Virginia Woolf


There is a great deal to say about Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas, and a great deal to quote from it. I will not develop my thoughts now, but merely consider this as a note toward further thought and, perhaps, posts. Woolf is very sophisticated, and she explains the workings of privilege, and of its absence, very well indeed.

One of her key topics is the difficult situation of “daughters of educated men” who, although one might expect they would be, are often not raised to be independent people, financially or otherwise. Such, for example, was my own upbringing. Woolf’s observations explain a great deal.


I had just expanded this post, with a link to Three Guineas in full text and a quotation from Part Three on a key concept, ‘adultery of the brain’ – briefly, allowing the money economy to condition what one writes, which is a hidden problem in (supposedly non-commercial) academic writing as well – but WordPress, which has been having technical problems, swallowed my revision. I want to take note of the remark I was typing, which would have been the last, and I am doing so now without contest. Qui potest capere capiat.

I deduce from reading the passages on ‘adultery of the brain’ that one piece of advice commonly given academics, not to write for nonacademic venues since this writing takes valuable time from writing the scholarly pieces one must for professional advancement, may be wrong. That is, it may be good advice for those who are barely making it, or who do not fully understand what scholarship is, and who need orientation and a strategy. But it also constructs all of the listeners as such persons. What if the opposite were true, and we considered writing as artists or intellectuals first, and undertook scholarly writing as a subset of that? This might place academic work in a better perspective and resolve a number of issues having to do with compartmentalization. Deviating from the straight and narrow we might grow larger, and our words, in all of their genres, might become truer.


Here is one key passage on ‘adultery of the brain.’ The link leads to the full essay.

‘But what,’ she may ask, ‘is meant by “selling your mind without love”?’ ‘Briefly,’ we might reply, ‘to write at the command of another person what you do not want to write for the sake of money. But to sell a brain is worse than to sell a body, for when the body seller has sold her momentary pleasure she takes good care that the matter shall end there. But when a brain seller has sold her brain, its anaemic, vicious and diseased progeny are let loose upon the world to infect and corrupt and sow the seeds of disease in others. Thus we are asking you, Madam, to pledge yourself not to commit adultery of the brain because it is a much more serious offence than the other.’

‘Adultery of the brain,’ she may reply, ‘means writing what I do not want to write for the sake of money. Therefore you ask me to refuse all publishers, editors, lecture agents and so on who bribe me to write or to speak what I do not want to write or to speak for the sake of money?’ ‘That is so, Madam; and we further ask that if you should receive proposals for such sales you will resent them and expose them as you would resent and expose such proposals for selling your body, both for your own sake and for the sake of others.’


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