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From the time that Emily Bronte penned Wuthering Heights in 1847 to the time that Virginia Woolf wrote A Room of One's Own in 1929, the 80 plus year period brought tremendous change to literature and for women authors.
In the early Victorian era when women writers were not accepted as legitimate, Emily Bronte found it necessary to pen her novel under the name "Mr. Ellis Bell" according to a newspaper review from 1848 (WH 301). According to The Longman Anthology of British Literature, "Women had few opportunities for higher education or satisfying employment" (1794) and the "ideal Victorian woman was supposed to be domestic and pure, selflessly motivated by the desire to serve others..." (1794). The Bronte sisters partook of many of the typical duties of the Victorian age such as taking on governess duties and teaching jobs (Bradbury p. 106). The Victorian era must have dictated the pen names that the Bronte sisters found it necessary to use though.
80 years later, Virginia Woolf did not have to hide behind a masculine pen name. She is considered "a major author, of whatever gender" (Longman, p. 2445). Woolf, not only was accepted as a female author, but the subjects which she wrote about would never have been touched in the time of the Bronte sisters. In her career, Woolf wrote about subjects such as "sexual politics, society and war" (Longman p. 2445) and was instrumental in establishing and running the Hogarth Press for years (2447). In "A Room of One's Own", Woolf candidly examines the role of women in literature and literature about women and concludes that a woman needs "money and a room of her own" in order to write fiction (2457). In this piece, she examines the role of women in history with much contempt especially regarding the difficulty in raising funds to build a women's college. "What had our mothers been doing then that they had not wealth to leave us? Powdering their noses? Looking in at shop windows?" (Longman, 2466). Woolf w as dissatisfied that women were left behind in the literary world and she did much to change this by advancing educational opportunities for women. "The sense of having been deliberately shut out of education by virtue of her sex, was to inflect all of Woolf's writing and thinking" (2446).
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Emily Bronte was a voice of change in her own right. Though she used a pen name, she did this so she could get her book published. Her book received negative reaction (WH, vii) but she continued to write despite critical reviews.
She authored Wuthering Heights in the voice and with the passionate characters such as Heathcliff that were hers. She did not allow the dictates of a prudent era to keep her from weaving ghosts and obsessive love into her novel. Some elements of her book were telling of a woman's role in Victorian times, especially young Catherine's acquiescence to her marriage to Linton. She did not hire a lawyer, as one would nowadays. There is a mirroring in the end of young Catherine and Earnshaw with the former couple, Catherine and Heathcliff - but the happy ending is marred by the pain and anguish that each have lived to get to the end of the story. This is typical of what a woman's life was life in this era.
I believe a contrite and shallow novel with a predicted ending would have been what was expected of women writers in the Victorian age.
Woolf examines several writers in "A Room of One's Own" and even imagines a fictitious sister of William Shakespeare to portray a woman writer in his era (Longman, 2468). In the end, she says this fictitious sister is dead but "lives in you and me, and in many other women who are not here tonight, for they are washing up the dishes and putting the chldren to bed" (2481). Woolf is imagining all the future Bronte's, the Rossetti's and other great women writers who will never be given the opportunity to write their story because either tradition has dictated that they are kept silent, or they have been silent for so long - they don't know how to change.
Bradbury, Malcolm, ed. The Atlas of Literature. New York: Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 1998.
Bronte, Emily. Wuthering Heights. W.W. Norton: New York, 1990.
Damrosch, David, et al., ed. The Longman Anthology of British Literature: Vol. B. Compact ed. New York: Longman - Addison Wesley Longman, 2000.