10/52: A Room of One's Own - Virginia Woolf

  A portrait of Virginia Woolf by her sister, Vanessa Bell

A portrait of Virginia Woolf by her sister, Vanessa Bell

This was my first Virginia Woolf. I've had A Room of One's Own and To the Lighthouse on my to be read list for a few years; I have no idea why it took me so long to bring some Woolf into my life. So where to even begin?

First, Virginia Woolf was so far ahead of her time. She is basically preaching some second and third wave feminism in the 1920s. A Room of One's Own addresses the simple question of "Can women write fiction?" Woolf says yes, but she must have 500 pounds a year and a room of one's own. It may seem simple, but in the early 20th century most women did not have the ability to have their own money, let alone the privacy of their own room. 

Woolf goes on addressing women authors like Jane Austen, Emily Bronte, George Elliot, and Charlotte Bronte. I found her praise of Jane Austen refreshing and insightful. She praised Austen for being a woman writer who simply wrote what she wanted to write about, without trying to be like a man or justify herself in a male dominated world. Today women still struggle with this concept. Too often women seek equality in becoming "more like a man." Lean in, be powerful, don't show weakness, change the way your voice sounds; femininity is often seen as unprofessional. Woolf expands her idea that yes, 500 pounds and a room of one's own can give a woman an opportunity to write, but for it to be good writing then a woman must go even farther and disregard the societal pressures that surround her. Now, I don't know if I 100% agree with this because I think there is so much to be said about women's struggle for equality, but there is something invigorating about a women who writes not in rebellion to her oppression, not in competition with men, but simply as an unashamed, free woman. 

What I loved about this book was that Woolf recognized that to be a free woman writer one must be privileged in wealth and security. She didn't disregard the economic oppression that many women faced, and that many still face today. She even addressed motherhood and suggested that women should have control over how many children they have. This was probably the closest thing to intersectionality that existed in the early twentieth century. 

I would highly recommend this classic book!


Quotables: 

“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.” 

“Women have served all these centuries as looking glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size.”

“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” 

“The history of men's opposition to women's emancipation is more interesting perhaps than the story of that emancipation itself.” 

“Therefore I would ask you to write all kinds of books, hesitating at no subject however trivial or however vast. By hook or by crook, I hope that you will possess yourselves of money enough to travel and to idle, to contemplate the future or the past of the world, to dream over books and loiter at street corners and let the line of thought dip deep into the stream.” 

“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?” 

“Women have sat indoors all these millions of years, so that by this time the very walls are permeated by their creative force, which has, indeed, so overcharged the capacity of bricks and mortar that it must needs harness itself to pens and brushes and business and politics.” 

“So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say. But to sacrifice a hair of the head of your vision, a shade of its colour, in deference to some Headmaster with a silver pot in his hand or to some professor with a measuring-rod up his sleeve, is the most abject treachery, and the sacrifice of wealth and chastity which used to be said to be the greatest of human disasters, a mere flea-bite in comparison.” 

“Chastity ... has, even now, a religious importance in a woman's life, and has so wrapped itself round with nerves and instincts that to cut it free and bring it to the light of day demands courage of the rarest.” 

“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. She dominates the lives of kings and conquerors in fiction; in fact she was the slave of any boy whose parents forced a ring upon her finger. Some of the most inspired words, 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.” 

“Possibly when the professor insisted a little too emphatically upon the inferiority of women, he was concerned not with their inferiority, but with his own superiority. That was what he was protecting rather hot-headedly and with too much emphasis, because it was a jewel to him of the rarest price.” 


Here is a link to a section in the book called Shakespeare's Sister. Even if Shakespeare's sister had the same brilliance as her brother, there is no way it could have been manifested it in her lifetime. 

Read a plethora of articles on Virginia Woolf here.

Buy it here.

Borrow it here.