“The Word is destroyed”? Women’s Studies, Modernist Studies, and the “New Normal” in Academe



This article pays homage to Virginia Woolf’s epistolary essay Three Guineas by constructing an imaginary email exchange between a women’s studies professor and a concerned citizen (an updated version of Woolf’s interlocutor in Three Guineas.) Ultimately concluding that the fate of women’s literature in general and modernist women’s literature in particular is tied to the fate of the humanities and to other non-instrumentalized forms of learning, such as women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, this epistolary essay discusses the impact of budget cutting and educational downsizing (the “new normal” in academe) on public estimates of the value of the humanities, women’s studies, women’s literature, and literary studies. In this climate of the “new normal,” it is distressing, but not surprising, that modernist studies and women’s studies are embattled by calls for more “useful” (a.k.a. instrumentalized and job-focused) education and research. Woolf, who analyzed the connections between the British educational system, gendered ideology, class difference, and nationalist ideology in Three Guineas, offers one example of a female modernist whose analysis of culture and ideology in the early 20th century is still apt today.