A Room of One’s Own has been on my to-read list before I even really knew what it was about. Published in 1929, this book is an extended essay based on a lecture series Virginia Woolf delivered at Cambridge University in October 1928. Today it is well known for being an important feminist text in women’s and gender studies. After finally having read this book, I’d just like to ramble for a while about how fantastically feminist it is. Every text has its flaws, but Woolf has really hit the nail on the head here in so many ways.
There’s no doubt that this text was groundbreaking at the time of its publication. As the title hints, Woolf argues that women must be able to have money and a room of their own (preferably quiet and private) in order to write great literature and function as independent citizens of society in general. She methodically takes us through her process of realizing how little writing by women has been documented and preserved throughout history, as made clear by her time digging through records at the British Museum. It quickly becomes apparent that women are in desperate need of a tradition of women’s writing, one upon which they can build and grow.
“Literature is open to everybody. I refuse to allow you, Beadle though you are, to turn me off the grass. 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.”
At the end of the text, Woolf directly calls upon women–especially the younger generations–to make further progress in ensuring more opportunities for women. She does this by supposing that Shakespeare had a hypothetical sister–Judith Shakespeare–who never had the opportunity to live up to her potential due to the lack of opportunities for women during her time. Woolf implores readers to give Judith the chance to shine through them, to embrace the talent and power that lies within them and achieve what society never allowed this hypothetical brilliant woman to achieve.
“I told you in the course of this paper that Shakespeare had a sister; but do not look for her in Sir Sidney Lee’s life of the poet. She died young—alas, she never wrote a word. She lies buried where the omnibuses now stop, opposite the Elephant and Castle. Now my belief is that this poet who never wrote a word and was buried at the cross–roads still lives. She lives in you and in me, and in many other women who are not here to–night, for they are washing up the dishes and putting the children to bed. But she lives; for great poets do not die; they are continuing presences; they need only the opportunity to walk among us in the flesh. This opportunity, as I think, it is now coming within your power to give her.”
I’m not going to lie: I teared up a bit when I read that passage. What’s more empowering and inspiring than Virginia Woolf telling you that you can be the next Shakespeare– or better? Personally, I think empowerment is a vital aspect of feminism and for that reason, among many others, this book is a remarkable feminist text.
Of course, no text is perfect. Are there elements of Woolf’s argument that I disagree with and even find problematic? Naturally. In particular, I disagree with Woolf’s line of thinking that sentences, writing, and language itself is gendered in the sense that women’s sentences are inherently different from men’s sentences… doesn’t this contradict her argument about androgyny in the first place? However, I believe that the positive aspects of A Room of One’s Own outweigh its problematic parts and that it nevertheless remains a text well worth reading.
Overall, I’m so happy that A Room of One’s Own was on my reading list for this semester so I finally got around to reading this brilliant book. Whether or not you’ve read Virginia Woolf’s writing before or if you generally read nonfiction, I would highly, highly recommend picking this book up and giving it a go!
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What are your thoughts on A Room of One’s Own or Virginia Woolf’s writing in general? Do you have a favorite book by Woolf? Any recommendations? Let me know in the comments section below!