SERVANTS WRITING POETRY. Paula Marantz Cohen has an essay in the Times Literary Supplement (February 11) which reconsiders Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s AURORA LEIGH (an admirable piece of criticism because it makes me want to read the poem). She argues that Virginia Woolf’s essay on the poem in 1931 had enormous influence on how the poem was analyzed in the twentieth century and that “her comments had a dubious effect on its reputation.” She then quotes from Woolf’s description of Barrett Browning, which reads in full [omitting the names of obscure Victorian writers]: “In short, the only place in the mansion of literature that is assigned her is downstairs in the servants’ quarters, where…she bangs the crockery about and eats vast handfuls of peas on the point of her knife.” The reviews I have read of Alison Light’s MRS. WOOLF AND THE SERVANTS show how strong a condemnation it was for Woolf to compare Barrett Browning to a servant. Here is Mona Simpson in the Atlantic, who says: “Virginia and Leonard frequently used the word housemaid as an insult. ‘What a housemaid[’]s mind he has,’ Woolf said of Edward Sackville-West, the cousin of her lover, Vita Sackville-West….Yet, the worst passage of [Virginia Woolf’s] class ugliness is this sober opinion, drenched with pity:
‘The poor have no … manner or self-control to protect themselves with; we have a monopoly of all the generous feelings.'”

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