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Title:Matriarchal myth-making for a postpatriarchal age: The anti-war writing of Virginia Woolf and Hilda Doolittle
Author(s):Cramer, Patricia
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Baym, Nina
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Literature, American
Literature, English
Abstract:Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) and Hilda Doolittle (1886-1961) lived and wrote during a period of political and ideological upheaval when the world wars, lesbian and gay, women's and psychoanalytic movements of their time challenged traditional assumptions about human nature and cultural values. Familiar with influential intellectual circles, both Woolf and H. D. helped develop the challenges to gender, sexuality, and myth presented by the important political and literary movements of their time. Like the male writers of this period, Woolf and Doolittle were deeply troubled by the world wars and they interpreted the wars as symptoms of everything that was most wrong about our civilization. However, unlike their male contemporaries, they analyzed the causes of war from a women's perspective--interpreting the world wars as the inevitable consequence of a patriarchal culture centered on an ideal of masculinity which fostered violence in men. To make war, you need warriors and both Woolf's and H. D.'s anti-war writings attempt to de-romanticize the heroic ideal, analyze the social and psychological forces which perpetuate this type of masculinity (including roles for women created to nurture heroic men), and to imagine the possibility of creating a post-patriarchal society based on creative, feminine values rather than the will to dominate and destroy.
Among the intellectual movements of their times, Woolf and H. D. were most influenced by early twentieth century theories about myth, especially the debates about matriarchy. Although Woolf and H. D. never met, and only H. D. was apparently familiar with Woolf's work, the remarkable similarities in their ideas about the connections between masculinity, patriarchy, and war suggest that their views were commonly held by intellectuals of their time, especially women like Karen Horney, Ruth Benedict, and Jane Harrison. This study compares Woolf's and H. D.'s work within the context of the early twentieth century feminist research on culture and myth, stressing their similarities because these are most significant. In assessing their differences, I suggest that Woolf's and H. D.'s differing attitudes toward heroic men and violent sexuality epitomize a division among first wave feminists between the sex resistors who, like Woolf, entirely rejected dominant-submissive sexuality, and those who, like H. D., accepted aggressive male sexuality as potentially liberating for women.
Issue Date:1989
Rights Information:Copyright 1989 Cramer, Patricia
Date Available in IDEALS:2011-05-07
Identifier in Online Catalog:AAI8924797
OCLC Identifier:(UMI)AAI8924797

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