From Virginia Woolf’s piece:
“Yet genius of a sort must have existed among women as it must have existed among the working classes. Now and again an Emily Brontë or a Robert Burns blazes out and proves its presence. But certainly it never got itself on to paper. When, however, one reads of a witch being ducked, of a woman possessed by devils, of a wise woman selling herbs, or even of a very remarkable man who had a mother, then I think we are on the track of a lost novelist…” (897-898)
Woolf in this passage asks her reader to understand that we must recognize the fact that genius has been defined for us. Yet, there is genius that exists outside of the traditional definition. Other types of genius exist in the places she lists above. Certainly a woman who is able to cure illness through herbal remedies is a genius, yet because her experience is never recorded, she does not exist as such. Woolf wants us to consider the “lost novelist,” or the stories of marginalized voices. We have to consider that those voices existed, and may have even been considered genius had they been recorded. The whole “Shakespeare’s Sister” section of this essay evokes a sense of loss for what might have been lost because voices were marginalized, even silenced.
Also important in this passage is her comment that stories of women like those noted were never recorded on paper. We must consider the fact that unless works are written down, they do not, nor did they ever exist. I think she is telling us that when we look at canonical literature like Shakespeare’s, it is necessary to consider that his genius is recognized because it is recorded – his was a privileged voice, unlike that of his imaginary sister, womankind.