A ROOM OF ONE’S OWN
Author: Virginia Woolf
Genre: Non-Fiction; Essay
First Published: 1929
Like revolutionary poetry, Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own” ignites the passion to write, to be heard, and to persevere in the face of seemingly insurmountable circumstances.
In this extended essay on “Women and Fiction”, Woolf posits that ‘…a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.’ She speaks of this room as a figurative space where a woman can think and exist away from the constraints of a patriarchal society and unaffected by the misogynistic views prevalent in early studies of her sex.
According to Woolf, for centuries, society has kept women from writing by limiting their financial resources and forcing them into the roles of mother, daughter, wife, mistress, and homemaker. These roles enable women to serve as ‘looking-glasses possessing magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size’, (p.29). Yet even at their most docile, women seem to pose as a threat to even the greatest of men. Men ‘insist so emphatically upon the inferiority of women, for if they [women] were not inferior, they [men] would cease to enlarge.’
In the course of the essay, Woolf also points out that man’s need for women has translated so well in fiction but has created a stark polarity between women in “real life” and women as portrayed in novels, plays, and even poetry. Woolf writes:
‘A very queer, composite being thus emerges. Imaginatively she is of the highest importance. She pervades poetry from cover to cover; she is all but absent from history… Some of the most profound thoughts in literature fall from her lips; in real life she could hardly read, could scarcely spell, and was the property of her husband.” (p.36)
As for Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Emily Brontë, and George Eliot, though Woolf hails all four as “great novelists”, she also asserts how generations of artistic suppression have left a lasting imprint on their works. Imagine how prolific these literary giants could’ve been had they not felt compelled to keep their writing a secret or if they had not been overly conscious of their gender and the roles they were born into. This “self-consciousness” makes the female writer her toughest and most unforgiving critic.
So the question here is how to free oneself of this “self-consciousness.” Woolf explains that ‘…it is fatal for anyone who writes to think of their sex… Some collaboration has to take place in the mind between the woman and the man before the art of creation can be accomplished.’ (p.90) By rising above the issue of the sexes, by attaining financial freedom and finding one’s “space” in the world, the writer truly becomes free to write for oneself and to create a thing of beauty.
Now, a lot may have changed in the last 80-something years since the book’s initial publication, but to me, this book remains one of the most revolutionary and relevant essays on writing and the feminist movement. Though sex may no longer be the biggest hindrance between a writer and publication, this essay also addresses relevant issues such as the impact culture, upbringing, and tradition has had on current and aspiring writers.
Unlike the typical academic essay, this piece from Woolf is also an easy and engaging read. Through masterfully merging fiction and non-fiction and fluidly stringing strong arguments together, Woolf creates an enduring and inspiring piece that will no doubt be read by millions more in the years to come.
RATING: A+; Highly Recommended
Where to Get this Book: I had trouble finding this essay, so if your local book shop doesn’t carry this book, try buying it online. 🙂