A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf, book review, British Literature, Charlotte Bronte, Feminist Literature, Jane Austen, Mary Charmichael, Modernism, patriarchy, Shakespeare's sister, women and fiction, women writer's
The beauty of Virginia Woolf’s captivating essay, A Room of One’s Own, lies in her ability to bring to light the topic of the oppression of women in history; more specifically, in the composition of literature, at a time when few people were willing to acknowledge the issue. First published in 1929, the essay and world of Woolf were influenced by the First Wave Feminist Movement. Still, as a reader of the text from a time period extending 90 years into the future, it amazes me how relatable her arguments, how witty her sarcasm. I find myself wondering, what would Virginia Woolf think of today’s relations of men and women? How far has society come, or hasn’t it?
Woolf begins her essay with a question she is posed as its writer: She is asked to speak about women and fiction. This is an inexhaustibly complicated topic, but a woman must have money and a room of her own to write. The problem cannot be solved in the time in which Woolf lives because women are not given these rights. Women are not given basic rights and have never been in the history of the world due to patriarchy. Since women have not been allowed to earn or possess money, they have been poverty stricken, thus making it impossible for them to control their fate in the literary world.
Woolf takes to time to investigate the origins of female poverty. She relates the oppression of women to male insistence upon superiority and the need to continue to wield power which has been inherent and unyielding. Men continue to control because they feel they must. In such a way they have taken drastic measures to make women different from themselves.
Shakespeare is provided as an example of the opportunities money has to offered men in the past. He was educated in fine schools, which is proven by the knowledge of literature and art exemplified in his own writings. In order to creatively display the fact that a woman in Shakespeare’s time could never have had the same opportunities, Woolf forms alongside him, Shakespeare’s sister. She describes a woman who would never have been educated, never have been allowed to leave her house, regardless of her genius. Eventually Shakespeare’s sister would have gone insane and killed herself as the property of a father or husband in Woolf’s imagination. It certainly doesn’t seem too far off. Women have not changed so much that today they have feelings and dreams, yet 400 years ago they did not.
Towards the end of her essay, Virginia Woolf begins reading a recently (in the 1920’s) published novel. The fictional author, Mary Carmichael, becomes representative of all future women. Woolf says that Carmichael isn’t a genius like other women writers of the past such as Austen or Charlotte Bronte, but she is able to break free of the gender awareness which restricted the women of the past. This ability to let go is a kind of freedom. It is empowering.
Despite Woolf’s ability to include humor which makes it extremely readable, to be absorbed in a text and feel as though you are watching Virginia Woolf in the British Museum looking through stacks of library books about women and poverty only to find they are all written by men about the inferiority of women puts the text into perspective. People of today don’t think about these things as much as they should. I’m not all that concern that the average male makes 25% more than I do. Maybe I should be. I don’t know… I do know that I am not and have never been free of gender constraints or awareness. I think this was something Woolf hoped for in the world of fiction that may be unrealistic due to the thousands of years of division between the sexes in society.
Final Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
For more information:
Virginia Wool Society: http://www.virginiawoolfsociety.co.uk/
Films: The Hours(2002): Based upon Michael Cunningham’s Pulitzer Prize winning interpretation of Woolf’s composition of Mrs.Dalloway