideals from it altogether. The monogamous woman is rewarded by our society due to her beneficial nature toward men, and therefore must be portrayed in a positive light by the media, which results in the transformation of the
Bloomsbury message. This is evident in the alteration of the message of the novel To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf in its translation to film. In the novel, Woolf communicates the power of the modern woman who is uninfluenced by society through the journey of Lily Briscoe and the clearly negative opinion of Mrs. Ramsay. Woolf shows the importance of women refusing to dedicate themselves to men in order to pursue their own inner desires through Lily eventually producing her painting, which will stand the test of time even after she is dead. Meanwhile, the reader is meant to pity Mrs. Ramsay, who lives to serve her husband and children. As the example of the monogamous woman, Mrs. Ramsay spends her entire time alive during the novel knitting and being subjected to her husband’s tirades while he constantly needs support. She becomes a constant source of power to her husband, “all her strength flaring up to be drunk and quenched by the beak of brass, the arid scimitar of the male, which smote mercilessly, again and again, demanding sympathy” (Woolf Lighthouse 41). Meanwhile, Mrs. Ramsay has nothing to show for herself but her children and the effort that she puts forth to please her husband, for there is “scarcely a shell of herself left for her to know herself by; all was so lavished and spent” (Woolf Lighthouse 41). Woolf further highlights the repulsion of this role by reducing the deaths of her children to short sentences framed by brackets. Therefore, the reader has only to conclude that Mrs. Ramsay’s path is a draining, dismal one, completely unsatisfying considering the inevitable end to everything the stereotypical housewife works so hard to create. In the film, To the Lighthouse, however, the message is nearly the exact opposite. Mrs. Ramsay is portrayed as a superwoman capable of solving any household dilemma. She is pleasant, powerful, and the viewer begins to respect her almost immediately for taking on so many tasks wholeheartedly. Her role as a housewife is glorified, and she is shown as being capable of completing any task with ease. Lily, however, is transformed into the frumpy, off-kilter aunt who no woman in her right mind would esteem to be. She is bizarrely dressed, socially awkward, and pales in comparison to the ever-charming Mrs. Ramsay. Moreover, her final painting, the accomplishment that Woolf intended to set her above the common housewife, is mediocre at best and fails to communicate any of Woof’s original message. In fact, upon finishing her painting, that in the novel allows her to transcend her dependence upon Mrs. Ramsay, Lily immediately returns to thinking about her. This not only implies to the reader that Lily has not ac-
complished anything, but rather that the Mrs. Ramsays of the world will always come out on top. Because the Bloomsbury ideals threaten this societal mechanism, the women of society will never be shown the true message of the Bloomsbury group through the mainstream media. These manipulations of the Mooreian ideals must occur in order for males to continue to be supported by women. Therefore, while Bloomsbury offers such promise to women through its encouragement of the exploration of female sexuality, it will never be able to reach its full influential potential. Because sexually restricted women offer a strong support system to males, our society has been engineered to encourage ideas such as the stereotypical housewife that do not pose a threat to the system, while at the same time manipulating alternate ideas into negative examples to be used to perpetuate normativity. By influencing societal norms to encourage the monogamous woman, punish the sexually explorative woman, and depict women without a strong male in their lives as unappealing, men continue to manipulate women into being subservient. Therefore, while the Bloomsbury Group offers women another approach to sexuality through Mooreian principles, its message will never be communicated effectively through our society’s media due to the threat that it poses to the current system.
Works Cited Carrington. Dir. Christopher Hampton. 1995. Cunningham, Michael. The Hours. New York: Picador USA, 2002. Print. Grossman, Marshall. The Seventeenth-Century Literature Handbook. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011. Print.
The Hours. TF1/Miramax, 2002. Schlueter, Paul, and June Schlueter. An Encyclopedia of British Women Writers. New York: Garland, 1988. Print.
Spalding, Frances. Painting Out Carrington. New Yorker. Dec. 18, 1995. 0028-792X. pp. 70-76. To the Lighthouse. British Broadcasting Corporation, 1983. Woolf, Virginia, and Mark Hussey. To the Lighthouse. Orlando: Harcourt, 2005. Print. Woolf, Virginia, and Susan Gubar. A Room of One's Own. Orlando, FL: Harcourt, 2005. Print.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue reading from where you left off, or restart the preview.