A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

A Room of One’s Own is an extended essay by Virginia Woolf that was recommended to me by my friend Ruth.  It was first published on 24 October 1929 and was based on a series of lectures she delivered at Newham College and Girton College which were two women only colleges at Cambridge University, England.  This extended essay employs a fictional narrator and narrative to allow it to explore women both as writers of fiction and characters within 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.

 Adeline Virginia Woolf (nee Stephen) was born on 25 January 1882  and died after committing suicide by drowning on 28 March 1941.    She was an English writer, and one of the foremost modernists of the twentieth century.  However, Woolf suffered from severe bouts of mental illness throughout her life.  She is thought to have suffered from what is now known as Bipolar disorder.  

During the inter war period Woolf was a significant figure in London literary society and a central figure in the influential Bloomsbury Group of intellectuals. This is one of most famous works  and A Room of One’s Own contains the famous dictum, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” Image

 In this work, Woolf and her multiple fictional narrators, Mary BetonMary Seton and Mary Carmichael, embody the universal voices of female writers that once were and the ones that never came to be.  The author relentlessly beguiles the reader with evocative prose and an unapologetic tone dripping with irony, righteousness and lyricism. 

Sitting on the riverside in front of locked gates of universities and libraries, Woolf observes the reflections of weeping willows and uncrossable bridges flowing in streams of blurred ideas and slippery thoughts while she traces back the river of history and gauges the impact of the patriarchal heritage on women’s intellectual independence and their ability to create works of art. 
She wonders how much greater the works of Jane  Austen or the Bronte sisters might have been if they had owned a room of their own, a desk where they could write in privacy or if they had been granted the freedom to devote to their creative process.

Woolf wonders how prolific female writers might have turned out to be if they had not been expected to behave as magnifying mirrors of their masculine companions.  Although this was initially researched for lectures presented to the Arts Society at Newnham and Girton Colleges in 1928,  A Room of One’s Own is more than just a feminist essay about the influence of sexual discrimination in the production of literary fiction.  This is evident in the lack of published works by female authors since the beginning of times. 

What in my opinion makes this text a masterpiece is Woolf’s quest to find the binding essence that unites the writer’s source of inspiration, their integrity and power of vision  when an unbreakable and almost miraculous bond is created between author and reader.  It arises above gender, prejudice or history.

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Woolf argues that for the written word to achieve that unbreakable blending of the souls, the male and female voices need to sing together,  to spiritually cooperate and fuse to compose the complete story within the writer’s mind.  She appears to be at the peak of her impressionist techniques stream of consciousness to deliver a double-edged essay.  It is pungent with latent criticism and dry witted satire but also honeyed with delicious metaphors and vivid imagery.   A Room of one’s own has been mostly recognized for its undeniable feminist tone and the author’s belief that women need economic independence to develop their creativity. She defends her plight based on irrefutable proofs provided by a literary map of female writers that she outlines with taste and skill throughout history.

What made a piece of art of this essay is Woolf’s use of poetic and fluid quality of language.   I found this a fascinating book.  I am glad Ruth recommended it to me.  I, in turn, recommend it to you.

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