'The Kingfisher Comes; the Kingfisher Comes Not': The Maternal Impasse in Woolf's Orlando and A Room of One's Own


This essay explores the ambiguities and contradictions that surround Virginia Woolf's use of the maternal in two of her seminal works written simultaneously at the peak of her career, Orlando and A Room of One's Own, both directed at unearthing our literary mothers from obscurity, and reserving a space for the woman writer in the history as well as in the future of literary production. Woolf's reaction to the nineteenth-century model of the woman as an eternal procreator, as well as to psychoanalytic definitions of the mother as both literally and metaphorically castrated, result in her associating biological mothering with textual stillbirth in her feminist agenda. And, while Orlando is involved in a dialectic relationship with the dominant psychoanalytic discourse of the early twentieth century, employing even the techniques of jokes (as recorded by Freud) in order to cancel some of the dominant theses around maternity, the biographer/narrator fails to imagine Orlando as a biological mother. Pregnancy and labour are appropriated in these two texts for the purpose of assigning a viable identity to the female creator, while Woolf’s twentieth-century version of the maternal is, surprisingly, both reminiscent of the eighteenth-century notion of motherhood as an antagonistic relationship between mother and child, but also resonant of the male-centred and ancient-old idea that children of the brain are far more significant than children of the body.

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Kitsi-Mitakou, K., (2009) “'The Kingfisher Comes; the Kingfisher Comes Not': The Maternal Impasse in Woolf's Orlando and A Room of One's Own”, Studies in the Maternal 1(2), 1-18. doi: https://doi.org/10.16995/sim.105


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Katerina Kitsi-Mitakou



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