A Room of One's Own

Thursday, March 22, 2012

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."

For a more in-depth look at the book and its impact visit Things Mean a Lot or A Room of One’s Own and read their eloquent thoughts.


*ೃ༄ Jillian said...

I loved this essay. I need to reread it. :)

Kailana said...

This has been on my to read list for ages. I am really bad about getting around to Woolf.

Teacher/Learner said...

The restrictions on the success of women writers have (for the most part) lifted but Woolf's essay is still relevant reading. I read this piece in college and it got me interested in reading more classics. Glad you enjoyed it as well :)

Jenners said...

I've tried Woolf and not done well. Perhaps this is the way to introduce myself to her. Those quotes are wonderful.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Jillian - I love that you named your blog after it!

Kailana - I've been meaning to read about a dozen of her books. I bought this one in Paris in 2005, so obviously I haven't made her a priority.

Teacher/Learner - It was interesting to hear a famous female author's thoughts on the history of female authors. The woman knows what she's talking about!

Jenners - Yes! Read this, I don't do well with Woolf either. She's too poetic for me. I'm hoping she'll grow on my with time, Mrs. Dalloway was not a success for me, but this one is so straight forward, it worked for me.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I have always been very intimidating by this author. I think I am afraid she is too smart for me. But you inspire me. Your enthusiasm is infectious!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Sandy - She is so intimidating! I would start with this essay though, it's much more accessible.

Ana S. said...

Thank you for the link, Melissa! I really enjoyed reading your thoughts as well. PS: I've been thinking about your question about Le Guin and will e-mail you back this weekend!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Nymeth - Great! There's no hurry at all, I just knew you'd have a good idea where to start. Thanks!