Virginia Woolf called her Critical Voice the Angel of the House, after the poem by Patmore in which he admonished women to be good and selfless. Or as Woolf put it, “intensely sympathetic. . . . immensely charming. . . . utterly unselfish. She excelled in the difficult arts of family like. She sacrificed herself daily. If there was chicken, she took the leg; if there was a draft she sat in it—in short she was so constituted that she never had a mind or a wish of her own, but preferred to sympathize always with the minds and wishes of others. Above all—I need not say it— she was pure. Her purity was supposed to be her chief beauty—her blushes, her great grace. In those days—the last of Queen Victoria—every house had its Angel.”
Woolf killed her. She confesses all this in “Professions for Women.” “It was she who used to come between me and my paper when I was writing reviews. It was she who bothered me and wasted my time and so tormented me that at last I killed her…And when I came to write I encountered her with the very first words. The shadow of her wings fell on my page; I heard the rustling of her skirts in the room. I turned upon her and caught her by the throat. I did my best to kill her. My excuse, if I were to be had up in a court of law, would be that I acted in self–defense. Had I not killed her she would have killed me. She would have plucked the heart out of my writing. Thus, whenever I felt the shadow of her wing or the radiance of her halo upon my page, I took up the inkpot and flung it at her. She died hard. Her fictitious nature was of great assistance to her. It is far harder to kill a phantom than a reality…Killing the Angel in the House was part of the occupation of a woman writer.”
Are things still that bad for women? Do men suffer from this phenomenon as well? How to deal with this internalized voice? I stole this exercise from writer Susan Griffin (Transforming Terror, Wrestling with The Angel of Democracy, A Chorus of Stones, Woman and Nature to name a few of her books). Make this freewriting. Write without stopping. Don’t worry about grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc.
- Let your Creative Self introduce her/himself. “Hello, I’m your creative self and I . . .” What does this person look like, dress like, do during the day? Favorite food? Favorite color? Whatever she wants to talk about. (5 minutes)
- Let your Critical Self introduce her/himself. Same thing. “Hello, I’m your critical self and I . . .” Once mine told me she could go into a library, touch the spine of a book, and know everything that was in it. Critical Voices aren’t too unreasonable. I was in grad school at the time. (5 minutes)
- Now let the two talk to each other. Let them fight it out. Let them come to some deal, like “Stop worrying. I won’t show this to anyone until you read it.” (You can guess who says that.) “But I’m just here to protect you.” “Why don’t you go have some ice cream while I write?”
It’s important to come to some working relationship with your CV. Once I went six months without marking anything out. My pages used to be filled with lots of blacked out words (this was in the paper and ink days, you know). My manuscripts resembled CIA redacted documents. But I stopped that for six months. I learned I can write some pretty good stuff. And some pretty bad stuff. I learned to just keep writing.