Genealogy of Feminism: Woolf’s Translation of Nietzsche
In his 1884 polemic On the Genealogy of Morals, Friedrich Nietzsche promotes a form of radical egalitarianism, but refrains from discussing women. This ideology formed as a part of modernity in response to social oppression. As another prominent modernist writer, Virginia Woolf continued combatting this institution in her work. Nietzsche’s political commentary is subtle, similar to the approach of Woolf in the 1925 novel, Mrs. Dalloway. Typical of the internal monologue style of the novel, one character posits, “And prostitutes, good Lord, the fault wasn’t in them, nor in young men either, but in our detestable social system and so forth; all of which…could be seen considering, grey, dogged, dapper, clean” (Woolf 298). She and Nietzsche together posit that society corrupts human beings. Nietzsche proposes a political manifesto based on the sovereign, self-governing individual; Woolf reinvents Nietzsche’s proposals even further by implementing his ideas about individualism and egalitarianism into her characters, including men, women, and children. Nietzsche is explicitly misogynistic, and therefore could not personally translate his theories to include women; however, Woolf promotes equality for women and the marginalized of society by implementing the egalitarian ideas of Nietzsche in several characters, male and female, to open the door for feminism during the rise of the modern era.
Nietzsche’s argument of egalitarianism elevates the potential of the human being higher than institutionalized religion and philosophy, in essence establishing his genealogy as a political manifesto endorsing the sovereign, self-governing individual. He sets all people level with each other, presenting a new system where man is “the sovereign individual,” or the ruler of himself (Nietzsche 41). These ideas did have unsettling effects on society parallel to a radical change in ideas about the individual during the rise of the modern era. He blatantly rejects all moral absolutes, and in the harsh condemnation of “good” and “evil,” he actually empowers the individual to be sovereign over his own life and judgment. Nietzsche is not a royalist who advocates for subjective social positions, but rather endorses a society based on radical egalitarianism and individualism where a man is capable of governing himself with his own view of morality. He empowers those perhaps not deemed “good” in society. Nietzsche’s extreme egalitarian stance advocates for the self-governing individual, the man who “resembles no one but himself, who has once again broken away from the morality of custom” (41). Despite his personal misogyny, his argument implies a certain feminism, previously unaddressed in the discussion of human rights before the rise of modernity. This feminism can be seen implemented through Woolf’s political, practical characters which represent the core ideal of Nietzsche’s sovereign individual.