Friday, November 12, 2010

Hardy, Woolf and Women's Agency

When you put people on a pedestal, there's always the opportunity that they'll fall off it. In the case of people already dead, there's always the chance you'll decide that maybe they're not as wonderful as you thought.

I read recently that Virginia Woolf apparently admired Thomas Hardy. Hardy is the author of, among other books, Tess of the d'Ubervilles. In the novel, Tess is raped and then spends the rest of the novel being punished by society and her family for losing her virginity. It's hard to see this story as anything other than misogynistic; after all, Tess suffers and suffers and the love of her life, Angel, who drops her like dead weight after he finds out she's been raped, never is given the same kind of harsh judgement. (Her rapist is eventually killed, but again, he goes on for years happily without suffering any kind of rejection from those around him, while poor Tess does.) Virginia Woolf, of course, is the feminist author of books like A Room of One's Own. This book in particular is all about giving women agency. It's hard to see how exactly a book that reveals in a lack of agency for women could be admired by a woman who writes for women's agency.

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