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.