I read a very interesting article by Frances Restuccia about androgyny in A Room of One’s Own – “Untying the Mother Tongue: Female Difference in Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own”. What I thought was interesting about it was Restuccia’s approach to the notion of feminine difference and androgyny in this particular work of Woolf’s.
She begins by discussing how critics have equated Woolf’s words in this essay with her call for androgyny. Restuccia finds this is not the case, however. She notes that neo-feminist movements have taken interest in the notion of “female difference” – the experience of all that is feminine instead of gender-blindness. The thinkers of this particular movement she calls the “gynocritics” that explore the difference of the writing of women.
However, she notes that in Woolf’s “androgynous heaven” differences between the sexes are not dissolved, they do not disappear, but instead Woolf emphasizes these differences, as opposed to calling for an androgynous mergence. This female difference is primarily apparent thorough what Restuccia perceives as Woolf establishing a female tradition, a culmination of “thinking through her mothers”. The “androgyny” might be collaboration between man and woman, with their differences still intact. This is because Restuccia perceives Woolf’s androgyny as part of her artistic vision, not a vision of nature or naturalness. Since, according to the author, Woolf could escape her impending madness only through the order or art, she provides a non-sequitur in suggesting androgyny – the preceding chapters work out differences in the sexes, but Woolf needs to find mental solace in the artistic vision of androgyny.
Restuccia also makes another point about this notion of androgyny. In this work, Woolf traces out a genealogy of women writers primarily and laments the state of writing of men. Thus, androgyny in writing would mean primarily that men have a lot to learn from women, while women themselves should explore their own writing and not become androgynous. Here Restuccia mentions Woolf’s love for Austen and the Brontës, both of whom wrote as women (the only problem here is that Woolf also mentions Shakespeare and Austen in conjunction, calling them both great, androgynous minds). But according to Restuccia, Woolf lauds women writers as the ones with the ability to renew creative powers and fertilize old ideas of “illustrious men”. Restuccia also points out Woolf’s “I like women” part of this particular essay, which again points out Woolf’s love for women and their difference, which is not androgynous.
Thus, Restuccia makes an argument that the notion of androgyny is a veil spun over the notion of female difference, as a compromise to reach humanity in general, men and women. And androgyny in this particular essay, according to Restuccia, is truly just the suggestion that men should be and write more like women and this does not subvert her love of the female difference and women who stir her imagination.
Restuccia, Frances. “Untying the Mother Tongue: Female Difference in Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own.” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature 4.2 (1985): 253 -264. JSTOR. Web.