Monday, 12 March 2007

Killing the Angel in the House

I love this passage from Virginia Woolf:

And when I came to write I encountered her with the very first words. The shadow of her wings fell on my page; I heard the rustling of her skirts in the room. Directly, that is to say, I took my pen in my hand to review that novel by a famous man, she slipped behind me and whispered: “My dear, you are a young woman. You are writing about a book that has been written by a man. Be sympathetic; be tender; flatter; deceive; use all the arts and wiles of our sex. Never let anybody guess that you have a mind of your own. Above all, be pure.” And she made as if to guide my pen. I now record the one act for which I take some credit to myself, though the credit rightly belongs to some excellent ancestors of mine who left me a certain sum of money—shall we say five hundred pounds a year?—so that it was not necessary for me to depend solely on charm for my living. I turned upon her and caught her by the throat. I did my best to kill her. My excuse, if I were to be had up in a court of law, would be that I acted in self–defence. Had I not killed her she would have killed me.

agency, history, circumstances: Woolf sums up all the issues in the potentiality of women emancipating themselves without the use of feminine wiles, that she is in a special economic circumstance which makes her more capable of turning around and killing the angel; at the same time, it is she who does so. She, as the woman, must enact her own agency and kill the angel with her own hands. To continue to rely on feminine wiles would mean that she had only ever achieved a false emancipation.

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