A compelling essay, still very relevant today A Room Of One S Own Is An Extended Essay By Virginia Woolf First Published On The Th Of October The Essay Was Based On A Series Of Lectures She Delivered At Newnham College And Girton College, Two Women S Colleges At Cambridge University In October While This Extended Essay In Fact Employs A Fictional Narrator And Narrative To Explore Women Both As Writers Of And Characters In Fiction, The Manuscript For The Delivery Of The Series Of Lectures, Titled Women And Fiction, And Hence The Essay, Are Considered Nonfiction The Essay Is Seen As A Feminist Text, And Is Noted In Its Argument For Both A Literal And Figural Space For Women Writers Within A Literary Tradition Dominated By Patriarchy Reading my first work by Virginia Woolf was just what the reading doctor ordered after my frustrating experience with Kawabata over this past weekend In the last few days, I have been organizing my reading challenges for next year, and decided to get a jump start on women s history as well as a January group read in catching up on classics by reading Woolf Although written ninety years ago, Woolf could be discussing the status of women authors today Her work remains timely and was a pure joy to read.
Mary Beton is roaming the Oxbridge University library in search of quality works written by women authors This is the task put forth to her by her professors and she is determined to do good by her gender Yet, as Woolf writing as Beton points out, this is no small task although she believes that Beton is up for the challenge Until recently in Woolf s time , women were denied access to universities as well as two necessities for writing five hundred pounds a year in expenses and a room of one s own in which to write uninterruptedly A woman s station in life was to take care of one s children and other housekeeping tasks Only the rich were able to write as they had nannies to care for their children, and writing as a profession was not accessible to the average woman The shots fired in 1914 changed the role of women in British society however, as men went off to fight in the Great War, and women were expected to take on jobs outside of the home that were often only employed by men The women s movement in Europe had begun, followed shortly after by women s suffrage in England in 1919 Writing ten years after these developments, Woolf points out that despite enjoying these gains in society, women still have a long way to go until they are to be considered on equal literary footing as men.
Well versed in literary history, Woolf cites many examples in European literature to point out the path women have taken to get where they are in the early 20th century She starts with an pointed anecdote if Shakespeare had a sister Woolf notes that in the 16th century long before the women s revolution, intelligent women would not have been encouraged in reading or writing in any shape or form Perhaps, if this woman was intelligently inclined, she might have peeked at her brother s work Yet, any other avenues would have been closed to her unless she possessed a rebellious streak and followed her famous brother to his Globe Theater and immersed herself in his work With roles in plays closed off to her, she would have died a pauper in a common grave Having no access to education, the women s space was in the home This changed with Aphra Behn.
Woolf goes on to point out that famous writers as the Brontes, Jane Austen, and Mary Shelley have Aphra Behn to thank as she was the first British woman to write as a profession Her work may not be as famous as that of her literary descendants but it paved the way so that they could write the now classic books including Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice that are still enjoyed by many today Woolf takes it a step further, noting that other pioneers such as George Sand and George Eliot felt safer writing under men s pseudonyms They did so because in the early 19th century, all but a few literary avenues were still closed to women Even Jane Austen took twenty years to become published for the first time, and women writing when she did were told that if they wrote at all, it should be as poets rather than novelists In a pointed barb toward the establishment, Woolf notes that had these women been men, they would have been as revered throughout Europe as Tolstoy, and their work rather than War and Peace would be considered the 19th century novel.
Throughout the novella, Woolf s feminism is on display She encourages women to have less children so that they are able to do work in addition to caring for their children and housework She also points out that by achieving higher levels of education that women should be than capable of writing great novels She believes that in one hundred years after the publication of her essay that the amount of books written by men and women should be about equal, reflecting on their actual percentages of the population While this may be true today ninety years later, women still have a way to go until their classic books are read as much as those of their male counterparts At the beginning of 2017, I had set out to read 75% of all books by women authors The percentages fell to around 50 50, what Woolf had encouraged in this novella As noticed in my experience, woman and men write differently and about vastly different topics, so even if I read four books in a row by women authors, I find my personal pendulum swinging back toward the men I believe as Woolf that 50 50 is a marker to strive for as this represents an accurate percentage of society A Room of One s Own has given me intriguing food for thought as I plan my upcoming reading year and should offer poignant discussions in a genre that still at times struggles to find quality women authors Suffice it to say, the frustrating feeling I had from this past weekend is gone.
5 stars First thing I d like to say is I wish I could keep Virginia Woolf alive for all eternity so as to read her thoughts on other writers My favourite parts of this book, reminding me of my love for The Common Reader, a handbook for how to write a creative review if ever there was one, were often when she discusses the female writers who came before her Some fabulous insights on Austen of all great writers she is the most difficult to catch in the act of greatness and Charlotte Bronte in particular How I d love to know what she makes of all her female successors Of course the world is now full of women with a room of their own and as a result there are probably as many good female writers out there as men now But then a doubt arises If, as she has it, potential geniuses have been denied a voice by social injustices in the past, surely now our emancipated western world ought to be brimming with them But wasn t Virginia herself the last female literary genius And didn t the 19th century produce four female geniuses I m struggling to think of any contemporary female novelist or male who can indisputably match Eliot, Austen and the two Brontes for artistry or innovation And we re still waiting for a female Shakespeare Perhaps the central premise of Woolf s argument, when applied to creativity, is a bit flawed Perhaps adversity is a much inspiring impetus than leisure, encouragement or freedom After all, there s little doubt Woolf s genius owed to the deeply troubled nature of her mind than to having a room of her own in which to write Then again, thank heavens she did have a room of her own in which to write And thank heavens we all have a room of our own in which to write This was originally written as a lecture for the young women at Girton College Which is why her argument is focused on the patriarchal outlawing of artistic creativity in women and doesn t broach upon wider issues of male persecution of women Personally, I ve never attended a lecture that hasn t at times released my mind to go wandering and this was very much true for me here even though it s perhaps one of the events in history I d choose to attend given a fairystory choice of ten There s a lot of beating around the bush Frequently she did snap me back to attention with some glistening pearl of wisdom but for the most part I detected in this book, much than in her novels, a hint of why a lot of people simply don t connect with Woolf This I d say is an inclination on her part to get carried away with her flights of whimsy I think writing Orlando, pure and mostly fabulous whimsy, was her recognising this trait in herself and bringing it under better control The outcome, three years later, was her masterpiece, The Waves No doubt this was much electrifying at its time Especially perhaps it s passages on the essentially androgynous nature of the human mind Nowadays, it belongs for me among her lesser books An easy way to read most of the best bits is to scroll through the most popular quotes.
Words fail me as I seek to express what I think of Virginia Woolf Or to sum up in a few measly paragraphs, a book that may just have shattered into a million pieces all my illusions about the art of writing and reshaped my whole perspective.
Have you ever imagined a disembodied voice whispering into your ears, the wisdom of the ages as you flipped through the pages of a book how often have you conjured up the vision of the writer talking to you, teaching you, humoring you and coaxing you to open your mind to newer things as you read a book Have you felt a book stop being just a book somewhere and instead appear as a beacon of enlightenment that shines down the light of knowledge upon your darkened, ignorant soul This is how profoundly A Room of One s Own affected me.
I will adopt this book as my writing Bible I will read this every time I feel dejected, sad or terribly lost And I will read this again and again, until I can ascertain that the message, the very spirit of this fine piece of writing has been assimilated into the core of my being Okay now that I ve gotten the stream of incoherent gushing out of the way, let me try and bestow on this review some semblance of real meaning.
It will be irreverent of me to call A Room of One s Own a mere essay or something that grew out of a lecture given at Girton College, Cambridge This is the essence of Virginia Woolf herself, captured at the peak of her glory, all within 111 pages This is Woolf reaching out from within the confines of this book and handing out to you the precious fruits of years of her hard work her thoughts, her research, her observations, her inferences, her views So what if it is about the subject of women and writing Aren t women one half of the human race The so called better half at that What is so wrong about getting to know about the history of their evolution as thinkers, as composers, as sentient beings with the power of expression but without the power to assert themselves So you better read it Yes you, the silently scoffing and judging member of the stronger sex Yes you too Because it does not only talk about women writers but life itself and the art of writing.
The blurb and the countless reviews famously identify this book as one of the greatest feminist polemics of the last century I beg to differ It will be unfair to tag it with the label of a polemic a word with a highly negative connotation Because Virginia Woolf s aim, instead, was to dispel all forms of negativity from the vocation of writing Sure, she gives us the feminist side of things but her voice is not full of seething rage or resentment but balanced, logical, sardonic and even humorous at times.
This is Woolf s homage to the spirit of those unsung heroines of the distant past who may have written poems, songs and ballads but were forced to adopt anonymity simply because it was unacceptable for a woman to write Those imaginative souls who may have wanted desperately to write but could not because society thrust gender specific roles of the mother and wife on them and did not even bother educating them.
What if Shakespeare had an equally talented sister but who could never be another Shakespeare herself because she would have been mocked at had she expressed a desire to write plays or poetry Woolf asks us to spare a moment and reflect on the sad fate of these martyrs, history has not bothered to recordWhen, 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, a suppressed poet, of some mute and inglorious Jane Austen, some Emily Bront who dashed her brains out on the moor or mopped and mowed about the highways crazed with the torture that her gift had put her to Indeed, I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without singing them, was often a womanShe makes it clear to us that Jane Austen was a clever, clever writer because she never tried to adopt the style of a man s writing or his sentence construction She created her own And with a rather limited range of experiences in the real world at her command, she could neither have written about bloody wars nor about politics spheres women still hadn t earned the right to enter Instead she wrote what she saw and witnessed in the sitting chambers of the houses of the gentry This rekindles my interest in Jane Austen which had started to wane over the past few years She also repeatedly stresses on how a woman needs a room of her own and money to be able to write A room of her own because she needs a breathing space where she could revel in the knowledge of her identity as a person, as a woman, as a thinker over her identity as a dutiful daughter or wife or mother Although I disagree with her assertion of having money as a necessary criterion for aiming to become a writer, I think financial independence could have been a metaphor for empowerment of women or a reference to freedom from having to rely on someone else, especially a man, and to be able to decide the course of your own life.
Woolf ends her essay by exhorting both men and women to take up their pens and write, laying emphasis on the necessity of stepping outside the limits of narrow gender identities and be the writer with an androgynous mind instead the one capable of uniting the spirit of both the man and woman and letting it reflect in one s craft.
And it is at this point, I felt truly thankful for her 500 pounds a year and a room of her own Since that may have, after all, allowed this marvelous, deeply enlightening piece of writing to come into existence in the first place.
Women have served all these centuries as looking glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size Without that power probably the earth would be unknown We should still be scratching the outlines of deer on the remains of mutton bones and bartering flints for sheep skins or whatever simple ornament took our unsophisticated taste Supermen and Fingers of Destiny would never have existed The Czar and the Kaiser would never have worn crowns or lost them Whatever may be their use in civilized societies, mirrors are essential to all violent and heroic action That is why Napoleon and Mussolini both insist so emphatically upon the inferiority of women, for it they were not inferior, they would cease to enlarge To think of this long essay as feminist propaganda is to do this book and the author Virginia Woolf a disservice Desmond MacCarthy of the Sunday Times labels the book as such, but he also says,yet it resembles an almond tree in blossomCertainly, the case can be made that MacCarthy feels a niggling of perception that the book is than just propaganda, quite possibly something beautiful Vincent Van Gogh certainly found blossoming almond trees to be beautiful, given the number of times he painted them Woolf liked the review and even pasted it in her scrapbook The expectation I had in reading this book, as I do with every Woolf book I decide to read, is that she will change my perspective or, at the very least, slightly alter my life view about something We can all agree a pail is a pail, but if it is turned upside down, is it still a pail or does it become something else Woolf turns ideas sideways, or tosses them up in the air so they spin around and around, or sometimes moves the reader from one vantage point to another See this thought from down here and now from up there It will look different Understanding comes from expanding the mind, and presenting tired arguments with fresh insight is important.
If we return to the opening quote that began this review, we can read that as an act of oppression of women being relegated to this role, or we can read it as a grand sacrifice for the greater good If women had never been subservient to men, then civilisation as we know it would not exist If women were as strong physically as men and did not need a man s protection, how different would things be Has nature intentionally hampered women to create the proper dynamic for the human species to evolve into civilised creatures Regardless of any type of grand design, we can say now that most of us do live in a civilized world and that the days of women needing to be looking glasses is over I believe that women are quite capable of molding the world to fit their needs without waiting for a man to do it for them Suffragettes worked for many decades to achieve the vote In Britain, they had that right given to them in 1918 and in the United States in 1920 Virginia Woolf emphatically says that getting the right to vote was secondary to her receiving an inheritance of 500 pounds a year from her aunt The right to vote did not give her power over her own life, but having her own money did She could afford a room of her own, and she could afford to be a serious writer Of course, financial independence is important, but I d never really thought about it carrying weight than having the right to vote We may have seen this play out in the 2016 election when 47% of white women voted for Trump and 45% voted for Clinton One would think that Clinton would offer these women future advantages, but when thinking about at least the immediate future, these women who supported Trump must have felt that he offered opportunity for a robust economy Discounting the one issue voters who have routinely voted against their best interests for decades in the hopes of overturning Roe vs Wade, any reasonable projection would have expected white women to vote for Clinton I ve believed for a long time that women could easily control the politics of this country as they did in the 2018 midterms The interesting thing will be what will be the guiding principle for voting in 2020 If economics is the most important issue for a woman, not only for herself but for the men in her family, there is a chance that the split of the vote could be similar to 2016 This feels like a digression, but at the same time, maybe Woolf from 1929 has given me insight into what is still of most concern to women in the 21st centurystriving towards economic freedom Woolf introduces me to Aphra Behn, a playwright from the 17th century who became the first woman to make an independent living with her pen From what I ve briefly gathered, it seems she was a woman who lived as a man would, in pursuit of her pleasures Woolf refers to her asshady and amorousBehn was a true trailblazer there is ever only one first, but once there is a first, we hope for a second and a third and a hundred The importance of Aphra s contribution to Woolf s own success was not lost on herAll women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn, which is, most scandalously but rather appropriately, in Westminster Abbey, for it was she who earned them the right to speak their mindsShe did make it into Westminster, but was not allowed to be buried in the Poet s corner where she belonged Woolf talks about the economics of being a writer, about really needing to be born to a certain class to even receive an education that would allow the blossoms of creativity to be born She talks about the androgynous mind and the writers who possessed it, such as Coleridge and ShakespeareWhen one takes a sentence of Coleridge into the mind, it explodes and gives birth to all kinds of other ideas, and that is the only sort of writing of which one can say that it has the secret of perpetual lifeDid I just hear the rattle of grinning bones from Coleridge s grave Looking through my notes, there are so many things that I could discuss about this book It sounds like a heavy book, but it is made weightless by the stream of consciousness style Woolf uses You really feel as if you are walking with her through the gardens of Fernham as she works to compose her thoughts on what women really want, what women really need, and how best to achieve happiness She knows the importance, of course, of being oneself, and I think she has also made it very clear how difficult it is, but also how important it is for women to achievea room of their own If you wish to see of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit also have a Facebook blogger page at A Room of One s Own, Virginia WoolfA Room of One s Own is an extended essay by Virginia Woolf First published on 24 October 1929, the essay was based on a series of lectures she delivered at Newnham College and Girton College, two women s colleges at Cambridge University in October 1928 While this extended essay in fact employs a fictional narrator and narrative to explore women both as writers of and characters in fiction, the manuscript for the delivery of the series of lectures, titled Women and Fiction , which was published in Forum March 1929, and hence the essay, are considered non fiction The essay is generally seen as a feminist text and is noted in its argument for both a literal and figurative space for women writers within a literary tradition dominated by men 2004 1383 160 1388 9789644482144 20 1391 176 9786006867335 2004
I can t believe I only read this book now I would have needed it when I was 18, and 25, and last year and yesterday The opening sentence caught me, right away But, you may say, we asked you to speak about women and fiction what has that got to do with a room of one s own I don t even need to read Virginia Woolf s justification before I exclaim EVERYTHING, it has EVERYTHING to do with a room of one s own Whoever loves art, literature, and the act of writing, drawing or reading knows how hard it is to keep the deep concentration necessary to achieve something of relative creative value If you are constantly in company, then casual interruptions , as Woolf calls them, will eventually make you give up and do something less challenging Quiet space and time are fundamentally important, and women have been denied both over the course of history As Woolf is a storyteller, even when she writes nonfiction, she demonstrates the creative process by evoking an afternoon on the riverbank, where she catches a thought just like a fish A man interrupts, and the thought disappears, never to be found again She goes on to reflect on the development of literature, and the fact that men historically have produced works of art than women Her question throughout the essay is Why is that As she cannot accept the idea that men are physically and mentally stronger an explanation she hears and finds in reference literature , there must be a different reason, which she sets out to discover She analyses the traditional gender roles and points out that men have three advantages money, space, and education To prove her point, she invents a brilliant sister of Shakespeare s, and assumes that she is equally talented Woolf creates a storyline for her quest to conquer the literary world of the 16th century just like Shakespeare did in real life, and shows the various stages at which her access to the world are blocked It is a harsh story, and it illustrates the difference between men s and women s opportunities perfectly.
So far so good Her lovely prose and beautiful literary examples make the argument for equality read like a novel, but I am always a bit cautious when I read political essays There is so much attached to the question of feminism today that I dare not guess what Virginia Woolf s final suggestion or solution will be I am almost nervous, as I fear I might stop loving the book when I read the conclusion But this is where she really surprises me, and where I feel that she has written the book for me specifically She does not end by delivering a hate speech towards men, and by proclaiming that women should take over their roles and become like them She rather insists that women should be given the same freedom to develop their OWN strengths It would be a thousand pities if women wrote like men, or lived like men, or looked like men, for if two sexes are quite inadequate, considering the vastness and variety of the world, how should we manage with one only Ought not education to bring out and fortify the differences rather than the similarities This is something very close to my heart, and a reason why I struggle with the political feminism of my home country I have never been able to accept that I must strive to be the SAME as a man, rather than to have the same basic opportunities to develop in my own way I have never understood why we try to impose masculine ideals on women instead of creating an environment of respect for feminine strengths and I remember being extremely angry at a pre school for banning the doll s house from the playroom so that girls wouldn t adopt typical girly behaviour I found that insulting What about cars, then Considered boy s toys, and therefore acceptable The same goes for the pinkophobia that some parents develop to protect their girls from looking too feminine It is a colour, just like blue And why is it politically loaded, if blue is not Are they not making the point that the things girls choose are less valuable I am in deep waters now, I realise, so I will return to why Virginia Woolf is such a role model and heroine for me She sees human beings in their multifaceted identities, and claims, rightly in my opinion, that any creative person must be able to draw from male AND female parts of the mind Some collaboration has to take place in the mind between the woman and the man before the art of creation can be accomplished Some marriage of opposites has to be consummated The whole of the mind must lie wide open if we are to get the sense that the writer is communicating his experience with perfect fullness There must be freedom and there must be peace This is by far the best essay on gender equality I have read, as it respects and values the individual wishes and needs of women and men and does not try to create by force a uniform sameness At the same time, it is a declaration of love to literature and creativity It is entertaining, funny and informative It has it all I want Virginia Woolf Favourite quote For books continue each other, in spite of our habit of judging them separately PS My 16 year old son just finished reading this book and loved it, and it feels like it continues and makes my reading experience even pleasurable There are so many books that one just knows what they are going to be about I have always known about this book and knew what it would be about Feminist rant, right Oh, these people do so preach to the choir, don t they Why do they hate men so much In the end they are no different to the male chauvinists they are attacking Why can t they just be even handed That none of this is the case, of course, does not matter at all, because reiterating received wisdom seems to be all that is necessary today read 99% of the critiques of The God Delusion and the horrifying thing you will find is either a mindless acceptance or a mindless rejection of Dawkins It is enough to fill me with near complete despair.
The blurb on the back of the Penguin edition of this book says that this is one of the greatest feminist polemics of the century There is a quote too from Hermione Lee apparently, Woolf s greatest biographer which reads, fierce, energetic, humourous Look, I really loved this book and would recommend it whole heartedly but it is none of those things.
A polemic is a strong verbal or written attack to say this book is even an attack is really stretching the friendship This is the most mild of books Its central argument is that women need money of their own and a room of their own, with a lock on the door, if they want to write How can one really be fierce if that is all one is going to argue She ends with a quote from a man who provides a list of the greatest poets of the last couple of hundred years c.
1900 of which Keats was the only one who was not either a university person or of independent means.
So, I guess her recommendation is that if you want to write you need to be independently wealthy something I haven t quite achieved yet But eminently sensible advice all the same.
This book is based on a series of lectures she gave to women at Cambridge Uni on Women and Fiction and it is a delight that rather then make this a polemic she actually makes this a work of fiction creating a series of Marys who go off into the world and be idol as this is one of the criteria necessary for writing great fiction no matter what you genitalia are up to and part of the reason why being wealthy helps.
She also says that the best fiction is not written by men or women, but by men or women who have lost a sense that they are writing as men or women That writing that focuses too closely on explaining past hurts however well justified ends up being bad writing That fiction, when it is done properly, has a truth of its own that ought to be authentic and followed by the writer despite any agenda of the writer This is such a lovely idea and much interestingly about fiction than about women And this is as it ought to be.
Some of Woolf s writing I ve also just finish reading To the Lighthouse feels heavy now, some of her paragraphs go for three pages and that can make reading her feel a bit of a struggle but she writes so beautifully and has the annoying habit of making sense that it is no wonder that so many people have become so annoyed with her.
In the end I think it is only possible for people to say this is a fierce book or a polemic on the basis of their views, not Virginia s Her views on feminism expressed in the book today seem rather depressingly self evident and expressed in a light and very careful way But to a society that is not prepared to listen even the mildest expression of unpopular views will seem harsh, polemical and, well, just plain wrong.
Not the book I suspected, infinitely better than that.