Books

On Virginia Woolf

September 21, 2020

hey to another episode of Emily, fourteen, writing semi intellectual articles she’ll definitely be ashamed of one day. however, this day is yet to come so I will continue murdering my keyboard like the literal troll I am.

where was I?
Virginia. beloved mrs. Woolf.
founder of modern feminism, queer icon and brilliant writer. so what’s the tea about her?
what’s her cryptonide?
well, my dear friends and enemies, children of the moon and lovers of the forests, she, while married to a jew herself, was awfully antisemitic.
there is no other word for it. but since no one is willing to believe such seemingly unreasoned statements without a proof, here’s the most known anti-semitic quote (tigger warning)

I do not like the Jewish voice; I do not like the Jewish laugh.

1938

also: the wikipedia article on her anti-semitic views

Though accused of anti-semitism,[354] the treatment of Judaism and Jews by Woolf is far from straightforward.[355] She was happily married to a Jewish man but often wrote about Jewish characters using stereotypes and generalisations. For instance, she described some of the Jewish characters in her work in terms that suggested they were physically repulsive or dirty. On the other hand, she could criticise her own views: “How I hated marrying a Jew — how I hated their nasal voices and their oriental jewellery, and their noses and their wattles — what a snob I was: for they have immense vitality, and I think I like that quality best of all” (Letter to Ethel Smyth 1930).[356][262][357] These attitudes have been construed to reflect, not so much anti-semitism, but tribalism; she married outside her social grouping, and Leonard Woolf, too, expressed misgivings about marrying a gentile. Leonard, “a penniless Jew from Putney”, lacked the material status of the Stephens and their circle.[354]
While travelling on a cruise to Portugal, she protested at finding “a great many Portuguese Jews on board, and other repulsive objects, but we keep clear of them”.[358]Furthermore, she wrote in her diary: “I do not like the Jewish voice; I do not like the Jewish laugh.” Her 1938 short story, The Duchess and the Jeweller (originally titled The Duchess and the Jew) has been considered anti-semitic.[359]

the reason why I chose to write these very lines is a very interesting discussion a had on instagram about this quite sensitive topic. however, I felt like I needed to clarify some things and thought an article would be the best way to do so.

well, we can’t judge past art from todays point — people were just different

this was one of the most used arguments, which always sort of shocked me.
yeah, Virginia Woolf lived some time ago. Yes, the public opinions were different, and of course had their impacts on our author. but that’s not an excuse, its barely an explanation.
also–how not judge? it’s what humans do to reflect, to learn, to realize, to keep things alive and interesting. and if we don’t judge her thoughts, if we don’t realize how wrong some of her believes were, we start to internalize her hate. and we don’t want that, do we?

and what to do now? boycott her work?

while I especially clarified this point in my instagram stories, some of you were so ready to scream, that you didn’t even listen.
no. I definitely don’t want you, me or anyone to boycott her novels.
they have so much to offer, so much to teach us.
orlando is one of the best queer books we have.
she was a revolutionary and you cannot imagine the love I have for her.
yet, we need to reflect on what she believed outside of that and know how it might influenced her books meaning how that might influence you.
we need to talk about it.
which we do right now so thumbs up!!

but… hitler hated her! and she changed her opinions!

yes he did but that’s not a free ticket to be as antisemitic as you want.
and no, she did not.
quite a few of you claimed she changed, realized her wrong doing and did better, quoting her 1930 statement from a letter to her friend Ethel:

(…) what a snob I was: for they have immense vitality, and I think I like that quality best of all (…)

this is out of context and also simply wrong, for the whole sentence was

How I hated marrying a Jew — how I hated their nasal voices and their oriental jewellery, and their noses and their wattles — what a snob I was: for they have immense vitality, and I think I like that quality best of all

so that’s absolutely not anti-semitic, right?
she literally said she hated marrying a jew.
if that’s not antisemitism I like zucchini from now on.
plus isn’t it pure racism assigning an individual characteristic, wether positive or negative, to a whole religious group? there’s is no such thing as “the jew”, for there are jews all over the planet. it’s actually a fucked up nazi logic to assume there is a jewish race.
plus this “woke” quote was eight years before her super duper fucked up book the duchess and jeweler (originally “and the jew”) which is basically a whole antisemitic manifesto.

that being said I hope y’all remember to fact check the next time you start an online discussion about a topic you have no idea of just because you’re bored.
I know quarantine is exhausting, I know you’re mad, but now, more than ever, we need, we must, try to make as less unnecessary noise as ever. we have to think before we talk and we have to listen before we yell. only this way and this way only we can actually make a change.

thank you for being here, fair and kind.
stay safe, brave n cosy,
e.

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