Graduation Year

2009

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.A.

Degree Granting Department

English

Major Professor

Elizabeth Hirsh, Ph.D.

Keywords

Textual space, Public, Private, Home, Subjectivity

Abstract

A critique of the social construction of space was fundamental to Virginia Woolf's overall feminist project of decentering patriarchal and imperial values. In A Room of One's Own (1929) Woolf famously emphasized that financial independence and a private space were vital to female creativity. But Woolf was concerned with the politics of space throughout her writing, an aspect of her thought that has not been widely addressed. My thesis examines Woolf's ongoing preoccupation with spatiality in two closely related works of her late career, The Years (1937) and Three Guineas (1938). In these texts, Woolf interrogates the cultural construction of private and public realms as mutually exclusive, with domestic space being women's proper place and public space as the territory of men.

Some critics stress Woolf's portrayal of the imbrication of urban space and individual consciousness in The Years, but tend to overlook the action of the English countryside and its influence on subjectivity. Also overlooked by critics is the way that the deployment of textual space in Three Guineas, and the intertextual connections between The Years and Three Guineas-which were originally conceived of as one text entitled The Pargiters-develop Woolf's critique of the politics of space. My argument draws on key texts of sociology, geography and cultural theory that address the construction of space and place. Henri Lefebvre's The Production of Space (1974), Doreen Massey's Space, Place and Gender (1994), and Susan Stanford Friedman's Mappings: Feminism and the Cultural Geographies of Encounter (1998) frame my discussion and help to show how The Years and Three Guineas unsettle dominant spatial dualisms: public/private, here/there, home/abroad, and inside/outside.

In doing so these works foreground the relationship between subjectivity and space and demonstrate how space is produced through ideology and practice. In addition I show how Woolf's dramatization of social spaces as mobile and interpenetrating illustrates the interface between constructions of family, nation, and empire.

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