Virginia Woolf and Doris Lessing: A Study of the Emergence of the Feminine Perspective in Literature
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Literature is the result of the synthesis of experience and insight. An author may have tremendous insight enabling him to perceive in specificity a universality that speaks to all of mankind. But it is the specific experience that acts as the proverbial food for thought. Consequently, literature is frequently subject to the same social and cultural prejudices that shape the experience of authors. One of the most historically prevalent of these prejudices is the presumption about the effect of gender upon the needs and capacities of the individual. A male author's experience and therefore, his literature, is colored by these presumptions about his masculinity. Attempts to broaden his perspective to include the feminine experience can only result in the masculine perception of femininity. The beginnings of the opportunity for women to enjoy artistic freedom equivalent to that of men, makes possible the addition of the feminine perspective to the literary tradition. This addition increases the potential of literature to be truly enlightening of the totality of human experience. The enrichment of this tradition is one of content more than style. The styles of female authors vary as widely as those of male authors. But female characters created by female authors have a depth and a reality that can only come from an intimate understanding of the feminine experience. Virginia Woolf and Doris Lessing are representative of this emerging feminine literature. Their styles are widely diverse. Woolf, through stream of consciousness, emphasizes the process of thought in her characters. In contrast, Lessing uses a third person narrator to convey a full range of physical and social, as well as intellectual, experience in her development of characters. But despite these and other stylistic differences, Woolf and Lessing merge at the point of expressing the range of feminine responses to the societal definition of woman. The same anger, frustration, weakness and strength emerge through their various female characters. And through these women, Woolf and Lessing speak to men and women alike of the pain and limitation that result from society's definition of sexual roles. The beginning of an androgynous literary tradition is an important step in the process of increasing human understanding and decreasing limitation in both art and life.