But – were ‘buts’ beginning again? What did I mean by ‘but’ this time?Women & Fiction, Typescript Excerpts, Monks House Papers
Woolf's A Room of One's Own both expresses and enacts its cultural critique by making certain that its readers not only see the significance of the women of their culture as ‘outsiders’, but also appropriate that position for themselves. My discussion, using Brecht's theory of performance, examines Woolf's rhetorical and narrative strategies – with a focus on the functioning of language and punctuation – to demonstrate how ‘showing’ the reader the process and calling attention to the constructed nature of the text serve to transform those readers – to get them to see and, ultimately, to critique those institutions that had become, in their entrenched familiarity, quite invisible.
I will begin near the end of A Room of One's Own with a passage not usually highlighted, but one which permits Woolf to take her cultural critique in a multitude of directions. Here, one of her narrators responds to the aridity of Mr. A's new novel:
But … I had said ‘but’ too often. One cannot go on saying ‘but.’ One must finish the sentence somehow, I rebuked myself. Shall I finish it, ‘But – I am bored!’ But why was I bored? (104)
After five ‘buts’ in as many sentences, the reader of A Room of One's Own is not so much interested in why the narrator is bored, as to why she keeps repeating ‘but’. Why does this essay, which, incidentally, also begins its first and last sentences with the word ‘but’, seem to reverberate with its significance? Indeed, its sentences do get finished – but with enough equivocation for ‘but’, along with ‘perhaps’ and ‘might’, to become, inevitably, the expected conclusion – or rather, the lack of conclusion.