|VW and her Father|
The Reading Life Virginia Woolf Project
"A Society" by Virginia Woolf (1882-1941-UK) was included in her first collection of short stories, Monday or Tuesday. As the story opens a group of female friends have just finished their tea and they begin talking about their normal topic of conversation, namely how wonderful men are and how lucky any woman permanently attached to one is. They start talking about the sad fate of a member of the group, Poll. Poll was left a fortune by her father under the condition she read all the books in the London Library. Unfortunately, Poll is so unattractive that not even her money will attract a man to consider marrying her. Poll begins to say how she hates having to read. A discussion ensues based on some readings from books she has selected. The men worshiping ladies cannot believe that men could have written such bad books.
One of the ladies comes up with a great idea:
But now that we can read, what prevents us from judging the results? Before we bring another child into the world we must swear that we will find out what the world is like.”
So we made ourselves into a society for asking questions. One of us was to visit a man-of-war; another was to hide herself in a scholar’s study; another was to attend a meeting of business men; while all were to read books, look at pictures, go to concerts, keep our eyes open in the streets, and ask questions perpetually. We were very young. You can judge of our simplicity when I tell you that before parting that night we agreed that the objects of life were to produce good people and good books. Our questions were to be directed to finding out how far these objects were now attained by men. We vowed solemnly that we would not bear a single child until we were satisfied.
The ladies go about this project for several years. The reports of their visits are very funny, very clever and wicked social satire. The interactions of the women with each other and the descriptions of their investigations are just so wonderful. One lady disguises her self as a char-woman and visits the rooms of Oxford dons. I had to read her report three times it was so well done.
"A Society" can be read online