What if Shakespeare had been a woman, or it was his sister who wrote, Virginia Woolf asked. What conditions would have had to have been different for her to even think she had a right to have ideas back then, then a right to write and to be read? Would her plays be known today? Well, back then she couldn’t even write, could hardly read, and was the property of her husband, Woolf says.
“I told you in the course of this paper that Shakespeare had a sister; but do not look for her in Sir Sidney Lee’s life of the poet. She died young—alas, she never wrote a word. She lies buried where the omnibuses now stop, opposite the Elephant and Castle. Now my belief is that this poet who never wrote a word and was buried at the cross–roads still lives. She lives in you and in me, and in many other women who are not here tonight, for they are washing up the dishes and putting the children to bed,” Woolf said.
“Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman,” she said. And she talked about how many books are and have been written about women, and by men, so that the women in books are reduced to glorified and romanticized prizes, with their daily struggles ignored. She imagined what would happen if the only time men were represented in literature was as the lovers of women, “how literature would suffer … (it) would be incredibly impoverished.”
A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction, she concluded. What do you think?