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The Lunacy of Men, the Idiocy of Women: Woolf, West, and War

Marina Mackay
NWSA Journal
Vol. 15, No. 3, Gender and Modernism between the Wars, 1918-1939 (Autumn, 2003), pp. 124-144
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4317013
Page Count: 21
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The Lunacy of Men, the Idiocy of Women: Woolf, West, and War
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Abstract

This essay argues that the parallel careers of Rebecca West and Virginia Woolf illuminate the extent to which modernist women writers came to identify the centrality of feminist consciousness in an understanding of public violence. In their fictional representations of World War I, West's The Return of the Soldier (1918) and Woolf's Jacob's Room (1922), both authors use narrative indirections to diagnose the two problems of patriarchal culture: that it glorifies militaristic and materialistic models of masculinity (what West calls "lunacy"), and that it renders women complicit in male violence (the corresponding "idiocy"). Almost two decades later, they address World War II in their non-fiction: Woolf's pacifist polemic Three Guineas (1938) and West's hybrid travelogue Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1941). With a conscious self-referentiality, these two later works posit women's writing as the only antidote to the apparently interminable public violence of men and to the deceptions of women's attempts at private disengagement.

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