Anger and writing: Woolf's RoomNow that I managed to sequay the discussion over to Woolf, I would like to throw out the issue she raises in A Room Of One's Own, which really pertains to writing in...

Anger and writing: Woolf's Room

Now that I managed to sequay the discussion over to Woolf, I would like to throw out the issue she raises in A Room Of One's Own, which really pertains to writing in general.  She argues that anger interferes with the best of writing for, she says, the mind must be empty of interferences to create--incandescent is the word she uses I think. Of course she rather contradicts herself, for that work is all about anger, but that work is not a piece of fiction either--it's an essay. In any case, every time I teach it (including this past week), students protest that great literature can come out of anger.  And hmmm, I think, what great piece has been produced through anger?  Eliot would say such emotion needs an objective correlative to carry it, or the piece will fail (such as, in his view, Hamlet failed).  In any case, maybe Gilman's Yellow Wallpaper is an example of something written out of anger, not an incandescent mind, and succeeding quite well.

Asked on by sagetrieb

6 Answers

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Noelle Thompson | High School Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted on

I certainly cannot make a case that the entire Bible was written out of anger, as that is not the case, but I thought it would be interesting to present one particular story that focuses on Jesus' anger as justified.  Without Christ's passionate anger, this story could not have been written and Christ's flock could not have been instructed on this particular subject.  First from Luke 19:45-46.

Then Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people selling animals for sacrifices.  He said to them, "The Scriptures declare, 'My Temple will be a house of prayer,' but you have turned it into a den of thieves."

Look at the difference, in regards to the depth of anger, when you read the same situation in Mark 11:15-17!

When they arrived back in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the Temple andHe said to them, "The Scriptures declare, 'My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations,' but you have turned it into a den of thieves." began to drive out the people buying and selling animals for sacrifices. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, and he stopped everyone from using the Temple as a marketplace.  When the leading priests and teachers of religious law heard what Jesus had done, they began planning how to kill him. But they were afraid of him because the people were so amazed at his teaching.

Of course, the people that Jesus drives out of His temple are doing wrong.  Here is proof that even God can be "guilty" of justified anger.  And it is in this anger that one of the most striking of Christ's actions (besides his Passion and Death on the Cross, of course) is brought across to His people.

Thus,  when your "students protest that great literature can come out of anger," perhaps you can point to these two renditions from the Gospels and say that it can, in fact, be so!  And if you'd like to be facetious, you can talk about how literature out of anger could only come from the Son of God.  Ha!

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podunc | College Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted on

Although it's almost thirty years old, Gilbert and Gubar's The Madwoman in the Attic addresses the issue of the angry female author and how this anger plays out in their texts. They do mention "The Yellow Wallpaper," Woolf, and even Frankenstein, but their approach seems to work the best on Jane Eyre. They propose that Bertha Mason (the madwoman of their title) is not only a vehicle for Jane's unexpressed anger, but also that she is a double for Charlotte Bronte herself, who feels unexpressed anger at her reduced status as a "woman writer" in the nineteenth century.

I consider Jane Eyre to be some of the "best" fiction from the nineteeth century, despite the anger within.


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sagetrieb | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted on

Yes, certainly there are many pieces.  Eliot's point concerns a modernist aesthetic, and Woolf wanted to make a political point about women. But she didn't say good literature doesn't contain anger--she said the best literature, such as Shakespeare's is born of a mind free of anger (at the time of creation).  Morrison's literature would receive my vote in terms of being great, although maybe not the others. In any case, contemporary literature leaves traces of the author all through it, and with the memoir so popular, and the boundary between fiction and non-fiction so blurred, the discussion of the whole matter has changed much. 

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mjush | College Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

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I don't think you can write good literature without emotion as emotion equates to passion. How can one write well without some type of passion about the subject whether it is derived from anger or love or hate or even fear. What might be an issue if the level of emotion is so high that the writer loses perspective. If the writer loses perspective then it may create flaws in the writing or be too slanted or opinionated that it may disinterest or offend the intended audience.

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Jamie Wheeler | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted on

How about Catch 22? The Grapes of Wrath?  Narrative of the Life of a Slave? Sula?  Beloved?  The Beat I am thinking especially of Allen Ginsberg's "Howl." 

Anger seems to be at the root of lots of good, even great, literature to me.  

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kwoo1213 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

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I once read that the purpose of ALL writing is to have an effect on the reader.  How can an author do that without having passion and emotion for his work and in his work (or her work).