Three Guineas by Virginia Woolf

Description

Published in 1938, as Europe drifted towards war with the rise of fascism in Europe, Three Guineas is a companion piece to Virginia Woolf’s earlier polemic A Room of One’s Own. The common themes are; women and education, and the need for women to be economically independent. The question Woolf discusses in Three Guineas is how women can prevent war when they are excluded from education, the professions, and the public sphere. The title Three Guineas derives from Woolf pondering whether she should support three causes with a guinea donation – these being; a society to stop war, a campaign to support the rebuilding of a women’s college, and an organization to promote women’s employment in the professions. 

Woolf had been observing the rise of fascism in Europe with a keen interest. She was well aware that many of the newly gained women’s rights in Germany were being eroded as Nazism forced women to readopt traditional roles. Woolf was concerned that a similar situation could occur in Britain. Three Guineas is essentially a critique of patriarchy. Woolf made the link between patriarchal family life and its connection to fascism. The oppression of domestic life for women is reflected in the oppression of women in society. This argument was very contentious at the time but has gained currency since the late 1960s when feminist commentators argued that the private is the political. Woolf maintained that war was a product of men’s socialised norms of violence, competition, and domination. These norms were embedded through the structures of education, and the professions. Women, being excluded from these structures, developed different values. Woolf recognised that to have any influence women must take part in the public sphere, but she argued, women should retain their difference and not adopt the very attitudes that they needed to change.

Three Guineas is a relatively neglected work of Woolf’s that deserves greater attention as it is central to an understanding Woolf’s feminism. Her linking of the private and the public, and how the structures of patriarchal society lead to militarism is still a challenging argument for today’s world.

Full title:
Three Guineas
Published:
1938, 52 Tavistock Square, London
Publisher:  
Hogarth Press
Format:
Book
Language:
English
Creator:
Virginia Woolf
Usage terms

© The Society of Authors as the Literary Representative of the Estate of Virginia Woolf. You may not use the material for commercial purposes. Please credit the copyright holder when reusing this work.

Held by
British Library
Shelfmark:
Cup.407.h.32.

Full catalogue details

Related articles

Virginia Woolf's London

Article by:
David Bradshaw
Themes:
Literature 1900–1950, Capturing and creating the modern

Virginia Woolf loved London, and her novel Mrs Dalloway famously begins with Clarissa Dalloway walking through the city. David Bradshaw investigates how the excitement, beauty and inequalities of London influenced Woolf's writing.

An introduction to A Room of One's Own

Article by:
Rachel Bowlby
Themes:
Gender and sexuality, Exploring identity

Professor Rachel Bowlby examines A Room of One’s Own as a key work of feminist criticism, revealing how Virginia Woolf ranges beyond the essay’s official topic of women and fiction to question issues around education, sexuality, and gendered values.

Too much suicide?

Article by:
Lyndall Gordon
Theme:
Gender and sexuality

Narratives of Virginia Woolf’s life often place great emphasis on her depression and suicide. Lyndall Gordon considers the way this has overshadowed Woolf’s legacy, and clouded her reputation as a seminal novelist, feminist, and politicized intellectual.

Related collection items

Related people

Related works

A Room of One's Own

Created by: Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own began as two lectures, written to be delivered at the women-only ...