“If women had no existence save in the fiction written by men, one would imagine her a person of the utmost importance; very various; heroic and mean; splendid and sordid; infinitely beautiful and hideous in the extreme; as great as a man; some think even greater. But this is a woman in fiction.” -Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own (page 36)
In A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf discusses female characters in fiction and how in real life women were not able to be anything like these characters. Some of the characters Woolf mentions in this same section are Cleopatra, Lady Macbeth, Rosalind, Anna Karenina, Clytemnestra, and many other famous women in literature. All of these women were very strong powerful women, with their own independent thoughts and ideas. These works of literature were written in a time when women were not allowed to be powerful or independent. Even in an age where Queen Elizabeth I decided she was going to rule England by herself and without a husband to be subservient to, other women did not have that ability or option. Most Elizabethan women weren’t even allowed to receive a proper education. They had to be completely faithful and obedient to their husbands, and were probably not allowed to speak their minds.
After reading this section in A Room of One’s Own, I was left asking a lot of questions. Where did these female characters come from, if women were so oppressed during that time? After reading about how some men thought women were “lacking in personality and character”(page 40) and that “the best woman was intellectually the inferior of the worst man” (Oscar Browning pg.41), why did men then write works that included strong female characters that were not lacking in personality, and were in no way inferior at all?
I was able to think up an answer to some of my questions. There were no books, poems or plays written in the Elizabethan era that actually depicted a common woman from the time because their lives had to be so mundane and they had to conform to the societal roles of women at the time. Woolf’s argument here is that there were no Cleopatras or Lady Macbeths because women were not allowed to be. If there were, there is no proof because “she never writes her own life and scarcely keeps a diary” (page 37). During the Elizabethan Era, the Cleopatras and Lady Macbeths in women had to stay hidden because, well, women were not allowed to be greater than men.