The aim of this essay is to present you with the reflections drawn upon the term ‘Androgyny’ and the relationship which was developed on behalf of the writer Virginia Woolf with the concept of this term. The essay will review the article entitled ‘Virginia Woolf and Androgyny’ which was written by Marilyn Farewell and first published in the journal Contemporary Literature in 1975. It will highlight the main statements as stated and supported by Marilyn Farewell in her effort to realize and analyze the term ‘androgyny’ as defined by Virginia Woolf herself and the way it has affected the writer’s writing style and thematic cores. The reflections drawn upon this article will be presented along with the real meaning lying in this term. This real meaning represents the writing style and context of the works of one of the most popular female writers, Virginia Woolf. Virginia Woolf holds one of the most ambiguous portraits ever drawn within the borders of the literary circle.
Marilyn Farewell wrote her article aiming at exploring the meaning of the term ‘Androgyny’ as incarnated in Virginia Woolf’s works. She clearly presents her audience with her aim from the beginning of her article stating in her introduction the purpose of her research as follows: ‘When Coleridge claimed, over a century ago, that the great mind is androgynous, he had little awareness that this term and his endorsement would be focal points for a number of twentieth –century critics, the most important of whom is Virginia Woolf’ (Marilyn Farewell, ‘Virginia Woolf and Androgyny, p xvi, 4).
So, the readers are presented with the undoubtful truth. The term ‘Androgyny’ was first used by Coleridge about a hundred years ago. Virginia Woolf is one of the literary figures which has endorsed this term and has given it a new dimension. The dimension given to this scientific term by Virginia Woolf is the objective of Farewell’s writing. There has been lots of heated debate as far as to what Virginia Woolf wishes to represent or mean when she uses this term. This literary debate has been an ongoing debate which has generated a number of different approaches and interpretations.
Farewell analyses and presents all the approaches and interpretations adopted by literary critics as far as to what ‘Androgyny’ stands for, in the case of the writer Virginia Woolf. She begins with the presentation of what ‘androgyny’ has meant in the religious and philosophical circles, and then moves on to which ‘myriads of definitions’ have been used by critics to describe Woolf’s criticism. Farewell mentions the proposed definitions which have been witnessed in the literary circle, as far as the use of the term by Virginia Woolf is concerned. She gives the list of the definitions that have been adopted by critics ‘the poles of intuition and reason, subjectivity and objectivity, anima and animus, heterosexuality and homosexuality, and finally manic and depressive’. So, according to Farewell’s research, readers see the wide range between which the real meaning of ‘androgyny’ – according to Virginia Woolf - is lying.
Farewell then, moves on to developing her own personal point of view. Farewell drives her own conclusion on what ‘androgyny’ stands for, as far as Virginia Woolf is concerned.The source from which Farewell derives her supportive arguments is the work ‘A Room on one’s Own’ by Virginia Woolf. This work is used by Farewell as the basis of her arguments, because this is a work in which Virginia Woolf develops her mentality and her beliefs in what the term ‘Androgyny’ first used by Coleridge, means.
Virginia Woolf develops the meaning of the term in six chapters. Farewell emphasizes on the fact that Virginia Woolf focuses on the supremacy of the androgynous mind compared to the male or female one. It seems that Farewell reads the work ‘ARoom of one’s Own’ under a new, open-minded perspective along with the other work by Virginia Woolf ‘A Writer's Diary: Being Extracts from the Diary of Virginia Woolf’. Farewell appears to have indulged in Virginia Woolf’s writing style and works, so that she can reach the core of Virginia’s thematic core in her work ‘A Room of one’s Own’.
Step by step, Farewell moves on to presenting her readers with the interpretation of Virginia Woolf’s arguments as presented in the six chapters of this work of hers. Each argument adopted by Virginia Woolf is one of the foundation pylons of Farewell’s conclusion. Farewell results in believing that according to Virginia Woolf’s arguments, the term ‘androgyny’ ought not to be seen under any aspect of any ideological path or mentality. According to Farewell, ‘androgyny’ is the vehicle through which Virginia Woolf can elevate her writings to an upper mental level. Her writings are ‘androgynous’. Her writings are of no sex, and they embrace all ambiguous and opposite ideas existing in the human universe. The truth lying in her writings is of no sex. It is ‘andrigynous’. This is what Farewell believes that Virginia Woolf wants to say when she uses this term. Farewell believes that Woolf only wishes to represent the universal nature of her writings and their ambiguity. They can express simultaneously different and opposite ideas since the human universe and nature is born by the one, mysterious ambiguous and ‘androgynous’ power of existence. Farewell ends her article stating ‘Virginia Woolf did not pursue some of her more radical insights into the writings of women; If she had, she would probably have out- lined a much more comprehensive theory of androgyny, one which would have acknowledged the individual differences of women and men, but insisted on the validity and interdependence of each.
As it is, Woolf withdrew from the implications of that move and spoke of androgyny in the traditional terms which equated the male with the universal. We who are attempting to use androgyny as a critical tool must be aware of these distinctions and of the way in which Woolf defined the term. We must be careful to distinguish between balance and fusion; but because we are the heirs of her struggle, we will be more able to complete her quest and to develop a fuller concept of androgyny.’ (Marilyn Farewell, ‘Virginia Woolf and Androgyny, p 451).
Farewell states her interpretation which is - in my opinion - both intriguing and well-based. It is my firm belief that this interpretation represents the real way in which the term ‘androgynous’ ought to be used. Literally speaking, the term ;androgynous’ states anything which includes both sexes, the male and the female one. Virginia Woolf is a writer who experienced the prejudice of her era and social environment against the female personalities. She attempts to raise concern and questions on the extent to which the sex of a person ought to be used as a means of restriction. Therefore, it is by all means expected for Virginia Woolf to use uncommon terms and innovative ideas. Woolf wishes to get rid of the restrictions her own sex, her femininity attributes to her according to the social norm whithin which she is obliged to live and develop. In her effort to get rid of these restrictions she invents a new meaning for the term ‘androgynous’. It seems necessary to her that both sexes, both men and women, are cooperating so that they can fly free of restrictions in the universe of their individual creativity. Woolf wishes to elevate creativity and attribute to it its principal universal divine nature. Creations and creative powers are free of sexual characteristics and masks, they are deriving from th epower of existence which obeys to no other rules than the mystery of existence and ambiguity of life itself. This is what Virginia Woolf wishes to focus on and this is what she does. ‘And I went on amateurishly to sketch a plan of the soul so that in each of us two powers preside, one male, one femaleThe normal and comfortable state of being is that when the two live in harmony together, spiritually co-operatingColeridge perhaps means this when he said that a great mind is androgynous. It is when this fusion takes place that the mind is fully fertilized and uses all its facilities. Perhaps a mind that is purely masculine cannot create, any more than a mind that is purely feminine’ (Virginia Woolf, ‘A Room of One’s Own’). According to Virginia Woolf it is high time people saw the magic lying in the mystery of human nature for what it really is. The human existence comes to create and gain freedom through the magic of creativity. Creativity has no sex but extends from the one point of infinity to the other one, combining both positive and negative powers of the universe and keeping them at the same time apart and distinct.
Farwell, R., Marilyn ‘Virginia Woolf and Androgyny, Contemporary Literature, Vol. 16, No. 4 (Autumn, 1975), pp433-451, University of Wisconsin Press, accessed by http://www.jstor.org/stable/1207610
Woolf, Virginia, A Room of One’s Own, Penguin Books, London, 1945