Title: A Room of One’s Own
Author: Virginia Woolf
On the Shelves: Non-Fiction> Classics
A 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”, 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 figural space for women writers within a literary tradition dominated by patriarchy (Goodreads 2014)
“Have you any notion how many books are written about women in the course of one year? Have you any notion how many are written by men? Are you aware that you are, perhaps, the most discussed animal in the universe?” (pg 28)
I’ve wanted to read a work of Virginia Woolf for a while now and had no idea where to start. This popped up on my goodreads feed because one of my friends was reading it and I was immediately drawn to it. “Feminist essays by Woolf contemplating the place of Women in Fiction”? Hell yes please! I love me some feminism. Note: not Feminism meaning “I hate men rawrr” but rather “we have brains, hearts, and souls just like men do, why the hell shouldn’t we be allowed to do the same jobs, earn the same wages and dress however we want without being shamed for it?” feminism.”
“Indeed, if women had no existance save in fiction written by men, ome would imagine her to be a person of utmost importance…but this is women in fiction” (pg 45.)
The book consists of essays written by Woolf when she was posed to answer the question of discussing “Women in Fiction”, leading to an in-depth discussion of the place of women as authors, as literary characters, women’s place in society in real life, the opportunities they are denied and the chances they aren’t given. You can literally see Woolf’s cogs whurring away as you read this, and as the essays progress, she goes from being quite calm about the subject, to getting more and more irritated about it- which transferred onto myself, because it is a frustrating thought. That the only works published about women before a set time, were by men. That the only women characters and how they were written or perceived were entirely based on how the men in society perceived them.
The women themselves, scarcely represented anyway, are brushed to the side and under the carpet, ignored and claimed to be a mystery, when hundreds of women probably could have written amazing books themselves if they had been provided with the chance. It is almost as if women are some mythical, mysterious creature out of Greek tragedies, who are believed to exist but nobody can quite pin down any hard evidence of them. She exists but alas, has no real stamp on history herself- for herself. Despite being well-documented in existing.
“Imaginatively, she is of the highest importance; practically she is completely insignificant. She pervades poetry from cover to cover; she is all but absent from history” (pg 45)
I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this a lot mainly because I usually stick to the safe grounds of fiction, I very rarely read a non-fiction work. But this was thoroughly enjoyable. I’m not going to say it was perfect because it wasn’t. It is a work of opinion, it is biased, and people have rightly pointed out that it is all well and good that Woolf is saying women should fight to have a proper place amongst the literary greats, both as authors and characters alike- but it is difficult to fight to get there if they are not from an upper class society (at that time) where the women had the time to sit and write, or even could sit and write, as many of those in the lower classes would only have had the very basic schooling.
“Poetry depends upon intellectual freedom. And women have always been poor, not for two hundred years merely, but from the beginning of time. Women have had less intellectual freedom than the sons of Athenian slaves. Women, then, have not had a dog’s chance of writing poetry. That is why I have laid so much stress on money and a room of one’s own.” (pg 106)
I really did enjoy this book and I definitely plan to read more of Woolf’s work. I highly recommend this to anyone interested in studying feminism as a subject or works representing feminist thoughts. I gave this book four stars and I will most definitely be re-reading it often in the future. Woolf ends the essays by pleading to women who have the wish and desire to write something, anything, to actually do it- because too many women in the past have had that privilege denied to them.
“Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.” (pg 76)
It is a short, tiny book- but it has a powerful message. And that, my friends, is what we want from books!
(Yes, I could honestly quote this book all day.)