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Virginia Woolf and the role of women in literature

Virginia Woolf
By Sara Lutas

With rare exceptions, the presence of women in literature has been mostly shaped by men's vision and language. Muses, mothers, sisters, lovers, decorative items, emotional symbols of virtue but also of perversion and weakness, these characters and references that populate the most-read pages ever "served as a magic mirror, with the tempting power to reflect the figure of a man twice their size". These words from Virginia Woolf, spoken in a lecture on the role of women in literature, bring to light undeniable evidence: the image and voice of women in literature have been subjugated by the male universe.

An expert in the art of wandering into the depths of the human mind, in a time of change, marked by two great world wars, Woolf dwelt on the absence of women in the world of writing, explaining it very simply: "to devote herself to writing, a woman must have money and a room of her own." The whole political, economic, and social conjuncture was not favorable to the formation of free women who could devote themselves to reading and writing. On the other hand, the non-existence tradition of women's writing constituted an additional barrier grounded in the prejudice of inequality. It was imperative to create conditions that would train female readers, authors, and thinkers, and this is the path that has been paved towards equality between female and male voices.

When choosing the authors for the exhibition What Makes a Nobel?, the result of a partnership between Livraria Lello and Time, one hundred authors were chosen who, although they can no longer be recognized by the Swedish Academy, should be among the masters of universal literature that we must read before we die. Among these authors, the female voices, which paved the way for the affirmation of women in literature, become even more relevant.

It is on the second floor of Livraria Lello that we can find the precious legacy of these authors, who make possible the authentic existence of women in literature, many of them mentioned by Virginia Woolf in her lecture, such as Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters, and so many others influenced by this dream of equality, such as Agatha Christie, Simone de Beauvoir, Daphne du Maurier, Iris Murdoch, Clarice Lispector or Sylvia Plath.


Sara Lutas is a young editor, responsible for publishing children's titles, internationally acclaimed literary works and new Portuguese authors. With a degree in philosophy, it was her passion for books that brought her closer to the publishing world and brought her to Livraria Lello, where she has been working since 2019.