Virginia Woolf’s ‘Three Guineas’

Virginia Woolf. Three Guineas. London: Hogarth Press, 1938. Presented by Frances Hooper ’14. Dust jacket designed by Vanessa Bell.

I recently finished reading Virginia Woolf’s ‘Three Guineas’, which is quite an inspiring read, to say but the least. Her famous ‘stream of consciousness’ technique of writing is something I’ve never really experienced before and is indeed enticing. I do intend to delve into more of her works this year, to get to know her a little better.

Following are a few of the many noteworthy excerpts from the essay.

“For to help women to earn her livings in the professions is to help them to possess that women of independent opinion which is still their most powerful women. It is to help them to have a mind of their own and a will of their own with which to help you to prevent war.”

“If we encourage the daughters to enter the professions without making any conditions as to the way in which the professions are to be practiced shall we not be doing our best to stereotype the old tune which human nature, like a gramophone whose needle has stuck, is now grinding out with such disastrous unanimity?”

“Think we must. Let us think in offices; in omnibuses; while we are standing in the crowd watching Coronations and Lord Mayor’s Shows; let us think as we pass the Cenotaph; and in Whitehall; in the gallery of the House of Commons; in the Law Courts; let us think at baptisms and marriages and funerals. Let us never cease from thinking—what is this ‘civilization’ in which we find ourselves? What are these ceremonies and why should we take part in them? What are these professions and why should we make money out of them? Where in short is it leading us, the procession of the sons of educated men?”

“We have already noted the fact that the profession of literature, to give it a simple name, is the only profession which did not fight a series of battles in the nineteenth century.”

And which, according to Woolf, was the only profession open to women in the nineteenth century.

“Is it not possible that if we knew the truth about war, the glory of war would be scotched and crushed where it lies curled up in the rotten cabbage leaves of our prostituted fact-purveyors; and if we knew the truth about art instead of shuffling and sham- bling through the smeared and dejected pages of those who must live by prostituting culture, the enjoyment and practice of art would become so desirable that by comparison the pursuit of war would be a tedious game for elderly dilettantes in search of a mildly sanitary amusement—the tossing of bombs instead of balls over frontiers instead of nets? In short, if newspapers were written by people whose sole object in writing was to tell the truth about politics and the truth about art we should not believe in war, and we should believe in art.”

“But as a result the answer to your question must be that we can best help you to prevent war not by repeating your words and following your methods but by finding new words and creating new methods. We can best help you to prevent war not by joining your society but by remaining outside your society but in co-operation with its aim. That aim is the same for us both. It is to assert “the rights of all— all men and women—to the respect in their persons of the great principles of Justice and Equality and Liberty.” To elaborate further is unnecessary, for we have every confidence that you interpret those words as we do. And excuses are unnecessary, for we can trust you to make allowances for those deficiencies which we foretold and which this letter has abundantly displayed.”

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