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on 16 March 2003
Asked originally to deliver a talk on Women and Fiction in 1928, Virginia Woolf eventually produced this longer essay which expands its subject to cover education, marriage, property and money. She moves backwards through literary history, examining the women who have written, often against great opposition, and the female characters that have been written, mostly by men, and finds a startling anomaly: "Imaginatively she is of the highest importance; practically she is completely insignificant."
Unlike many feminist authors, Woolf does not argue for tearing down the achievements of male authors. In fact she argues that both sexes should write androgynously, in order to find the proper reality of things, but at its heart it is a feminist essay. At the time Woolf was writing women had been granted many more freedoms than their mothers, but still had a lot to fight for, and she urges women to do so, albeit for the realm of intellectual freedom and the pleasure of writing for a living. (I have no doubt she would do the same today, despite all our apparent advances.)
She knew she was one of the fortunate (she was left five hundred pounds a year by her aunt, giving her economic independence) and she famously concludes that a women must have a room of her own and money of her own in order to write. But why? It is not so that there are idle hours to be filled by writing - it is because writing well and truthfully can only be properly achieved when a woman is not railing against the bounds of poverty, dependence, social exclusion and disapproval.
The essay is, however, also art. Unlike a dry academic paper it skips lightly and often with humour from subject to observation, and demonstrates with her usual deftness how the real world produces new trains of thought in a person, just as a person's thoughts can mean interpreting the world in a new way. The very construction of the essay is an example of the work she is promoting, to attempt "to live in the presence of reality, an invigorating life." Because of this, and the sheer energy of the writing, it is a work that deserves a reading, no matter what your sex or station or ambition. And if you are a woman intending to write, be it a novel, travelogue or PHD you really ought to give up a couple of hours to read this; you are almost certainly guaranteed a new enthusiasm for your task.
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on 16 November 2005
I admit that as a younger student I found Woolf rather dull and distasteful. There was something so inaccessible and over-done about her writing. However, I came to understand my own ignorance and come to a love of Woolf by seeing her as a poet, as a thinker, and not as a novelist. It is true that her writing is complex, erudite and ambiguous but that is its charm, its enigmatic charm - and A Room of One's Own is no exception.
This is not a novel but rather a set of essays given to an audience of young cambridge girl students. The book opens with the wonderful premise 'A Woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction'. Thus, we are made to understand immediately the crux of the book; that intellectual freedom depends upon material things and that for women to create works comparable to Shakespeare's tragedies she must have a sense of autonomy.
Woolf proceeds to take us on a witty journey through the history of women and literature to explain why the female sex has always been limited. She concots, for sake of argument, the figure of Shakespeare's sister, who like her elder brother had a talent for theatre and creation of art. Due to her sex she is limited and ends up leading a frustrated life and ultimately killing herself. Woolf ends the book by calling her audience to write, to write widely and by doing so to emancipate Shakespeare's sister and show the men that women aren't their social, physical and mental inferiors.
One could say this is the start of feminist criticism, indeed with the book being published in the year of the acquisition of female suffrage the context would seem awfully auspicious. The book follows Woolf's ideoysncratic modernist style, pursuing the 'stream of thought' format. For any aspiring writer, for any historian, for any student, for anyone, i implore you to read this book. In this day of comparable equality of sex this divine rumination could be applied to writers of ethnic minorities and even writers of different sexual orientation. In order to create art one must have intellectual freedom; 'a room of one's own and money in one's pocket'.
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on 5 April 2001
'A Room of One's Own' is an extremely readable essay. It's a delightful read and the classification of it as an 'essay' should not put anyone off as it is as entertaining as any of Woolf's prose. Once I started reading it I could not stop. Woolf flirts with you through her narrative, drawing you in to her thought processes, enticing you to follow her narrator on a journey of the mind as she wanders about 'Oxbridge' and London. Woolf demonstrates great insight, forseeing the future for women and their involvement in the arts with great accuracy. Through her narrative she also introduces a new discourse, one that she encourages other women to take up in order to free themselves from the masculine domination of literature. Inspirational.
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on 5 May 2012
An incredibly lazy job of editing and frustratingly unreadable format cost me 77p. When I purchase a classic that I could read for free elsewhere, I really prefer that the majority of words are intact, not cut off at the end of every other line and chunks of text occasionally skipped altogether. Furthermore, unlike most kindle texts, I was unable to scroll through the text to highlight/use the dictionary etc. POOR. Yes, we're in a recession yet it's much more for the principle than the financial stretch of the 77p that I urge you to buy another edition.
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on 4 December 2004
This book has so much more to offer than simply a treatise on the feminist needs of creative women (although this is a very important topic, and as relevant now as when Woolf wrote her essays); it also offers excellent advice on the art of writing well, and the need for a good writer to resist the urge to use their craft as a stage from which to proclaim their views. I already know this book will have a profound effect on my own writing, and for that alone it thoroughly deserves five stars.
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on 23 June 2016
As much as I want to, I cannot get on with Virginia Woolf. I've tried (twice!) to read Mrs Dalloway and only get about half-way through before I admit defeat. As an aspiring writer, I thought this might be more to my taste. However, it is Woolf's rambling writing style that I find really hard and, despite my interest in the subject matter, she went off the point so often that it was hard to pick out what the point actually was! I spoke to a very well-read friend and she suggested that I try Orlando so I'll give that a go but I may just have to accept that I am not a fan. Third time lucky maybe!
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on 17 August 2013
I did a module on Virginia Woolf at university. I read Jacob's Room, Orlando, To The Lighthouse, Mrs Dalloway and Between The Acts, I also read a lot of general remarks by her, but I did not read A Room Of One's Own. I actually got a first in the essay I wrote on Woolf, a fact that still baffles me to this day, as I generally found no particular affinity for her as an author.

I saw A Room Of One's Own up for grabs in the library, and as it's rather slight, thought : Why Not?

It's an extended essay over several chapters, and interesting from a number of perspectives. It is borne of a much shorter address that Woolf was asked to give to Oxbridge on Women And Fiction, and generally is a feminist perspective on the historical progress of women as authors. Ironically, it's now a historical piece in itself, and one far detached from the realities of today's female writers.

Woolf, from a wealthy, well connected background argues that to succeed as a female writer one needs an independent means, (Woolf rather quaintly recommends £500 a year) and a room of one's own to write in.

She talks about Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen, how in Austen's case writing, prior to her fame, was almost a dirty secret, how Charlotte's frustrations at the limitations of her sex can be seen in Jane Eyre almost to its detraction as a work of fiction. (I've always thought Jane Eyre over-rated)

The male reaction to female writing and how it was seen as an intellectual threat is a diverting topic and the sexism of even Woolf's own era extraordinary.

Perhaps the most interesting of all her reflections is on that of "Shakespeare's Sister" - a fictional entity who if she had wished to pursue the same career as her brother would have been laughed at and degraded, and would have mostly died a victim of sexual exploitation on a roadside near Elephant and Castle. Bleak as this is, I believe Woolf is correct nonetheless.

Where 'A Room Of One's Own' gave me most cause to reflect was in the discussion of women pre-Bronte and pre-Austen who were routinely silenced and had no creative outlet and were expected to have no opinion. It made me think that women today with literary ambitions should pursue them to the fullest, because we are lucky to live in far more enlightened times.

Woolf slightly misses the mark towards the end with the idea that even so, women's writing would remain the province of the upper class, working class women having no time for such pursuits with their poverty and life of drudgery. Snobbish though this may sound to our ears, Woolf even though she was a progressive simply could not conceive of two things : the world women know in 2013 and the literary world of 2013, a world were gender, sexuality and every social class is represented without any notion that this is something remarkable. If at times we grow complacent with the ways of the modern world we should remember just how huge a social and cultural transformation occurred throughout 20th Century Britain and just how fortunate, women particularly, are as a result.

One wonders what on earth Virginia Woolf would have made of it
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Virginia Woolf was asked to give a talk about Women and Fiction in 1928. The talk eventually became this book. Woolf shows very convincingly how women have found it difficult to be taken seriously in the world of literature. Her famous suggestion that women can only play a full part in writing if they have an income of five hundred year and a room of their own - with a lock on the door still holds good today though the amount of money needed would be larger. She provides some examples of how women's talents were just not taken seriously and they were regarded as totally inferior to even the most mediocre man.

I found it interesting that she thought the best writing is androgynous and could have been written by either men or women. She accepts that women may write differently from men because they are aware of different aspects of life because of the way society is organised. Jane Austen wrote about what she knew as did George Eliot. They are disparaged because they deal with everyday life whereas men write about the outside world because that is what they know. Could Tolstoy have written `War and Peace' if he had been female? Woolf thinks not.

Woolf's overall thesis is that the world of literature needs both masculine qualities and feminine qualities. She does not want to downgrade the achievements of men because she believes the world needs both. The example of Shakespeare's sister is a telling one even though Shakespeare's writing is androgynous. Writers need to use both sides of their brains and personalities which echoes Jung's ideas that men have a feminine side just as women have a masculine side - wholeness comes from using both sides.

This book is well worth reading for its writing style alone and for its humour. This is not a feminist tract by any means but it does make some very valid points about how women were still treated in the nineteen twenties even though they had the right to vote.
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on 5 June 2015
Of course, this was going to be a literary piece, and I was not disappointed. Virginia's turn of phrase is both classic of the era she harks from, and as current about the affairs in today's predominant patriarchal society she forward thinks to. Particularly keen, genuinely portrayed. Pity she is not around to read this, because I feel sure she would have a scathing word or two about my having to fund my own education through one hand, whilst also paying my exorbitant taxes with the other. And those three guineas, no doubt purloined from out of the pocket of an unsuspecting Lord of Chamber in Commerce, and who would decry poverty and education is now equally distributed in gender, would little compensate me for the books it took to educate myself, so enable me to understand her essays therein! Virginia, in other words, gives you a good college rant about how ladies fund men in business! Even today!
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on 8 July 2014
A brilliant essay from virgina Woolf.
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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