These seven essays make for entertaining reading. It is pleasant to be in the company of a critical mind. They demonstrate Virginia Woolf at her most disputatious. This is because she was often responding to irritating examples of patriarchal attitudes. Nonetheless, she retained her delicate touch in some of these pieces.
The feminism of Woolf was complex. She had some sympathy for working class women, but her main focus was to encourage women to succeed in the bourgeois professions. Nor did she perceive all the values of the female aristocracy as outmoded. Her ideology was very much of its time.
Woolf was on solid ground when she defended the creativity of women against the sexist assertions of Arnold Bennett. She pointed out that women had made massive progress as soon as they had enjoyed access to education and indicated that in antiquity there was at least one great female poet. For once, her passion exceeded the quality of her prose. Nevertheless, she put her explanations for inequality across with some precision:
“The fact, as I think we shall agree, is that women from the earliest times to the present day have brought forth the entire population of the universe. This occupation has taken much time and strength.”