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A Room Of One's Own Kindle Edition
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|Kindle Edition, 6 May 2014||
Audio CD, Audiobook, CD, Unabridged
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- "One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well"
- "Why are women, judging from this catalogue, so much more interesting to men than men are to women?"
- "There is no gate, no lock, no bolt, that you can set upon the freedom of my mind"
- "It is fatal for anyone who writes to think of their sex"
- "Women have always been poor, not for 200 years, but from the beginning of time"
Written in 1929, Woolf's essay (originally a series of lectures to Newnham and Girton Colleges) is read often today as a foundational document of feminist literary theory. Extremely prescient, it touches on theoretical issues such as female writing, and the representation of women in male-authored texts, thus foreshadowing the work done by French feminists such as Cixous, Irigaray and Kristeva. By clearly articulating the relationship between text and material world, and uncovering paradigms of power and self-interest, she also prefigures the influential work of Marxist critics such as Barthes and Foucault.
Given its date of composition, there are points at which Woolf is factually wrong - most pressingly when she talks about the impossibility of female poets during the Renaissance. Later scholarship focusing on Renaissance women poets such as Louise Labe, Veronica Franco, Aemilia Lanyer, Isabella Whitney, Mary Sidney, Mary Wroth et al have uncovered that women certainly did write, circulate and even publish poetry in the sixteenth century, though certainly these processes were never unproblematic.
I particularly like the way in which Woolf offers her essay as an example of how to 'do' theory - she states that she doesn't want her listeners/readers to simply read and accept, but to engage actively, to resist, argue back, extend and re-write her arguments.
The whole is written in a lively, witty, style making it probably one of the most accessible theoretical texts we have from the modern period. So whether you're interested in feminist/gendered literary theory or Woolf, this is a stimulating and spirited read.
The title sums up the core of the essay - the necessity for women writers of the early 20th century to have a fixed independent income [£500 a year] and a room of her own, essential requirements for free expression where the writer can give her work full attention without other demands upon her time. Such privileges the author had due to a legacy from her aunt; but in my opinion one which she fully appreciated and thus uses to ignite the theme of this essay.
Woolf takes us through the centuries of the dearth of women writers due to their lack of education - from a hypothetical sister of Shakespeare, who in a patriarchal society would be forbidden to give full rein to creative work even if her talent was obvious. She also examines notable writers such as Jane Austen, the Brontes, George Eliot, leading onto milestones in female emancipation such as Florence Nightingale, women's suffrage and the aftermath of the era of the first world war.
I particularly liked the way she queried obvious patriarchal privileges as a guest speaker at Oxbridge. Why a choice of wine with a gourmet meal for the male students/residents and only a bland meal with a water jug passed round for the women's college where she dined? In the year of 1928 she was well aware that there were discriminations and hurdles yet to be overcome, all of which she examines in her stream of consciousness fashion.
A must for all lovers of good literature, feminism and those with an interest in early 20th century society and culture.
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