Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Look at Woolf's Complex Relationship With Her Servants

This is a New York Times  book review of Alison Light’s Mrs. Woolf and the Servants: An Intimate History of Domestic Life in Bloomsbury. The book looks at the relationships between Woolf and her hired maids and cooks throughout her youth and adulthood, telling the untold stories of the help in Woolf’s life. Apparently the bonds Woolf shared with her house staff were sometimes hostile, sometimes comforting, but always intimate and important in her life.

I know we’ve talked a bit about Woolf, as a woman of her time, being a snob and quite prejudiced. This review struck me because at first glance the book seems present a perfect example of Woolf’s upstairs-downstairs snobbery in relation to her house staff. And yet, as the review suggests, Woolf’s discomfort with her help is actually a really complex topic to explore. I find it interesting that Woolf “embraced the Labor Party and politics that promised social change, and yet did not seem to realize that [her] way of living perpetuated established class divisions” through the employment of maids and cooks. This shows that Woolf struggled with an ongoing battle between a resistance to her dependence on her house staff and a desire to embrace this dependence. This at times manifested in tensions between Woolf and her help. For a woman in her time, I think this struggle is particularly fascinating. On the one hand, and as the article shows, Woolf in a way has her hired help to thank for freeing her time so that she could complete her works, including her most feminist and forward-thinking. Perhaps a lack of hired help was just another of the many impediments to the advancement of female writers mentioned by Woolf in A Room of One’s Own. On the other hand, perhaps employing help might have felt to Woolf like a sign of weakness, not only female, but human. No individual likes to admit his or her dependence, especially not a strong feminist woman who seeks to set a bold example in a society that is more or less unwelcoming toward boldness. How does a woman reconcile her independent artistic and career life with her dependent domestic life? This might illuminate, though not at all excuse, Woolf’s occasional hostile and elitist tendencies toward her help, who were actually essential in her daily life. When it comes to Woolf’s snobbery I think it’s important that we not only acknowledge and criticize it, but also come to understand it as a force within her that she constantly struggled against and tried to make sense of.



    This site posted up 59 facts of Virginia Woolf that are less known to the public. I could not find a reference page or any sort of citations so I cannot verify the accuracy of the facts but after reading them I think that most of them (if not all) are true. I think that many of the facts reflect the details within the works that we have read throughout the summer. It's an interesting list to check out.

  2. When thinking about all of the different works that we have read throughout this semester, one thought that stayed in my mind was the complexity and brooding manner behind that resonated from Woolf’s stories. Because I never studied an author in depth, I found it fascinating to know the “less positive” characteristics about Woolf. It was nice to know that such a famous author was not a picture perfect being, whereas today, most famous figures desperately try to cover their flaws. I think that because Woolf was such a deep thinker who dealt with depression, all of her works have a slightly sad or melancholy feel to them. I do not think that any of the books have had a light, airy aura. As a matter of fact, all of her characters seem to be so much more detailed when it comes to their individual thought processes and issues. One of my favorite authors is Jane Austen. Although I absolutely adore “Pride and Prejudice”, I think that the intensity of Woolf’s characters is much stronger, darker, and complicated than that of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. I am personally so intrigued by that aspect of Woolf’s writing which is why I am choosing to write my paper on the psychology behind Woolf and her characters.


    This is a coincidence because I made a post on the intense complexity and darkness behind Woolf’s characters and writings. However, I just came across an article that states that the British Library will be releasing Woolf’s last unpublished work which reveals the comical and mischievous side. I think it would be a really interesting read to see a completely different side to Woolf’s style.

  4. I think that one of the most fascinating things that I have learned this semester is the narrative device "stream of consciousness". Although I may be mistaken and have simply forgotten about it, I do not think that I have read a book that used the stream of consciousness technique. Although the idea is so simple in itself, it is surprisingly difficult to keep track of one’s thought process. Furthermore, when one is actually focusing on being aware of the thoughts and ideas that go by, it is interesting to see the variety and extremeness of them.
    When I was at work today, I tried to focus on what was going on in my mind. Most of the time, I kept thinking about how tired I was and how much I wanted to go home. However, whenever a customer came into the store, I found myself thinking about him/her in much detail. As an employee at a hair accessory and jewelry boutique, most of the customers that come in are women. As soon as someone comes in, I instinctively look at him/her from head to toe, subconsciously looking for any signs of suspicion. If the customer carries many bags, wears baggy clothes, or is constantly putting his/her hands in and out of his/her pockets, I immediately find myself watching that person more closely. On the other hand, as I look at the customers, I often wonder about their lives, where they are from, and what kind of people they are. By overhearing their conversations, I can often come to a conclusion of at least one or two of the three. This reminded me of the excerpt that we read in class with the garden, the two old women, and the old man who was mentally unstable. Because there is often so much going on at once when it comes to becoming aware of one’s own thought process, I think it is a very impressive and unique style to use within writing.

  5. Although I cannot find any statistics for this claim, I remember when I used to live in Korea, many people would criticize the television dramas and soap operas saying that they caused depression and suicide. In these shows, the characters easily – and often – commit suicide by cutting their wrists, walking into the ocean, jumping off of a building, and etc. Unlike American shows, Korean dramas are mostly based off of reality (granted crazy romantic relationships and complications aren’t always realistic) and therefore pass the suicides off in a very “reasonable” way. Furthermore, many ballad love songs that are produced in Korea have lyrics filled with desperation and lovesickness to the point of death or severe depression. The music videos that follow these songs often show scenes of women or men trying to drown themselves in bathtubs, taking pills, or running into cars. Is this not overly, extremely, depressing?!
    When looking at Virginia Woolf’s works, I have stated that they are mostly – if not all – filled with some sort of melancholy feel or depression. Because she struggled with depression in her own life, I can understand that it must have brought about great inspiration and/or impact within her writing. However, in order to relieve oneself from depression is it safe to write or almost even wallow in it? According to various biographies, Virginia Woolf committed suicide by putting stones in her pocket and walking into a river because she could not overcome her depression. I cannot imagine how writing about depressed, troubled characters could have possibly helped her to recover. Although millions of people around the world are grateful for her brilliant work, I question if she had written about more positive, light-hearted work, would she not have possibly overcome her depression once and for all and have lived a longer life and have written more works?