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.