I also focused closely upon Woolf’s piece, but I will try to move in a slightly different direction to avoid echoing what others have said. Woolf says, “Doubtless Elizabethan literature would have been very different from what it is if the woman’s movement had begun in the sixteenth century and not in the nineteenth” (902). Certainly this speaks to what Toni noted about the “lost novelists” whose genius did not survive the social and cultural obstacles in its path. Had women been considered worthy of their own identity, rights, and agency, the selection of literature from the Elizabethan era would have been more diverse.
It struck me, though, that the literature that did survive would have been significantly different as well. The men writing at the time would have written not only of a different social reality but from a different perspective, perhaps informed by a somewhat better grasp on the experiences of women in the era. Shakespeare might have written women who were more recognizable and relatable to women readers/auditors. Woolf seems to hint at this in her suggestion that androgyny–or, at least, a balanced perspective–begets superior literature. Though she credits Shakespeare with androgynous perspective, as Dustin pointed out, this is a shaky claim in light of his marginalization and negative portrayal of female characters. I wonder if Woolf would have granted that Shakespeare’s attempts at authorial androgyny might have been more successful if the women’s movement had in fact happened before (or during) his time.