Virginia Woolf’s ‘A Society’ а Humorous Story with a Serious Point
A Society is a short story about young women talking about an issue that they have all agreed upon. The setting in the story is before the First World War and after it. They have come up with a conclusion and after the war, they again discuss what they have written down. The issue they are discussing is: “that it is the object of life to produce good people and good books.”(p.19) That is the humorous thing about this story. They have made a deal that each of them will be going to a different place to ask questions and get answers about whether is the object of life to produce good people and good books. They have come up with some funny conclusions about judges and professors. One of them also comes up with a statement that her ambition was to have twenty children.
Further will be given several examples to show in which way the story is humorous. Also, another humorous thing is that one of the characters named Poll is reading all the books in the Library. While they are talking and coming up with their thesis and experiences from their investigations they open very important questions which they are not conscious about. There is a crucial point in the story. That is the position and the rights of women in that time. That point arouses several questions about literacy, chastity, justification between genders and education. Further will be given examples.
“He left her a fortune in the will, but on condition that she read all the books in the London Library.” (p.7) That is a very absurd and humorous thing to be done, especially in the will. Another thing that also can be suggested is that his father knew and wanted to prepare his daughter for what will come or with other words she does not need his fortune. She can start to educate herself and ear her own money. “Why’ she asked ‘if men write such rubbish as this, should our mothers have wasted their youth in bringing them into the world.” (p.8) This is another example of a funny conclusion besides the conclusions about the judges and professors that will be given below. “At her first visit she had come to the conclusion that the Judges were either made of wood or were impersonated by large animals resembling man who had been trained to move with extreme dignity, mumble and nod their heads.” (p.10) This is the experience Fanny had while she visited the Law Court looking for an answer for their issue.
There is also another example that makes this story humorous. “These Professors, ‘she went on. ‘live in large houses built round grass plots each in a kind of a cell by himself.” That is a strange description but what is humorous about this professor is that Helen is confused when on the end of her speech she asks what he could know about chastity. Here also she raises a question about the position and rights of women and also their sexual rights.
“I venerated my mother for bearing ten; still more my grandmother for bearing fifteen; it was, I confess, my own ambition to bear twenty.” (p.8) That is the very popular thing to be done in that time, where women were venerated on the basis of how many children they had. They were not venerated for how many books they have read or how well educated were they. These young women are having around twenty years. Some of them are older than twenty and some of them are younger.
Another humorous thing is the way they think. The part where they talk about the artists and that there is no woman artist, it is narrated in a way to get to the point where they conclude that there is no woman artist. On the other side is Poll and she is reading books during the whole day. She says “Jane – Austin-Charlote-Bronte –George-Eliot.” (p.17) Yes, there are woman artists but they are not admitted as artists. That is presented in an absurd way because they do trust the newspaper article and not the books. It is humorous just to think that men can only write good books. They did not know under what conditions those women artists wrote their books. “Why’ she asked ‘if men write such rubbish as this, should our mothers have wasted their youth bringing them into the world.” (p.8) They do come up with a statement like this that make the story humorous, which is acceptable considering that they are very young.
Looking for an answer to their issue and presenting their findings and their opinion in a humorous way they come up with a crucial point in their lives which will be explained further with examples. After the war, those young women met again and they read what they have decided upon five years before. Castalia comes up with a discovery that they were fools. “What fools we were! It was all Poll’s father’s fault,’ she went on. ‘I believe he did it on purpose- that ridiculous will, I mean forcing Poll to read all the books in the London Library. If we hadn’t learnt to read,’ she said bitterly, ‘we might still have been bearing children in ignorance and I believe was the happiest life after all.” (p.19) Here is the point where Castalia comes to a conclusion that was better not to know how to read because that will stop her from the truth behind everything. The moment when she caught her daughter reading the newspaper and asking her whether what was written in it is true, Castalia gests upset for that. “How can I bring my daughter up to believe in nothing.” That is the point where they talk about literacy and knowing to read means to participate actively in the society.
Another question that has been raised was about chastity. “In my opinion,’ said Poll, who was growing crusty from always reading in the London Library, ‘chastity is nothing but ignorance – a most discreditable state of mind. We should admit only the unchaste to our society.” What Poll refers here is about having sexual intercourse. At that time it was believed and was according to their religion that women should be chaste before getting married. What Poll is stating is that chastity is ignorance. This is also connected with literacy and the previous quote. Women do believe in religion and in what is preached but in this case, there will be someone like Poll that will be reading tons of books and not believe in what someone is saying. A reason for that is a proof of written words and that someone else might speak the truth also.
“Ask any journalist, schoolmaster, politician or public house keeper in the land and they will tell you that men are much cleverer than woman” (p.20) Of course they will be cleverer when all of them are men. This is an example of the position that men were holding and none of those positions was helped by women. “While we spoke, men were crying hoarsely and wearily in the streets, and listening, we heard that the Treaty of Peace had just been signed.” (p.21) Why were women not out in the streets together with men? An answer to that might be that women did not have any political right or any rights to vote.
All in all, this story was written by Virginia Woolf in a humorous way narrates a crucial point about the women rights and place in the society in London for the time before and after the First World War. It is funny how those young women agreed to look for answers and what they get as an outcome on that issue. They do raise lots of question important for their status and their future and also about their position and rights in that society.