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Clearly one of the central themes of this excellent essay is the way in which gender inequalities are presented as preventing equal opportunities. The Enlightenment, that argued that all men were equal and thus presented a powerful argument against class distinctions, was seized by women and used to argue against gender inequality. The basic idea of this work is therefore that women have just as much potential and intellect as man if they are given the same educational rights and opportunities that men have. Woolf argues that the reason why there are so few great women authors in history is because of the way in which a patriarchal society discouraged women from pursuing such a route by not providing them with an education and forcing restricting roles upon them. Note how Woolf refers to the fate of such women who desired to write:
When, however, one reads of a witch being ducked, of a woman possessed by devils, of a wise woman selling herbs, or even of a very remarkable man who had a mother, then I think we are on teh track of a lost novelist, a suppressed poet, of some mute and inglorious Jane Austen, some Emily Bronte who dashed her brains out on the moor or mopped and mowed about the highways crazed with teh torture that her gift had put her to.
By presenting thwarted genius being expressed in madness, Woolf actually strengthens her case about the plight of women who would be artists. It is by imagining the fate of Shakespeare's sister and the way that she was shunned and faced such opposition to writing that Woolf makes her case. Women clearly lacked equality of opportunity, which resulted in a Canon of literature dominated by men thanks to the patriarchal society that privileged them over women.
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