“But how interesting it would have been if the relationships between the two women had been more complicated. All these relationships between women, I thought, rapidly recalling the splendid gallery of fictitious women, are too simple.” -Virginia Woolf, ‘A Room of One’s Own’
Discuss the Changing Representation of Women and Women’s Relationships in Literature.
|Radclyffe Hall, 1928|
|Jeanette Winterson, 1980s|
The representation of the main female characters of the novel is highly varied. Whereas Jeanette (the protagonist)’s mother is unaccepting of Jeanette’s homosexuality, Elsie Norris (a friend of Jeanette’s) simply accepts Jeanette for who she is and doesn’t question her sexuality. This is a microcosm of a real, and, I hasten to add, grossly simplified, world; there are some who will not accept homosexual relationships and others who do not judge solely on an acquaintance’s sexuality. Potentially these two sweepingly generalised groups of people could be representative of the pre-nineteenth century reactions to lesbianism, and especially the depiction of homosexuality in literature, and post-nineteenth century, when gay literature became considerably more common and it became not unheard-of to include homosexual characters in literature. Virginia Woolf, an openly homosexual woman herself, fell easily into the second category, saying, “Let us admit in the privacy of our own society that these things sometimes happen. Sometimes women do like women.” Within A Room of One’s Own, Woolf discusses the controversy of Radclyffe Hall’s novel, The Well of Loneliness, which openly debates lesbianism and was published in 1928. The novel, “was banned after official medical advice that it would encourage female homosexuality and lead to 'a social and national disaster'”, even though it, “got no more racy than 'she kissed her full on the lips like a lover'” according to David Smith in January 2005. However, the case of A Well of Loneliness clearly illustrates that the representation of women’s sexuality in literature in the early 1900’s was not open to homosexuality, but it also serves to demonstrate how the representation has changed so much since 1928, as even by 1985 when Oranges was published, this kind of national outcry to the discussion of lesbianism in literature was no longer prevalent.
To conclude, the representation of women in literature is all the time becoming more liberated. It is continually becoming more acceptable to directly examine any issue, including homosexuality, through literature not only written about women, but also by female authors. The majority of literary relationships between women would no longer be defined as “too simple” and I would hope that Virginia Woolf would now, on reading texts such as Oranges Are Not The Only Fruits, agree that the inter-female relationships are really “more complicated” than previously. I would argue that for me, this discussion could have been interpreted in two different ways: either to examine how the roles of women as characters in novels, plays or poems have changed with history, or to consider the changing representation of females in the World of Literature, the way female authors and relationships have been represented and how this, along with the characters in their work, is also an ever-evolving story. However, I feel that actually, the two discussions have very similar outcomes in that for both feminine subject matter and female authors, literature is becoming more welcoming and freeing with every passing year. Thus, as literature becomes less discriminatory, and as society changes, it is clear that in the World of Literature women are ever more prominent, indeed, they are almost becoming as prominent as men.