In the predominantly male worlds of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own and Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Aurora Leigh (Book I)”, the women’s voices are muted. Female characters are confined to the domestic spheres of their homes, and they are excluded from the elite literary world. They are expected to function as foils to the male figures in their lives. These women are “trained” to remain silent and passive not only by the males around them, but also by their parents, their relatives, and their peers. Willingly or grudgingly, the women in Woolf and Browning’s works are regulated to the domestic circle, discouraged from the literary world, and are expected to act as foils to their male counterparts.
Without the means of securing financial independence, women are confined to the world of domestic duties. In Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, Mary Seton’s “homely” mother is neither a businesswoman nor a magnate on the Stock Exchange. She cannot afford to provide formal education for her daughters or for herself. Without money, the women must toil day and night at home, with no time for learned conversations about “archaeology, botany, anthropology, physics, the nature of the atom, mathematics, astronomy, relativity, geography” – the subjects of the men’s conversations (26). As Woolf notes, if Mary’s mother had gone into business, there would have been no Mary. Children are financial burdens and they make heavy demands on a mother’s time. It is impossible that a mother could feed and play with their children while making money, because women are expected to raise large families; they are the ones who carry o...
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And muted the women are, in A Room of One’s Own and “Aurora Leigh”. They cannot vocalize their opinions, wants, and needs when they are confined to their homes and discouraged from joining the predominantly male literary circles. Moreover, females are expected to act as foils to the males so that the patriarchal societies may flourish. Coleridge once said that a great mind is androgynous (Woolf, 106). When the men and women can cooperate and unite their minds and bodies, Shakespeare’s gifted sister will be able to re-emerge, freeing the muted voices of these oppressed women.
Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One’s Own. London: Flamingo, 1994.
Browning, Elizabeth Barrett. “Aurora Leigh”. 1856. Correspondence Course Notes: ENGL 205*S Selected Women Writers I, Spring-Summer 2003, pp. 26, 27.
Kingston, ON: Queen’s University, 2003.
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