Years ago, I heard a charismatic Marxist professor give a lecture on modernism, the General Strike of 1926. One of the main points he made was an anti-Woolfian one: how could people claim such great political credentials for a woman who barely wrote a thing about the General Strike?
In fact, Woolf did take notice of the strike. More than that, she supported the miners and the workers striking alongside them. More than that, she bicycled around London (no buses or tube, of course, for it was a strike) collecting signatures from other artists and writers in support of the strikers.
But that, for this Marxist critic, was not enough. Clearly he was wrong, but I was shocked to think of all the world events that some (narcissistically imagined) future biographer would be able to claim I had shockingly failed to take an interest in. It’s a distressing standard.
In my head, I can compose the self-condemning judgments: “In spite of Fernald’s commitment to feminism/Africa/workers, she had surprising little to contribute to the discussion of how the revolutionary changes in North Africa/Wisconsin might affect women’s rights/political freedom/economic stability for the working and middle class…”
Let me just say, for the record, that my feelings about these exciting changes are about as complex as the complexities of the situations require. I have no insights. I have many fears. I have great hopes that the downtrodden and disempowered will retain and regain the dignity that we all deserve.
I know my house is glass; I cast no stones.