Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own is an important piece of literature when studying women and their writing. Woolf often wrote feminist pieces of literature, this one being “an important work of feminist literary criticism and a witty indictment of patriarchal restrictions on women’s creative agency “(Deshazer 14). Woolf’s focus in this essay is to explain to the audience, who are women attending a women’s college, the inequalities that women have experienced and the effect that it has had on their writing (or the lack of writing). She focuses on these barriers to elude that women need privacy and space in order to write, something that has been historically denied.
I think an important part of understanding literature comes by knowing a bit about the past of the author. Adeline Virginia Stephen was born on January 25, 1882. She was born into a family that was well off, however experienced many trauma’s in life that shaped her writing and experiences. She spent her childhood summers vacationing in St. Ives, which she used as a setting for some of her books. Her father was a historian and author and the first editor of the Dictionary of National Biography (Clarke). Her mother, Leslie Stephen, was also a writer. She was a Victorian critic and biographer. As a child her father educated her. She used her father’s library often to read and knew at an early age that she wanted to be a writer. She struggled with depression throughout her life experiencing a psychological break when her mother died in 1895; a death that would stay with her throughout her life. She also struggled with the death of her half-sister and father. In 1912 she married Leonard Woolf and in 1917 founded the Hogarth Press (presumably to print the works that other publishers might not). She was involved in the women’s suffrage movement. When her brothers were in college she became acquainted with the Bloomsbury group, a group of intellectuals who shared a love for literature. Woolf became increasingly depressed perhaps because her husband was Jewish and risked being captured by the Nazi’s as well as having her home destroyed during the Blitz (WWII). She committed suicide in 1941 by filling her pockets with stones and wading into the River Ouse near her home in Sussex (TheBiographyChannel).
Virginia Woolf repeats throughout the essay that women need a room of their own to write in. This practical phrase acknowledges the need for women to have a quiet space where there is a lot of time to think and reflect and with that time produce a viable piece of artwork free of fear and which embodies truth to oneself. This need has been taken from women in many forms. Women throughout history have been expected to work in the home, care for children, and instill morality in that family. She says
“literature is impoverished by the doors that have been shut upon women. Married against their will, kept in one room, and to one occupation, how could a dramatist give a full or interesting or truthful account of them” (57).
Woolf also suggests that prejudices against women and their writing hindered their writing. This is one reason why a woman needs a room of her own, to be free from those who would criticize her for writing. “If we can show that the unequal relationship between the sexes came about through essentially historical processes rather than being a simple result of biological differences, then we can also show why that relationship can be changed.”(ibiblio.org). This unequal relationship, Woolf argues also produces a hindrance in women’s writing. Men thought that women’s writing was useless and could not produce a work that was interesting or viable. “The world said with a gaffaw, write? What’s the good of your writing” (41). The writing of women was seen as second-class, as was anything that was not a domestic task of women. Due to the inequalities that women experience they have produced less works than men and because they are hindered by fear and anger toward society their work is flawed. In fact she is so impressed with Jane Austin because she feels that her work was unhindered, even calling it a miracle that Austin was able to accomplish this feet. “I could not find any signs that the circumstances had harmed her work in the slightest. That, perhaps, was the chief miracle about it” (49).
Women need some independence, some education and some financial freedom to be writers. That is what a room of one’s own stands for, that freedom needed to cross the barriers of discrimination and the peace needed to reflect and write.
“Intellectual freedom depends upon material things. Poverty 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” (69)
At the end of the essay Woolf implores the students to change the inequalities women have experienced by being writers of all subjects, even those considered for men, so that women can break free of stereotypes and find the truth and freedom needed to create true works of art. She notes the possibility of a new era where women have a chance at education, intellectual freedom and financial freedom. They have a chance at a room of their own, that spacial barrier from society where they can write truth without fear.
“Appendix E.” A HISTORICAL ANALYSIS OF WOMEN’S OPPRESSION. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Feb. 2013. <http://www.ibiblio.org/ahkitj/wscfap/arms1974/Regl_womens_prog/Women and Men in Partnership/05e Historical Analysis.htm>.
Clarke, Stuart N. “Virginia Woolf (1882-1941): A Short Biography.” The Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britan. Virginia Woolf Society, 2000. Web. 6 Feb. 2013. <http://www.virginiawoolfsociety.co.uk/vw_res.biography.htm>.
“Virginia Woolf.” 2013. The Biography Channel website. Feb 06 2013, 05:24 <http://www.biography.com/people/virginia-woolf-9536773>.