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The Female Voice

1. What is it?

In literature, the female voice is the providing of a genuine female point of view. It generally looks at society as it is experienced by women, and expresses what women feel about it.

Often the female voice is seen as a counterbalance to patriarchal society.

The female voice is not the same as feminism: whereas the latter concerns equality and women’s rights, the former is the first-hand giving a women’s views and beliefs. The two may overlap.

2. How is it made?

Authentic female writer.An element of social commentary.
 Female characters thinking and speaking with genuine female perceptions.Comparison with men’s positions in society.

3. Examples in literature

A Room of One’s Own 
by Virginia Woolf

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Title: A Room of One’s Own
Author: Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)
Published: 1929
Language: English
Genre: Non-fiction; essay; feminism
Synopsis: Woolf argues that women must have space to write, both physically and within the literary market. She notes that writing is closed to women who cannot afford a private room, and social expectations deny women the time and space to grow creative thoughts. In a wider sense, women are denied the education needed to write, and no history of women’s writing has been created. She questions whether ‘Judith Shakespeare’ would have the same opportunities as William Shakespeare.

Excerpt:

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 to-night, for they are washing up the dishes and putting the children to bed. But she lives; for great poets do not die; they are continuing presences; they need only the opportunity to walk among us in the flesh. This opportunity, as I think, it is now coming within your power to give her. For my belief is that if we live another century or so—I am talking of the common life which is the real life and not of the little separate lives which we live as individuals—and have five hundred a year each of us and rooms of our own; if we have the habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think; if we escape a little from the common sitting-room and see human beings not always in their relation to each other but in relation to reality; and the sky, too, and the trees or whatever it may be in themselves; if we look past Milton’s bogey, for no human being should shut out the view; if we face the fact, for it is a fact, that there is no arm to cling to, but that we go alone and that our relation is to the world of reality and not only to the world of men and women, then the opportunity will come and the dead poet who was Shakespeare’s sister will put on the body which she has so often laid down. Drawing her life from the lives of the unknown who were her forerunners, as her brother did before her, she will be born. As for her coming without that preparation, without that effort on our part, without that determination that when she is born again she shall find it possible to live and write her poetry, that we cannot expect, for that would he impossible. But I maintain that she would come if we worked for her, and that so to work, even in poverty and obscurity, is worth while.

Skimming, Scanning and Basic Comprehension

1. When the writer uses ‘we’, to whom does this refer?
2. Why is the writer discussing Shakespeare’s sister?
3. Where is Shakespeare’s sister buried? 
Identifying Techniques

4. What narrative voice is used in this piece?
5. What method of persuasion is the writer using to make her point? 
Text Analysis

6. How does the writer connect Shakespeare’s sister, a single person, and the lack of opportunities for women generally?
7. What does the writer mean by saying ‘Drawing her life from the lives of the unknown who were her forerunners, as her brother did before her, she will be born.’?
8. What does the writer mean in the line ‘we go alone and that our relation is to the world of reality and not only to the world of men and women’?
9. The text is titled A Room of One’s Own. What part of this excerpt discusses the importance of a private room? Why is such a room important? 
Theme Exploration

10. In what ways does Virginia Woolf represent the female voice? What does she have to say about the female experience? 
Provoking Opinion

11. In your opinion, is the example of Shakespeare’s sister an effective example?
12. Do you believe the problems discussed by the writer are still true? Do women continue to not have their views sufficiently represented?
13. Do you agree with the idea that creativity and expression needs personal space?

Pride and Prejudice 
by Jane Austen

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Title: Pride and Prejudice
Author: Jane Austen (1775-1817)
Published: 1813
Language: English
Genre: Fiction; novel; family drama; novel of manners
Plot: Mr Bennett holds an estate, but having five daughters and no sons means he has no male heir to inherit the property and his family will be poor when he dies. His wife has therefore made it her life ambition to marry off the girls. Despite her mother’s zealous promotion of marriage as a means of achieving security, Elizabeth Bennett is uninterested in a union with men she feels are flawed. Yet one of them, Mr Darcy, she may have misjudged.
Setting: Middle England, based on Hertfordshire; early 19th century
Characters: Elizabeth Bennett; Fitzwilliam Darcy; Mr Bennett; Mrs Bennett; Jane Bennett; Lydia Bennett; Charles Bingley

Excerpt from Chapter 1:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of someone or other of their daughters.
“My dear Mr. Bennet,” said his lady to him one day, “have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?”
Mr. Bennet replied that he had not.
“But it is,” returned she, “for Mrs. Long has just been here, and she told me all about it.”
Mr. Bennet made no answer.
“Do you want to know who has taken it?” cried his wife impatiently.
“You want to tell me, and I have no objection to hearing it.”
This was invitation enough.
“Why, my dear, you must know, Mrs. Long says that Netherfield is taken by a young man of large fortune from the north of England; that he came down on Monday in a chaise and four to see the place, and was so much delighted with it, that he agreed with Mr. Morris immediately; that he is to take possession before Michaelmas, and some of his servants are to be in the house by the end of next week.”
“What is his name?”
“Bingley.”
“Is he married or single?”
“Oh! single, my dear, to be sure! A single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for our girls!”

1. Mrs Bennet views rich single men as

a) representing an unfair patriarchy
b) damaged by their lack of a companion
c) attractive fantasies for her own pleasure
d) potential husbands for her daughters
e) lucky to be free of responsibility

Answer
d
2. From the given passage it could be surmised that Pride and Prejudice deals with

a) society’s relationships and expectations
b) a family tragedy
c) citizens and authority
d) a tumultuous relationship
e) the start of a revolution

Answer
a
3. Mr Bennet’s attitude towards his wife’s conversation could be described as

a) cantankerous
b) belittling
c) callous
d) obstinate
e) indifferent

Answer
e
4. The narrative tone of Pride and Prejudice is

a) action-based
b) gently comedic
c) morose
d) mysterious
e) hyperbolic

Answer
b
5. Which of the following is not true about Pride and Prejudice in comparison to A Room of One’s Own?

a) It is less vocally feminist
b) It uses third person narration
c) It includes ridiculous characters
d) It does not concern itself with women’s financial affairs
e) It is fiction

Answer
d
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