Two Kinds of Negations with Subtle, yet Important, Differences

The public as a vital (perhaps central?) dimension of literary experience and yet hostile force is the point Woolf pressures in her except of “Shakespeare’s Sister.” Woolf frames the two greatest immaterial difficulties the public represents to the male and female geniuses in the following: “The world did not say to her as it said to [Keats and Flaubert and other men of genius], Write if you choose; it makes no difference to me. The world said with a guffaw, Write? What’s the good of your writing?” (601).

Here, Woolf frames the different experienced relationships between the public and the gendered writers as well as projects an objective to writing depending on the sex of the author. For the man, the adversary of indifference indicates the objective of writing (for men) is to make a reaction and/or incite change. Woolf scrutinizes this as a position of privilege by presenting the image of the female author who cannot be admitted into literature at all. The female author envies the man of genius for having the opportunity to advance onto the world stage; yet, if there is no audience, how can any work live? The “guffaw” Woolf inserts is the rebuff of an egotistical, patriarchal society, yet the recognition of the individual, if even through the limitations of the sex to participate freely, excites the type of energy that the male author desires. Since the “guffaw” bruises the ego in assuming female writing cannot be useful–it cannot produce a “good” affect on society–the objective of writing for women is insinuated to be (initially, at least) utility. Being barred from the world stage is therefore the adversary, even though the public is, in fact, incited emotionally to “guffaw.”