... Woolf states are the pre-requisites for a woman to be a writer - in other words, writers are not necessarily timeless geniuses who rise above their age, but are shaped, supported or repressed by their material, economic, social and cultural conditions.
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.
on 2 December 2009
Two short and pithy tracts of Virginia Woolf that lie at the pinnacle of literature with regard the relevance of the feminist movement as it has made its turbulent progress to the present day. They are still highly relevant today by merit of their clarity and thrust. Witty, eloquent and surprising Woolf blows a canonade through the masculine made myths that have kept women hobbled down the ages and enables us to see clearly the absurdity of it all.Looking back in retrospect to when they were written 'A Room of one's own' in 1929 and 'Three Guineas' 1938 they must have been a fanfare for women's rights and a thorn in the side of the traditionalists. Woolf subtly shows why women have been unable to progress in independence and her viewpoints give some unusual angles on aspects of masculine rituals and in the most humerous way.Still a rewarding and insightful read!
on 25 August 2012
Though written in the last century, and refreshingly without the usual indexed, referenced and other distractions, nevertheless a great polemic about the state of women, relevant even today. Anyone interested in women's issues, not even as a campaigner or someone just 'wishing to find a room of one's own' should read it.
on 6 November 2014
This is an important book for any feminist, providing a valuable historical context against which to evaluate women's economic, social and cultural gains over the last century. Elegantly and wittily written, it reinforces the continuing need for a feminist perspective to inform a meaningful analysis of today's political scene.
on 16 July 2010
A must-read for any students of literature, or anyone with any appreciation of it! Although not exactly easy-going, if you've sat down to tackle Woolf then the rather intense stream of consciousness in which it is written will be expected and looked upon, perhaps, rather indulgently!
I found myself marvelling at gem after gem of innovative metaphors, it swarmed with ingenious semantic fields and though rather frustratingly, it raises far more questions than it answers, it presents a thought process that would be of great interest to any writer. The topic itself, Women and Fiction, is typically controversial, however the tension this naturally creates keeps it animated and especially evocative for readers looking at the contextual aspects in regard to Women as a specialist section of history.