Thursday, August 14, 2008

A Room of One's Own


"One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well."
~Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own

I'm rereading Virginia Woolf's very intense A Room of One's Own, which is actually a long essay she wrote "with ardour and conviction" on the the topic of women and fiction, that she prepared when asked to speak about this subject at women's colleges. A Room of One's Own was published in 1929, when young women were still discouraged from attending college (due to genuine fear that a good education would make women unfit for marriage and motherhood), and although it's not angry in tone the essay reflects a society in which severe limitations were put on women and their achievements. Virginia Woolf speaks about the creative process that lead to her talks, of her notebook in which she recorded a multitude of ideas, thoughts, and mental meanderings, and writes about the train of thought that led to her conclusion, that "a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction". In A Room of One's Own Virginia Woolf grapples with what is exactly meant by women and fiction (not a simple matter), and demonstrates and expresses the complexity of her thought in her trademark stream-of-consciousness writing. Defying conventions of the time, she talks about the actual food served at the luncheon party, of the soles and partridges and potatoes, and of the importance of food to the artist in a more general sense. She discusses numerous things in this full, layered essay of her thoughts, among them a sense of loss due to the war which began in August of 1914, that changed the underlying current of life--previously filled with music and poetry, with romance--and of the special difficulties women artists face (still relevant today!). Her message is simple (though the means is not), that women must have money (a fixed income) and a room of their own (privacy) in order to have the freedom to create, luxuries that men may take for granted. She imagines Shakespeare's "sister", equal in talent and genius, but because of her sex, never writes a word, never expresses her genius, never lives to old age because she takes her own life in quiet desperation. Her essay is meant to encourage young women, to inspire them to create, as she's sympathetic to their plight. In A Room of One's Own,Virginia Woolf wants the limitations removed, and for women to have the same intellectual freedom that men have had for centuries, so that they, too, may express their genius.

As mentioned in a previous post, you can read A Room of One's Own online at eBooks@Adelaide.

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for your review of A Room of One's Own. I too think this is a great essay, relevant to the issues women still have today. I gave the book, to my [female]boss who she always wanted to read it and now she would. It's a book that talks to everyone.

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  2. What a terrific gift! Do we have any writers today who can express the same depth as Virginia Woolf?
    As a modernist, she "broke new ground" with both the style and substance of her amazing, timeless essays and novels.
    Thank you for your comment, Ms. Marco!

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