Sunday, October 17, 2010

Critical Reading Response #3

“Sapphistry:  Narration as Lesbian Seduction in A Room of One’s Own
Crtical Article by Jane Marcus

Jane Marcus’s article, “Sapphistry:  Narration as Lesbian Seduction in A Room of One’s Own,” does not limit itself to simply explicating the idea of seduction (specifically woman-to-woman) in Virginia Woolf’s feminist text; rather, Marcus dredges up crucial evidence that marshals her primary argument:  how narration as lesbian seduction works to subvert the patriarchal system so prevalent during that time.  Marcus begins “Sapphistry” by citing echoes she feels are important to understanding the connections between Woolf’s exposition (A Room) and  historical figures (Oscar Browning, known for what she calls “academic homosexual misogyny”) and other literary works (such as Radclyffe Hall’s novel of lesbianism, The Well of Loneliness, as well as the obscenity trial surrounding the novel) (Marcus 163-164).  Marcus then moves into a discussion of Woolf’s audience, setting up the idea of conspiracy among women “in league together against authority,” and stating that by giving a “talk to girls” is very much connected to the “desire to seduce” (Marcus 166-167).  The ideas of conspiracy and narration directed at women are key concepts for Marcus, who also discusses punctuation as being a part of these central and driving ideas.  

Marcus views Woolf’s uses of punctuation (specifically her utilizing periods of ellipses) as a lecture in and of itself directed at Radclyffe Hall.  As Hall’s novel was on trial for obscenity, Marcus argues that Woolf’s ellipses demonstrate an undercover way to reveal lesbianism so as not to alert the censors (Marcus 169-170).  As Marcus denotes, “Dot dot dot is female code for lesbian love” (Marcus 169).  Thus, the ellipsis or lacuna highlights what cannot be explicitly (but is considered explicit) expressed textually.  

To further her argument that Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own destabilizes the patriarchy, Marcus powerfully charges that even the homosexual males in Woolf’s circle of friends did not align themselves with feminists causes; instead, these men viewed society and all its components through a strictly patriarchal lens, so that they “practiced their homosexuality while supporting a conservative family structure” (Marcus 177-178).  Marcus goes on to say that “the patriarchy tolerated elite homosexuals because they did not threaten the family” (Marcus 178).  She later cites references to Woolf’s biological family members as being members of this elite group, and Woolf’s convicting them not of homosexuality, but of misogyny (Marcus 183-186).  

From these aforementioned ideas, Marcus draws forth Woolf’s rhetorical strategies which “construct an erotic relationship between the woman writer, her audience present in the text, and the woman reader.  Seduction serves the political purpose of uniting women across class…[calling for] a feminist solidarity in the demand for space [room]” (Marcus 186).  Not only does Woolf demand a space be given to women, she also solicits the “feminist political strategy” of interruption “which truly voiced women’s rebellion at enforced silence into a literary trope” (Marcus 187).  Hence, lesbian seduction in A Room of One’s Own disavows the patriarchal tradition of silencing women, keeping women within the space of the home, and forcing women to remain in traditional roles, and the act of women loving women presents desire, and with desire comes elements of power. 

Marcus, Jane.  "Sapphistry: Narration as Lesbian Seduction in A Room of One’s OwnVirginia Woolf and the Language of Patriarchy.  Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1987.  163-87.

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