Saturday December 03, 2022

So, who is afraid of Virginia Woolf?

February 22, 2016


A distinguished panel of writers and literary experts on Sunday in a session of the Lahore Literary Festival on the English modernist and feminist writer Virginia Woolf urged audiences to not pigeonhole Woolf and understand her works in their full complexity.

Zareena Saeed, a professor in the Arts and Humanities department at the University of Punjab, emphasised the importance of Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own to succeeding women writers and the popular discourse on gender. Woolf had written in this groundbreaking text that a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction. Saaed said this physical and mental space was important for women to express themselves creatively and explore their identity. Women under the constraints of family and a patriarchal system were historically denied their place in history and Woolf recognised that women had no control over the narrative being formed, Prof Zareena Saeed said.

The great grand niece of the English writer, Emma Woolf also spoke of the panel and said her discovery of Woolf began through reading her personal letters and diaries. Emma said she researched Virginia Woolf’s history of nervous breakdowns and relationship with her husband, Leonard Woolf to get a full understanding of the experiences and feelings colouring her work. Emma said Virginia Woolf deviated from tradition by writing in a stream of consciousness and giving her readers an inside look into the chaotic world of the internal mind.

The speakers, including Indian born poet Adrian Hussain and Claire Armstead said while Woolf highly regarded women, she did not see gender as a binary and adopted a very androgynous approach to her writing and the characters she conjured. They remarked that Woolf did not abide by the ascription of genders roles and very much believed in the fusion of both to create a whole. An idea that was light years ahead of her time, they observed.