In the modern period, Virginia Woolf was the first to examine from an avowedly female perspective the conventional views of what is held to be great literature. In A Room of One's Own, Woolf questions whether the assumptions and institutions of literary convention are adequate to explain the undeniable fact that most of the world's profound literature has been created by men. Tying together economics and literature, she notes that the lack of a profound female literary tradition can be traced directly to the economic powerlessness of women throughout history; their social responsibilities, set for them by men, precluded the collective development of their genius. On this view, the history of female literary accomplishment becomes an exception that proves the rule.
In the first place, to have a room of her own, let
alone a quiet room or a soundproof room, was out of
the question, unless her parents were exceptionally
rich or very noble, even to the beginning of the
nineteenth century. . . . [H]er pin money . . .
depended on the good will of her father.1
Pampered, provided for, womenor at least those of Woolf's social class, with whom she appears to have been principally concernedhad no capacity for authentic artistic creation and especially no opportunity to create a tradition of art. The lack of such a tradition "must have told enormously upon the writing of women" (Woolf 80). The key to it seems to be to "transmit emotion without impediment" (Woolf 102), and so Woolf asserts a tradition in which feminist writers take to task a world in which this has been possible for only half the population. One senses, too, that Woolf intends to position herself at the start of this tradition.
Undoubtedly, Willa Cather was aware of her contemporary Woolf. But how would Woolf explain Cather, magazine editorturned novelist, a selfsupporting woma...