A short classic of feminist literature. A Room of One’s Own is an extended essay, based on lectures Woolf gave on Women and Fiction to two ladies colleges, at Cambridge University, in October 1928.
Woolf uses a fictional narrator to explore her ideas about women and fiction. The main idea being that historically women haven’t been given the physical or mental space to be able to write. Access to education has been severely limited
She gets us to think about Shakespeare’s hypothetical, equally talented sister, Judith.
This may be true or it may be false—who can say?—but what is true in it, so it seemed to me, reviewing the story of Shakespeare’s sister as I had made it, is that any woman born with a great gift in the sixteenth century would certainly have gone crazed, shot herself, or ended her days in some lonely cottage outside the village, half witch, half wizard, feared and mocked at. For it needs little skill in psychology to be sure that a highly gifted girl who had tried to use her gift for poetry would have been so thwarted and hindered by other people, so tortured and pulled asunder by her own contrary instincts, that she must have lost her health and sanity to a certainty.
It’s also funny in places. There are some snarky comments that I very much appreciated:
I had been drawing a face, a figure. It was the face and the figure of Professor von X engaged in writing his monumental work entitled The Mental, Moral, and Physical Inferiority of the Female Sex. He was not in my picture a man attractive to women.
Woolf talks about how women who appear in literature, written by men, are so completely different to women in real life, and how they were allowed to live:
A very queer, composite being thus emerges. 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.
She ends by reminding young women that education and more professions are now available to them and they must make the most of it. She encourages them to have a few children, rather than 10 or more, and to go and write!
I would say it’s really worthwhile to go and read A Room of One’s Own, if you haven’t already 🙂