A Room of One’s Own
by Virginia Woolf
This famous publication originated as a series of lectures given by Woolf at two women’s colleges in 1928. She talked about women’s role in literature and their potential for creation vs. their actual ability to produce based on their status and income. She gives the wonderful example of William Shakespeare fictional sister Judith. If a woman came from the same station in life that Shakespeare did, what options would be available for her? Would she have had the freedom to write and act in plays? No, of course she wouldn’t. Women weren’t even allowed to perform back then, much less publish their work.
The essay examines whether women were capable of producing, and in fact free to produce work of the quality of William Shakespeare, addressing the limitations that past and present women writers face. When one has no money, one hardly has the time or energy to pursue their passions. Instead they must work each day to feed their families and survive.
“…how unpleasant it is to be locked out; and I thought how it is worse perhaps to be locked in.”
It’s easy to take these things for granted in the 21st century. Women may not have perfect equality in the work field, but we can work and we have rights that others were denied for centuries. Many of the female authors who stand out in previous centuries usually had to choose writing over children and sometimes over marriage (like Jane Austen, the Brontes, only one of whom married, etc.) Nowadays we can choose whether we want to marry or have children or a career or travel or all of the above. Because of this, we have so many more female writers than past centuries have held.
My favorite thing from the book was her comment about how each novel is built on all the work that preceded it. I think she’s right and that it holds true for both men and women in literature. Societies can’t help but incorporate the strides made by others into the development of current work.
“Without those forerunners, Jane Austen and the Brontes and George Eliot could no more have written than Shakespeare could have written without Marlowe without Chaucer, or Chaucer without those forgotten poets who paved the ways and tamed the natural savagery of the tongue.”
I really loved the book. It made me think and made me appreciate all that women have had to go through to get us to this point. It also made me want to do all that I can to take advantage of that freedom and perpetuate it for women around the world.
“Suppose, for instance, that men were only represented in literature as the lovers of women, and were never the friends of men, soldiers, thinkers, dreamers; how few parts in the plays of Shakespeare could be allotted to them; how literature would suffer!”
“By hook or by crook, I hope that you will possess yourself of money enough to travel and to idle, to contemplate the future or the past of the world, to dream over books and loiter at street corners and let the line of thought dip into the stream."