Minal Bhundia (K1111811) Group A “Who Speaks for Women?”


Listening To Silences – New Essays in Feminist Criticism – Edited by  Elaine Hedges, Shelley Fisher Fishkin


Women’s Silence as a Ritual of The Truth: A Study of Literary Expressions in Austen, Brontë and Woolf – by Patricia Laurence – Pages 156 – 166




This article compares the works of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë and Virginia Woolf exploring how the silence of the women characters in their texts represents ambiguity. It explores three different ideas surrounding ‘the listening woman’, ‘the thinking woman’ and woman as observers. Ironically, the silence of women could highlight women’s oppression from public spheres however it also could also be interpreted as a means of expression. ‘Depending on one’s definition of reality, silences woven into the fabric of a women’s text can be an absence of a presence’, this quotation implies that if we are focusing on patriarchal issues then the silence of a woman shows her weakness, however, the silence may also may show an expression of anger, a women’s presence and as a text waiting to be read. ‘The listening woman’ emphasises on the power between characters and mentions how Jane Austen develops women characters through her novels who listen and observe more, this is then compared to Virginia Woolf’s ‘A Room of Ones Own’ where the character has a mind of her own although she is tied by social expectations of having to listen to men. ‘The thinking women’ focuses on women’s dreams and the example of the character of Jane in Jane Eyre is used, through the use of soliloquies Brontë shows Jane’s self interest and through the use of dreams her female consciousness and inner thoughts are revealed. Finally, female observers and ‘psycho-narration’ is discussed and the article is concluded with the idea that throughout these texts a silence of women is a ritual of truth as it allows them to think, feel, dream or observe and ‘silence is the space in narration where culture and female consciousness do sometimes reveal themselves’.


Elaine Showalter states a critique that in fact blanks and spaces within the texts and lack of female speech does not show female consciousness but shows ‘the blinds of a prison-house’, showing the social inequalities at the time and the weakness of the female against male. This text also suggests the importance to acknowledge that expression consists of signs and gestures and even in today’s society where there is still patriarchy to some extent, a woman is able to speak for herself and these woman writers do not have to be writing specifically for either gender, the texts should be focused for anyone to read. It may be ironic that women writers develop characters that show constrained roles; however this article illustrates how writers manage to portray women characters as powerful, despite their silences in texts.






4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Ellie on October 20, 2013 at 8:21 pm

    I think this is an interesting way to view women’s silence. From an outside perspective, the silence shows an absence. But from the inside, it shows a presence. There is something within the silence, it is not just emptiness. Women may be hiding their angers, thoughts, or perhaps they are repelling. Women are forced to conform, so they use silence as a way to fulfil their inner desires. Silenced women are often seen as powerless and passive, but this is not always the case. They are, in fact, powerful because they have something that is unknown.


  2. Posted by Niamh Marriott on October 21, 2013 at 4:44 pm

    I was thinking about who speaks for women and whether it has to be a biological condition (you must be female in order to write from a women’s perspective and speak for women) or whether feminist male writers can be considered as speaking for women. I haven’t quite made up my mind yet but I couldn’t help but think of John Stuart Mill’s essay ‘The Subjection of Women’ which he co-wrote with his wife. He impresses the importance of equality between the sexes, particularly equal opportunity for education, as paramount and implies that this would improve and benefit the whole of society as well as the status of women. He is conscious of the female perspective, yet can he be truly sympathetic due to his sex? I think that he can although I am sure that many female literary critics may not agree with me.


  3. Posted by Jo on October 21, 2013 at 6:50 pm

    I agree that is important to preserve the representations of women listening, thinking and observing in texts, so that their ‘silent resistances’ can be narrated but I think it is imperative that we do not read women’s silences as just another ‘act’ or ‘gesture’ that says woman. As Judith Butler notes in Gender Trouble, gender is not a given but a construction of ‘performative’ acts: words, acts and gestures that are repeated to construct a gender identity. It might be easy therefore to read women’s silences as merely another act that denotes woman. As Laurence notes, it is important to see beyond silence as merely an ‘essence’ of woman and question what that silence represents, especially as the representation of ‘women’s silence’ cannot mean the same thing for all women.


  4. Posted by Sarah M on October 22, 2013 at 10:12 am

    While I don’t see silence as a weakness or a sign of having nothing to say, I’m not sure about the idea of a ‘resistant silence’ or silence as an enlightened presence, and I agree with Showalter that it tends to be a reflection of women’s place in society. I think the ideas in this article are particularly interesting in relation to Modernist writers’ focus on the internal, even though this is not entirely specific to female writers. I wonder how much Woolf’s interest in the interiority of her characters, rather than what they say, comes from her experiences as a woman in early twentieth century society, as someone who is to some degree expected to be silent, and whose voice is not necessarily respected as much as mens.


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