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A Room of One’s Own

In 1928, Virginia Woolf was asked to speak on the topic of “women and fiction”. The result, based upon two essays she delivered at Newnham and Girton that year, was A Room of One’s Own, which is an extended essay on women as both writers of fiction and as characters in fiction. While Woolf suggests that, “when a subject is highly controversial-and any question about sex is that-one cannot hope to tell the truth,” (Woolf 4) her essay is, in fact, a thought out and insightful reflection on the topic.

The main point she offers is that a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction. Within the essay Woolf centers on the economic constraints that society inflicts on women, resulting in financial dependency on men and ignorance because of lack of education.

As for issues that are addressed within the writing, one of the first is noticed when Woolf is at the library and the reader begins to see the treatment of women, “I must have opened it, for instantly there issued, like a black guardian angel barring the way with a flutter of black gown instead of wings, a deprecating, silvery, kindly gentleman, who regretted in a low voice as he waved me back that ladies are only admitted to the library if accompanied by a Fellow of the College or furnished with a letter of introduction. Woolf 8) During the 1500’s, women fought for their education; however the majority of men during this time questioned the thought that women should receive an education. Some men would make claims that women could learn, but that is was not a very good idea. Women felt that it was necessary for them to learn so that they can express themselves. This can be seen in A Handmaid’s Tale, because the handmaids in the Republic were given next to no rights. They were not allowed in certain places, were not given the gift of education, and were, in a sense, subject to the male dominancy of the times.

Also within the first chapter while discussing a Mrs. Seton, who is a student at Fernham College and friend of the narrator, she states that it would be useless to ask the question what might have happened to them had her mother and mother’s mother collected great wealth because, “in the first place, to earn money was impossible for them, and second, had it been possible, the law denied them the right to possess what money they earned. ” (Woolf 22) During their time period, it would have been considered her husband’s property.

Also, for instance, if the father was to pass away, his money would go to the next male in line in the family instead of any women. Such was the case also in both Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea. Mr. Rochester is pushed into marriage with Bertha because she is thought to have a great wealth. This would, in turn, become his money once they are married. During the essays, Woolf is careful not to fully blame men for the unfair treatment of women. Any blame she does bestow on them, she attributes their actions to the times and culture.

At one point she states, “Life for both sexes-and I looked at them, shouldering their way along the pavement-is arduous, difficult, a perpetual struggle. ” (Woolf 34) By taking on this cultural perspective, Woolf is careful not to point the blame fully on men. In chapter 3, Woolf offers the idea of an imaginary character by the name of Judith Shakespeare, who is the fictional sister of William Shakespeare. It is very possible that Judith is as intelligent as her brother, but the only education that she receives is the one that she gives herself.

What little she does write she chooses to hide or burn in fear of getting caught. Woolf mentions a bishop who declared that it was impossible for women, past, present or to come, to have the genius of Shakespeare. She goes on to say, “Be as it may, I could not help thinking, as I looked at the works of Shakespeare on the shelf, that the bishop was right at least in this; it would have been impossible, completely and entirely, for any woman to have written the plays of Shakespeare in the age of Shakespeare. Woolf 46) This is mostly because women of the time were uneducated, and people of service. This entire thought can be contrasted with the life of Charlotte Bronte. Women during her time were not seen as writers, so she actually had to use a pseudonym to get her works published. In the 4th chapter the narrator starts outlining her history by tracing back the women writers from the past. The special focus here is the effect of tradition on women’s writing and also the fact that the social differences of men and women has had important effects on the development of women’s writing.

She discusses multiple female writers of the past. The reader is asked to look into what they did and did not achieve for their works. Woolf also wants the readers to see the giant leap that the women of the time were making with their writings. It is also noted that great male writers cannot be standards for women, because “the weight, the pace, the stride of a man’s mind are too unlike her own for her to lift anything substantial from him… ” The narrator also makes the statement that there is a unique way of writing done by women, “A woman’s sentence. Woolf 76) The argument is made that women feel and value differently then men do, and because of this men also write differently. As for the “man’s sentence,” she notes that Jane Austen, “looked at it and laughed at it and devised a perfectly natural, shapely sentence proper for her own use and never departed from it. ” (Woolf 77) Along with this, Charlotte Bronte wanted her work to be judged by its art, and not by her sex. Chapter 5 starts off by the narrator talking about how the subjects of women writings have expanded.

She states that,” There are books on all sorts of subjects which a generation ago, no woman could have touched. “(Woolf 79) Women have now branched out past just writing novels. They now write nearly as much as men do. The example of expanding topics the narrator finds is a novel by Mary Carmichael. The main issue within this novel starts with the line, “Chloe liked Olivia. ” This was a very big issue for her times because relationships were meant to be between a man and a woman. Another thing out of the norm was that women in Carmichael’s books pursued interests outside of the home.

The narrator has high hopes for both this novel and its author. She thinks about the important transition that is going on, “If Chloe likes Olivia, and Mary Carmichael knows how to express it, she will light a torch in a vast chamber where no one has yet been. ” (Woolf 84) At the end of this chapter, we are returned to Woolf’s original claim that women need both money and a room of her own to write. She uses Mary Carmichael as an example of this, saying she will be able to be a poet.

It is seen that, when given the opportunities, women can produce excellent literature. This has been apparent in all of the literature that has been covered within the semester. Once the reader gets to Chapter 6, Woolf makes a comment about how books have a way of influencing each other. This can be clearly seen between the novels Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea. The two are based similarly around the same background, but at the same time they are told from two different vantage points of characters.

Wide Sargasso Sea gives us the view of “Bertha,” whom in Jane Eyre the reader sees as an antagonist, but this time we are told the story from her point of view, in turn giving the reader a different perspective on her situation. Woolf sums up her argument with the statement,” Intellectual freedom depends on material things. Poetry depends upon intellectual freedom. And women have always been poor, not for two hundred years merely, but from the beginning of time. Women have had less intellectual freedom than the sons of Athenian slaves. Women, then, have not had a dog’s chance of writing poetry.

That is why I laid so much stress on money and a room of one’s own. “(Woolf 108) Here she closes with reasoning behind why she makes the claim of women needing money and a room of their own. The novel as a whole seems to address a few different major themes. The first is the need for money and a room of one’s own to write. Woolf repeatedly insists upon this and gives a historical type of argument that a lack of money and privacy has not permitted women from showing their genius in writing. The next is the aggression of men. Woolf states how men have historically demeaned women in order to show their own superiority.

She also claims that due to this aggression, men’s writings have suffered in the past. Along with this male aggression, there is also the theme of sexism shown as well. The patriarchal English society is closely examined by its limitation on women of the time. The main example of this is seen as when women are not even allowed into the library without a male escort or written permission. All of these tied together show the degrading look upon women of the time and the view of them as being a person of lower status within the society.

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