Virginia Woolf: If Shakespeare had had a sister…


Woolf imagines that Shakespeare had a sister with a gift equal to his.  “Any woman born with a great gift in the sixteenth century would certainly have gone crazed, shot herself, or ended her days in some lonely cottage outside the village, half witch, half wizard, feared and mocked at. For it needs little skill in psychology to be sure that a highly gifted girl who had tried to use her gift for poetry would have been so thwarted and hindered by other people, so tortured and pulled asunder by her own contrary instincts, that she must have lot her health and sanity to a certainty.” She speculates that a girl thus gifted could not have “walked to London and stood at a stage door…without doing herself a violence,” seeming to suggest she would have been sexually molested. “Chastity had then, it has even now, a religious importance in a woman’s life, and has so wrapped itself round with nerves and instincts that to cut it free and bring it to the light of day demands courage of the rarest. To have lived a free life in London in the sixteenth century would have meant for a woman who was poet and playwright a nervous stress and dilemma which might well have killed her. It was the relic of the sense of chastity that dictated anonymity to women even so late as the nineteenth century.” She mentions George Sand, and George Eliot, “all the victims of inner strife as their writing prove, sought ineffectively to veil themselves by using the name of a man. …publicity in women is detestable. Anonymity runs in their blood.

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