Maggie Humm

Maggie Humm helps illuminate the way Virginia Woolf utilizes photography in Three Guineas, and I found her analysis particualrly insightful, especially with the inital highligting of specularity. In combining two perspectives of memory through photographs, both private and public, I can see how that combination would invoke a deepened sense of empathy from the audience. Humm references the depiction of deceased children in one of the absent photgraphs in Three Guineas, including a quote from Woolf in regards to it which reads, "those photographs are not an argument; they are simply a crude statement of fact addressed to the eye" (201). I felt that this was particularly powerful, and I looked at it a little differently after Humm's reading of it. Of all the pacifist literature that exists, a lot of really good and powerful literature, I think images will always just pull at readers differently, providing an added lens which won't be overlooked. For me, I find images of anything harmful or sad in nature to be difficult to look at, and I often try not to do so unless I have to. However, I do think that Woolf did a great job of appealing to the raw humanity of the audience, and I see its importance in general, especially as a statement which touches on anti-war sentiments. Even though this was more of an image description than an outright visual, readers can still picture it well. It still invokes pain and a sense of grief. It does not require extensive explanation, it just speaks for itself. I'm interested in learning more about the other functions this absence of photos has. This idea of memory being captured through photos, and creating a moment which just hangs in time as a still, could also be viewed as modernist in the sense that it also has that sense of urgency and temporality to it. Although the photos are portraying the past, they're able to exist in the now as people view them. They're consequential. I'm interested in the discussion of memory as it relates to photographs and image descriptions.  

The Psychology of Propaganda Atlantic Monthly 1938 (Blog 6 of 8)


   This article by Jean Prevost was very interesting, and much of what the author had to say reminded me of Virginia Woolf’s “Three Guineas”. Both authors take their time discussing and dismantling the idea of propaganda, and how it can be used to build up false narratives. While Virginia Woolf went after fascists, Prevost takes a different track and talks about the Anti-Kipling movement at English schools, and how students were struggling with old ideas of tradition. Perhaps they thought of Kipling’s books as propaganda for British colonialism and wanted to rebel against what they saw as the ‘old guard’ especially after WWI created such a schism between classical and modern ideals. 

I’m not sure what to make of his stance on Americans seeing Uncle Sam as a ‘displeasing figure.’ Perhaps the ones that fought in WW1 and felt they were manipulated? Not sure. 

   He hints at the disgruntlement of the Germans after their treaty and mentions their aggressiveness and bitter rancor. I’m assuming this is part of what lead to Hitler’s rise and the use of propaganda against Jews and militant advertising to prop up the German state. 

On page 677, Prevost says, “Likewise, a regime which does away with free criticism within its country will look for it abroad, seeking at the same time to change it through propaganda.” 

   This seems quite true of the time, as the fascist state of the time, Germany and Italy not only wanted to control their own people with an iron fist and state-run media, but eventually sought to influence and conquer other territories to spread their influence and power. When lies keep building, so too does each dictator want to build on their own carefully constructed image and make their status unquestionable. So, the lies must spread to more places, and these new places and information must be controlled. And with that also comes the control of new people. And on and on it goes until fought against or dismantled by the truth. 


Harnessing Stereotypes – Woolf and Steinbeck (7/8)

The inclusion of Steinbeck’s “The Harness” alongside Woolf’s “Women Must Weep- Or Unite Against War” feels conflicting. Where Woolf’s essay withholds few punches against male-dominance culture, “The Harness” responds with an overtly literal symbol in the inverse: the protagonist (Peter) is forced to wear a “web harness that pull[s] his shoulders back” (Steinbeck 744), a contraption that his wife Emma forces him to wear as to appear to be stately and masculine. This literal imprisonment is cast off when Emma, the stereotypical sickly, frail wife, dies from one of her many illnesses. Peter swears to never wear it again, professing his newfound freedom in anger-fueled chords reminiscent of a man starving: “I’m hungry for everything, for a lot of everything” (Steinbeck 745). While both pieces briefly touch on a woman’s domestic influence, “The Harness” slides the heavier weight to a woman’s control over men. For Peter, Emma’s death meant freedom in a myriad of senses. He no longer wears the harness, he’s free to drink and trudge in mud, and he can finally gamble on his sweet pea crop. 

Having read Steinbeck’s “The Chrysanthemums,” which is also set in Salinas Valley, it wouldn’t be fair to say that Steinbeck generally portrays gender this way. In the aforementioned text, the naive protagonist is painted sympathetically when a strange man discards the flowers she holds in such high esteem, leaving them abandoned on the side of the road. In this piece, Steinbeck shows the plight of a woman’s desire to bring about peace, to encourage others to plant seeds that might grow into something beautiful, but it’s left in a heap by the men who purely seek transaction. Her innocence likewise thrown away. “The Harness” does little to generate sympathy for Emma, though, aside from being perpetually sick. Perhaps Steinbeck sought to portray complicated relationships, instead. For Emma may tightly lock down her partner, but Peter’s new opportunities after her death end in sadness, the character reflecting that he ought to install lights in his house because “Emma always wanted electric lights” (Steinbeck 749). Peter wants to make his wife happy just once more. He misses her because he truly loved her, despite feelings of confinement.  

A more metaphorical reading might posit that there was never a harness whatsoever. Emma’s requests don’t seem especially ridiculous, outside of wearing the harness, of course. She wanted him to stand up straight, be respectful in public, limit his use of alcohol, keep the floors clean, and operate judiciously with his crops–their sole income. Perhaps psychologically, Peter felt as though he wore a harness, since his impulses scraped against her desires. In this lens, Peter casts off the harness as one might cast off a ring, never to put it on again but always to know that some part of their person will always belong to someone else.  

If Woolf and Steinbeck seem to clash here, it’s because they do. But they also converge on many points. They both stress the importance of influence in the domestic relationship. They both seek to dismantle unfair control. And they both attempt to deconstruct enforced gender roles.  

Absent Photographs (7/8)

Maggie Humm's essay focuses a lot on the absent photographs within Woolf's Three Guineas. A lot of the narration centers on people (mostly women) in some form of distress. For Woolf, much of the distress is financial, but she also acknowledges the people dying in the Spanish Civil War. Instead of using images of those situations, however, Woolf uses images of men in power while in their ceremonial and required attire. While the scenes in SPain may have been described thoroughly, as Humm points out, Woolf draws attention to the root cause behind it all by only showing images of those in power. While it can be argued that Woolf is removing attention from those who are suffering, I find it more interesting that Woolf is placing blame and directing attention to who ought to be making decisions to improve situations. I have tried to think about how adding in those pictures from the Spanish Civil War and the streets of England would do, but I do not think they would add much. The ones Woolf includes speak directly to her argument and provide prompts for readers to think about. 

These images are also connected to memory, so putting these images of men  in power in Three Guineas actually starts to form these new connections in reference to the pictures. I did not know who the men were prior to reading this novel, but they are now connected in my mind to the words Woolf wrote. She, in a way, shifts the legacy of these people and institutions by giving people a new way to associate with them and placing their image into a new context (especially a critical context). This decision also kind of makes Woolf's choice of excluding the other images a little more clear. She avoids altering the meaning and associations of those in distress by keeping their images clear of associations with her words.

Three Guineas and Woolf’s Spatial Imagination

A Room of One’s Own was the first Virginia Woolf text I read and, as the title implies, it was invested in the importance of spatiality to Woolf’s program of equality. This spatial imagination is just as pronounced in Three Guineas, with Woolf using proximities, cartographies, geographies, and movements to situate her addressee into the spaces necessary for Woolf to answer how it is that women could help prevent war while existing in the structures of patriarchy.

For one, Woolf plays with the binaries of inside/outside, public/private to discuss how we need to look outwards from these spaces and see their relation in order to transcend the structures they construct. I’m drawn to one particular quote towards the end of the essay, where Woolf writes: “For such will be our ruin if you, in immensity of your public abstractions forget the private figure, or if we in the intensity of our private emotions forget the public world. Both houses will be ruined, the public and the private, the material and the spiritual, for they are inseparably connected” (169). Woolf advocates to keep an eye towards both the inside and outside; anything less would be to perpetuate the current systems of oppression.

We’ve also talked about the importance of spatiality and the transatlantic throughout this semester, and Woolf places us in and on these recurrent transatlantic spatial motifs such as bridges, rivers, war zones, and government buildings. One especially recurrent setting is the bridge as a point of precipice and vantage. From these bridges, Woolf encourages a transitional thinking and places the addressee in a liminal state in order for Woolf’s investigation of patriarchy to have rhetorical resonance.

Woolf also demonstrates a mastery over the techniques of proximity by her recurrent setting of the reader at the metaphorical “table” where her pictures are laid before the reader—pictures augmented at times with reproductions of photographs and at other times existing as a solely linguistic visual. Woolf is able to slide her reader from their seat at the table in front of her to the war-torn streets of Spain, to the processions of the emergent Nazi regime, and throughout the professional and collegiate spaces of England. This use of proximity, which is underscored by the intimacy of the epistolary form, allows Woolf to create a stronger resonance in her explorations of what conditions would be necessary to exist in the spatial topography of England for women to help prevent war. This spatial metaphor allows Woolf to engage in both the intimacies of her letter-writing address and the macro, international scale that allows her inter-personal argumentation to move from a discussion of a specific request from a treasurer to one that encompasses and analysis, critique, and hypothesis for how an international patriarchy functions and may possibly be dismantled.

Virginia Woolf

I enjoy the various examples Woolf gives to provoke thoughts on the war, like the Wilfred Owen lines or letters from soldiers in the beginning. Her doing this aids tremendously in dissecting sentiments towards war, and where those sentiments may stem from depending on who you are. She writes, "let us then refer the question of the rightness or wrongness of war to those who make morality their profession - the clergy" (19). She goes on to say that they (clergymen) are also of two minds, and no singular opinion or answer prevails on the topic of war. She does include that one Bishop of London claims that "the real danger to the peace of the world today were the pacifists. Bad as war was dishonour was far worse." Another Bishop was a self-proclaimed pacifist. Woolf highlights that there is not a job, role, or indicator of position in life that directs peoples' will regarding war. She identifies comparisons and examples like these throughout. 

Even though I agree that no group of people is of one mind because they are a men, women, or clergymen - I do see how certain patriarchal standards and norms very easily, and even involuntarily, affect the perception of war in the West. The Bishop's quote shows a common sentiment, that even if war is awful, the idea of dishonoring oneself or one's country is worse. To me, that idea is enough to ignite a flame within a large part of the population, because in society there exists this unspoken rule that one must prove themselves, often times physically, to be considered a man. If we apply that to an entire country, then it can be expected that people will want to prove themselves, even more so for those who are patriotic. Often times, that flame is fanned by people of higher status who want to go to war for unseen reasons, whether for financial gain or political agenda, though that is not always the case, it does exist. Regardless, going to war still calls for young people to answer a call which could subject them to injury, death, and a myriad of other consequences of war. I can see how people might see where they come from as an extension of themsleves. If the heteronormative standards that an entire society abides by calls for men to be protectors, to defend their honor, then going to war can certainly fall under that category. In addition to societal expectations at play, war is historic and extends so far into the past that people see it as a necessity of life, one which has always existed. Woolf's book has reminded me of just how layered this argument on war truly is. 

Three Guineas (Blog 6/8)

Three Guineas is an essay novel where Virginia Woolf is responding to an unknown person that asked for her help in preventing war. The unknown person suggests that women can help in three ways, and I find all these, like Woolf, to be ridiculous. 1) write letters of protest to newspapers; 2) join an anti-war society; and 3) donate money to anti-war causes. These suggestions from the unknown person show their lack of reality and inability to comprehend what steps need to be done to prevent war. Maybe it was mentioned that the correspondent was a man or woman, but I don’t remember reading it in the essay novel. It leads me to think that the correspondent is a man unaware of the limits that women have in society and how ineffective this is in preventing war. 

While Woolf fills a book with her essay response, her repetitive argument for why the correspondent ideas won’t work is repeated over and over again. This repetitive argument shows that society will have to be reminded of the unfairness of women again and again. This form of writing gets boring for me to read, but i get why it was written like this and why Woolf needed to repeat herself. 


Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas, or She Kept the Receipts (6/8)

If Virginia Woolf is any gender-specific trope, it is the exhausted, overburdened woman, and she would surely expose the underpinnings of that stereotype as well. Woolf is tired of war, and she’s more tired of excuses; her lengthy response demonstrates just how frustrated. For Woolf, societal frameworks are merely just that: frameworks–a subjective construct from which men during her historical moment may subjugate women. “Oh, what could we possibly do?” the perpetrators of war insist; so, she turns to the receipts: scrapbooks consisting of “clippings on war, the rise of fascism, and the treatment of women in the labor force, education and the church” (xlv). She turns “What can we do?” into “Look what we have done!”.  

Woolf’s response in length alone is a rhetorical device. As the introduction posits, the wealth of documentation is enough to overwhelm the average reader, especially one reading during her moment. Rather than citing research papers or scholarly articles, Woolf shifts her focus to the community and asks, what is actually going on in her social sphere? How can a social/emotional understanding contribute to overarching change? To answer, Woolf doesn’t simply pull the receipts, she organizes them in a scrapbook; she creates a material artifact as a new model of understanding the world, so she can “‘Use her own reason, and come to her own conclusions” (xvii). And in the scrapbook’s assembly, she follows her very same rule from page 114: “Read at least three different papers, compare at least three different versions of the same fact” (Woolf). Woolf teaches the reader how to conduct viable research by modeling the pedagogy herself. She embodies her first guinea, education, and in so gives a lesson to her readers. If they are concerned with preventing war without, they should be concerned with education within, first.  

Moreover, the scrapbook echoes Rebecca West’s experience watching the death of the King of Yugoslavia on film. The rise of photography/film reconstitutes Romantic depictions of war, violence, and horror into “crude statement[s] of fact addressed to the eye” (Woolf 14). Aesthetically, the scrapbooks help, also, to present a clearer image of war. Not only do images justify the reality to which Woolf points, but by situating biography, news clippings, photographs, and letters in relationship to each other, one can start to see the pattern emerge: women are criminally mistreated, underpaid, and perversely controlled, thus the war violence continues.  

Disastrous Unanimity

“If we encourage the daughters to enter the professions without making any conditions as to the way in which the professions are to be practiced shall we not be doing our best to stereotype the old tune which human nature, like a gramophone whose needle has stuck, is now grinding out with such disastrous unanimity? ‘Here we go round the mulberry tree, the mulberry tree, the mulberry tree. Give it all to me, give it all to me, all to me’” (71-2).

I am drawn to the quote mostly for its use of the gramophone as instrument of destruction—a flattening tool. But then again, I’m not sure if Woolf is suggesting that the gramophone simile is about destruction but historical loops and revolutions. Is she referring to the grooves in records becoming worn over repeated listens, or is she referring to a broken record, forever looping? For me her simile imagines the destructive needle, reckless as a wrecking ball, defacing the grooves that give the record meaning into “disastrous unanimity.”

Of course, the needle is “stuck,” which, along with the repeated “round the mulberry tree, give it all to me” suggest that the record is looping. The grooves in a record aren’t destroyed in a loop, though (at least most of them, I think). So instead of the physical space of the grooves being affected, the record’s playback—its time—is affected. This is likely an arbitrary distinction, and I’ve pushed Woolf’s simile too far. My point is, while using a musical simile as she criticizes chauvinistic professionalism, Woolf also makes a deft point about recorded music. She suggests a recorded song is a mere stereotype that at once can suggest a flattening of time and space.

I’m interested in how this take, coupled with others’ takes, like Eliot or even Adorno, think about the novelty of recorded music (distinct from radio) before almost all music was electrified, amplified, or otherwise technologized as it is today.

3 Guineas (Blog 5 of 8)

Virginia Woolf makes the case that she agrees with the sentiments of her countrymen on the desire not to be at war. 

“And we echo your words. War is an abomination; a barbarity; war must be stopped.” (14) 

However, she also does some leading by the hand as it is impossible to help in the effort for women: 

“We have no weapon with which to enforce our will.” (16) 

As women are valued less in society at that time, so too will their voice and opinion also be less valued. Empowerment is important because without it women have no leverage with which to how society will act. Virginia Woolf goes on to compare being a woman to slavery, having no rights in important decision making, and the ill effects that can have. It's hard to imagine a woman at this time period, especially Virginia Woolf, comparing herself to a slave. Is this overdramatic? They do have some things in common, and could be treated terribly, but the stigma is very different.  

I also wonder if the timing of this book was really the best on the eve of the war. While the comparisons are apt, war is such a massive abyss that everyone was sucked in, and women’s rights were kind of swept to the side until the fight was picked up afterwards. Was she judged harshly for writing this? Would it have been better for the suffragette movement if she timed the book after the war instead? 

I’m also interested in the idea of treating people like currency, guineas versus a sixpence. One has more value and weight than the other. So often this happens in real life, even now. We’re judged by how much money we make or our success rather than if we are good people or contribute to the community.