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A Room of One's Own

A Room of One's Own
Virginia Woolf
209 pages

So much has already been written about this classic work; this book is often read in courses on literature or women's studies, and people much more "learned" than me have had very profound things to say.  I find it difficult to offer up any unique point of view.  I'm just an avid reader with strong feminist leanings.  So this book is right up my street.  Published in 1929, A Room of One's Own is in fact a very long essay, taken from lectures given by Ms. Woolf.  She explores several feminist themes:
  • the importance of female education, income, and independence
  • the absence of both women's history and the feminine perspective on history
  • the evolution of women's writing
While I'd like to think these themes are now familiar and accepted, I can certainly understand the ground-breaking nature of this work.  In 1929, British women had only had the right to vote for 10 years.  Female authors were making their voices heard in new and often unwelcome ways: another example from that time period is Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness, a work of lesbian fiction banned after an obscenity trial. 

So what does A Room of One's Own offer the contemporary reader?  For young women of education and privilege, it is a means to connect with and understand their foremothers' journeys.  And Woolf's ideas on education and independence are still important for those advancing the cause of women around the world.  Experiencing this book as a reader, not a scholar, I found myself simply enjoying Woolf's writing talents.  I flagged more interesting passages in this book than anything else in recent memory.  I'll close my review of this memorable book with just a few examples.

Comparing women in fiction and in real life, during the time of Elizabeth: 
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 scarecely spell, and was the property of her husband. (p. 43)

Considering women in fiction a bit later:
It was strange to think that all the great women of fiction were, until Jane Austen's day, not only seen by the other sex, but seen only in relation to the other sex.  And how small a part of a woman's life is that ... (p. 81)

And finally, humorously challenging the prevailing view of women:
I thought of that old gentleman, ... who declared that it was impossible for any woman, past, present, or to come, to have the genius of Shakespeare. He wrote to the papers about it.  He also told a lady who applied to him for information that cats do not as a matter of fact go to heaven, though they have, he added, souls of a sort. How much thinking those old gentlemen used to save one!  How the borders of ignorance shrank back at their approach! Cats do not go to heaven. Women cannot write the plays of Shakespeare. (p. 46)

Read and enjoy.  ( )

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( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
(Anonymous)
Mar. 21st, 2009 02:11 am (UTC)
Although I didn't care much for Mrs. Dalloway, this is one of hers that I am still very interested in reading.

Great review!

Michelle
1morechapter.com
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )