Unknown Women Writers…Were They Oppressed?


In his article Female Authors Who Took Rooms of Their Own in the 2/24/12 New York Times about the current exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library on unknown women writers, Edward Rothstein notes that with the women on view here, “…there is almost no evidence of oppression, stifled talents, little signs of being ‘so thwarted and hindered’…”

The way men in the 1970’s looked incomprehensibly at the women’s movement wondering, ‘What are all these women whining about? Don’t we give them everything they want?” I fear he missed Virginia Woolf’s point entirely from A Room of Her Own.

Yes, these particular women may or may not have had kind fathers who let them go about their business unperturbed, (though sadly, one poor Lady Anne spent much of her life trying to gain the inheritance she lost when her father left everything to her brothers instead of to her. If oppression doesn’t look like this, then what does it look like?)

However, the patriarchy at large was making sure that anything this handful of women might accomplish did not become the cultural norm. When Woolf speaks of oppression, it is this larger oppression she alludes to that has suffocated women for millennium. If this were not true, there would be no need for an article such as this about a handful of such unknown ‘cultural oddities.’

Although I am sure Mr. Rothstein is very capable (though here he has proved tunnel visioned) why not assign an article about great unknown women to a woman?

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