The first piece of Virginia Woolf writing that I have read is a short story called Phyllis and Rosamond written in 1906. It is a short study of the lives of two sisters in their early twenties, Phyllis and Rosamond, as they go about their daily routine. The story follows them preparing, ultimately, to find a husband, but a meeting with two other sisters, the Tristrams, leads them to take look at their own lives through different eyes.
The first half of the story follows Phyllis and Rosamond going about their daily tasks, organising lunch, calling in on people, making arrangements all in the pursuit of finding a husband. The characters of Phyllis and Rosamond lead a life that Virginia and Vanessa could very well have ended up living, where your role in life is to attend parties to find a suitable husband. They describe themselves
“We are daughters, until we become married women.” (p27)
After a dinner, Phyllis joins Rosamond at the Miss Tristrams for a very different sort of party. The party scene that Phyllis describes as she enters the Tristrams is very much the Bloomsbury group in full swing. The two Tristram sisters live a lifestyle more like Virginia and Vanessa were living when Virginia Woolf wrote the story.
The first thing that struck me about Phyllis and Rosamond is that it is very deliberately being written about women, more specifically women who have not been educated outside of the home.
“As such portraits as we have are almost invariably of the male sex, who strut more prominently across the stage, it seems worth while to take as model one of those many women who cluster in the shade.” (p17)
The first three stories that I am reading are all predominantly about women. It is also interesting to note how much emphasis is put on women being educated and encouraged to do something.
I was intrigued by the way Phyllis and Rosamond are treated, their pursuit of a husband is seen very much as a job and in turn the “frivolities” of the parties that they go to have a different meaning.
The lives of the Miss Tristrams are very similar to Virginia and Vanessa, the older sister is “a young woman of great beauty, and an artist of real promise” (P25) and the younger sister writes. For me, the most interesting part of the story is when the younger Miss Tristram Sylvia goes over to Phyllis to engage her in conversation. If you assume that this character is based on Virginia Woolf it gives a real insight into her thoughts on the role of women in the society of her time. She questions Phyllis on why she cannot do things to change her life if she is not happy with them, and is puzzled when the response is that it is too late or that is her purpose in life.
This story was written at a pivotal moment in Virginia Woolf’s life, she had begun an independent lifestyle due to the death of both of her parents and along with her siblings, she was embarking on a life that was in great contrast to the life she may have led had her parents lived.