Virginia Woolf's Criticism: A Polemical Preface

Critical Inquiry 1 (2):361-371 (1974)

Abstract
As a critic, Virginia Woolf has been called a number of disparaging names: "impressionist," "belletrist," "raconteur," "amateur." Here is one academic talking on the subject: "She will survive, not as a critic, but as a literary essayist recording the adventures of a soul among congenial masterpieces. . . . The writers who are most downright, and masculine, and central in their approach to life - Fielding or Balzac - she for the most part left untouched....Her own approach was at once more subterranean and aerial, and invincibly, almost defiantly, feminine." In other words, Virginia Woolf is not a critic; how could she be? She is a woman. From its beginning, criticism has been a man's world. This is to say not only that males have earned their living as critics but, more importantly, that the conventionally accepted ideals of critical method are linked with qualities stereotypically allotted to males: analysis, judgment, objectivity. Virginia Woolf has had a poor reputation as a critic not merely because her sex is female but because her method is "feminine." She writes in a way that is said to be creative, appreciative, and subjective. We will accept this descriptive for the moment but will later enlarge on it, and even our provisional acceptance we mean to turn to a compliment. Barbara Currier Bell has written articles on critical theory and modern poetry and has served as a consultant on women's education at both Vassar and Hampshire Colleges. She is assistant professor of English at Wesleyan University. Carol Ohmann is the author of Ford Madox Ford: From Apprentice to Craftsman and several articles on English and American fiction. She coedited Female Studies IV: Teaching about Women with Elaine Showalter and is chairman of the Department of English at Wesleyan University. She has contributed, with Richard Ohmann, "Reviewers, Critics, and The Catcher in the Rye , and "CRITICAL RESPONSE: Universals and the Historically Particular" .See also: "The Masculine Mode" by Peter Schwenger in Vol. 5, No. 4; "The Robber in the Bedroom: or, The Thief of Love: A Woolfian Grieving in Six Novels and Two Memoirs" by Mark Spilka in Vol. 5, No. 4
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DOI 10.1086/447791
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