Bodily Territories: Lust, Landscape and the Struggle for Female Space in Woolf's The Voyage Out and Atwood's Surfacing
In her lengthy critical essay A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf inquires into the absence of the female genius in the literary canon. As she mourns this lack of feminine representation on her own bookshelves—“looking about the shelves for books that were not there”—Woolf questions the opposition between what she refers to as the lyrically “suggestive” female sentence, and the dominant, subject driven, “I” of the male sentence (AROO, 45, 98). Woolf carves out a creative space for feminine narrative and focuses primarily on the landscape that is dominated by the “I”. This “I” representing both the masculine epic narrative and a metaphorical phallus, obliterates the surrounding landscape of the novel. This landscape signifies the role of women in literature; ever present, yet, not at the forefront, or well developed. In A Room of One’s Own, Woolf encounters a masculine text with palpable disdain. As her hypothetical villain “Mr. A.” composes a novel that serves as an example of the metaphorical dominant signifier “I”, Woolf, with desperation, attempts to see beyond the “I” and to read the landscape behind: “But after reading a chapter or two a shadow seemed to lie across the page. It was a straight dark bar, a shadow shaped something like the letter “I”. One began dodging this way and that to catch a glimpse of the landscape behind it. Whether that was indeed a tree or a woman walking I was not quite sure” (100). Because it represents the women that remain hidden in an opaque shroud of historical non representation, this landscape becomes territory for the modern woman to reclaim. This landscape, not merely a literary space, is metaphorically linked to the territorial claiming of the female body due to patriarchal domination. The female body manifests itself throughout literature as a blank canvass onto which future generations are inscribed. This body, much like the body of a literary text, insures immortality to the author. It is in Woolf‟s own writing that the landscape is at the forefront and it is the female body that she seeks to reclaim in her first novel The Voyage Out. Woolf unknowingly passed this torch, this desire to explore literary and bodily territory, to Canadian Author Margaret Atwood. It is in her second novel, Surfacing, that Atwood presents a thematically similar take on territorial struggles in the framework of modern marriage. Both women, though separated by decades of supposed feminist progress, reveal that marriage remains a game of territorial occupation.
DeBerry, Tealia, "Bodily Territories: Lust, Landscape and the Struggle for Female Space in Woolf's The Voyage Out and Atwood's Surfacing" (2007). Graduate English Association New Voices Conference 2007. 11.
Presented at Graduate English Association New Voices Conference 2007, pp. 1-9.