The gendered economics of literature

“…it is unthinkable that any woman in Shakespeare’s day should have had Shakespeare’s genius. For genius like Shakespeare’s is not born among labouring, uneducated, servile people. …Yet genius of a sort must have existed among women as it must have existed among the working classes” (600)

“One could not but play for a moment with the thought of what might have happened if Charlotte Bronte had possessed say three hundred a year — but thefoolish woman sold the copyright of of her novels outright for fifteen hundred pounds” (603)

In the “Shakespere’s Sister” and “Austen-Bronte-Eliot” passage of Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, a trope that particularly stood out to me was Woolf’s depiction of economic discrepancies of gender. More specifically, women are more or less members of a lower strata. Cultural ideas of women may be the source of this economic distinction, but it is important to note culture’s inseparable connection to labor and economy. The relationship between cultural product (literature) and economy that Woolf depicts is particularly intriguing in identifying the relationship between two concepts we sometimes distinguish from one another, and further, Woolf adds the dimension of gender as an economic variable. (Sociologist Vivianna Zelizer offers three different possibilities for this relationship between culture and economy, all of which can be picked out of Woolf’s writing.)

A little more concerning the first excerpt from “Shakespeare’s Sister” – I think this idea of the economically disenfranchised being incapable of “genius” might be problematic. Of course, it depends on the definition of “genius”. This is part of the eternal nature vs. nurture dichotomy. Here, Woolf seems to take an almost solely “nurture” approach, which is certainly supported by the value of an individual’s cognition being determined by social structure, especially in terms of cultural production (“genius” being defined as far as literature goes seems hugely subject to the social, especially in terms of education). Nonetheless, the idea of “genius” may not be totally nailed down by socio-cultural values.