(Original Review, 2002-06-18)
I’m probably in a minority, but I find Woolf hugely overrated. A snob in the way that Wilde was a snob before her, sucking up to the wealthy and titled and, like Wilde, happy to be unfaithful if it ingratiated her with the gentry. People go on about ‘a room of one’s own’ but have they read the whole piece? She thought only a few superior personages should be allowed to write, and then only for a select audience. Her constant name dropping in Orlando is embarrassing. She sneered at Joyce. Her real problem was that she had nothing to write about except who was going to buy the flowers or what dress to wear to a party. She had no experience of the real world, yet looked down her nose at DH L, Joyce, and the rest who did, and could write about it superbly well. For a definitive put down of her Bloomsbury set, read Mansfield’s short story Marriage a la Mode. It nails them superbly. I've always found her deeply unconvincing as a novelist (I really like some of her essays), too. Mrs. Dalloway is the best of the lot, but that's not saying much is it? I mean, it may be her masterpiece...
I doubt we can retain the same personhood if we change sex completely, although full memory of our last guise would be retained and we would still be far from becoming a thinking-female within a male body changed into a corporal woman. The success of the gender transformation would indeed be measured in terms of how much the person 'grows' a feminine mind - too late for the brain perhaps to 're-transform' and live through a girlhood (if one were born a man), but the biochemical determination of the mind still remains very much in play regarding the possibility of dual gender ontologies.
What, indeed, then is a biologically female mind in contrast to a male one? Is the existence of a fully feminine mind determined by biology then a challenge to those who stage a significant ontological difference/distance between gender and biological sex?
If one is a feminist seeking absolute equality is one also seeking to prove no essential difference between the biological construction of the male and female brain, or 'mind' to take the notion of the body-thinking machine as a wholly immanent system?
Woolf's book appears to be about genderless love - the Platonic Idea of 'Love' - and the fluidity of sexual difference. All such projects are legitimate but the most honest claim of a transgender subject is that they are not at all interested in discussing sexual desire, even to the point that they are not at all interesting in group with LGB (this is one group of TG subjects with a strong political position). Woolf is very last generation then - the transgender subject no wishes to be recognised for the simultaneity of feminine biology and female subjecthood alongside the male organic system. Dual mind/body immanence creating a split thinking system? We could understand this as absolute chemico-biological fluidity of the sophisticated human machine in enabling all the feedback systems to produce a feminine mind simultaneous to a male thinking organ (and vice-versa).
But what do I know…? And as always the right to free beer for everyone must be a must.