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A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf
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A Room of One's Own (original 1929; edition 1991)

by Virginia Woolf

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Member:writestuff
Title:A Room of One's Own
Authors:Virginia Woolf
Info:Harcourt Brace & Company (1991), Edition: 1st, Hardcover, 125 pages
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A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf (1929)

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I pretty much think of Virginia Woolf as something like the revered older sister of feminism, so I was surprised to be a little bugged by a few of her ideas. (Her attitude toward the suffrage movement, for example, seemed to be almost a little shallow. She says that literature and art have suffered because women's demanding their rights has caused men to fight back and so everyone is writing in anger which ruins creativity. Well, okay... But I think maybe women's rights take precedence over the needs of art in this case.) Anyway, I of course agree with her premise that women need rooms of their own, and I would give anything to be able to have five hundred a year. :)

This reminds me that I need to read another of her novels sometime soon.
  mirikayla | Feb 8, 2016 |
This is a book I’ve wanted to read for a long time, and I suppose I always put it off thinking that while it was an important piece of feminist literature, it would be dull and composed of passages that were revelations in 1928, but would be mundane and only of historical interest in 2016. I was wrong on a couple of counts. Woolf can be ponderous to read at times, but the points she makes still sear with fire, even if she makes them coolly, taking care not to become emotional or to vent her own personal bitterness for having been denied a university education because she was a woman. The book is also more important than ever in a society where misogyny is far from dead, women are regularly dismissed or patronized, and a sizable pay gap still exists.

What I liked about Woolf’s approach is that she took the broad view in examining ‘women and fiction’, the topic she had been asked to speak about. She starts by putting a men’s and women’s college side by side, both in terms of the ridiculous restrictions against women in the former (not being allowed on the grass, and not being allowed in the library), and in the poorness of the food in the latter. More importantly, she identifies the fact that women did not have the right to own money for centuries (until about 1880) as having been one of the key reasons they had been in a subservient position, and not free to pursue education or literature in nearly the same way as men. It’s one of the main themes in the book: Woolf essentially says women need 500 pounds a year and a room of their own with a lock on it to enable them to truly succeed in literature. Economic freedom is necessary for intellectual freedom.

There are all sorts of contemptible comments from men about women that Woolf refers to in the book, (e.g. Oscar Browning: “the best woman is intellectually the inferior of the worst man”), but she takes the high road, and rather than make personal attacks herself, simply picks these views apart intelligently. In pondering why men seem to feel a need to put women down, she identifies men’s insecurities and their need to feel superior as the probable reason. I found this conclusion dead-on:
“Life for both sexes – and I looked at them, shouldering their way along the pavement – is arduous, difficult, a perpetual struggle. It calls for gigantic courage and strength. More than anything, perhaps, creatures of illusions as we are, it calls for confidence in oneself. Without self-confidence we are as babes in the cradle. And how can we generate this imponderable quality, which is yet so invaluable, most quickly? By thinking that other people are inferior to oneself. By feeling that one has some innate superiority – it may be wealth, or rank, a straight nose, or the portrait of a grandfather by Romney – for there is no end to the pathetic devices of the human imagination – over other people.”

In a history where girls were not sent to school and were forced to marry who their parents dictated, wife-beating was a recognized right of men, and a woman’s life experiences were often confined to the sitting room, even in authors that succeeded (such as the Brontes, Jane Austen, and George Eliot), Woolf points out that were naturally less able to create richer books than men who had been free to get out into the world (such as Tolstoy). Remaining ‘pure’ as an author, and not becoming defensive or non-authentic given all this baggage, was also difficult, and to Woolf this was very important.

Woolf is a lot to handle – she’s likely smarter than the reader (certainly smarter than me), and it’s sometimes difficult to follow her train of thought, as if she’s operating on another plane. She has no qualms about criticizing authors like George Eliot and Robert Louis Stevenson for their writing, and may come across as a snob or a purist. She’s erudite and well-versed in the classics, and yet radical in her politics. She openly embraces non-traditional sexuality, and points out that there is a male and a female inside all of us, and how nice it would be if things weren’t so binary sexually (a prelude to Orlando).

All of these things make her extraordinarily interesting to me, aside from the arguments she presents. And I should say that this is not a defeatist book, one that makes a bunch of excuses, or comes across as ‘man-hating’ in any way – it’s just a critical examination of the facts, and Woolf is actually optimistic about the future. Whether we’ve lived up to that optimism and made the progress we should have made I’ll leave to the reader.

Quotes:
On entering the British Museum; I liked the thought:
“The swing-doors swung open; and there one stood under the vast dome, as if one were a thought in the huge bald forehead which is so splendidly encircled by a band of famous names.”

On being true to oneself:
“I find myself saying briefly and prosaically that it is much more important to be oneself than anything else. Do not dream of influencing other people, I would say, if I knew how to make it sound exalted. Think of things in themselves.”

On greed:
“…the instinct for possession, the rage for acquisition which drives them to desire other people’s fields and goods perpetually; to make frontiers and flags; battleships and poison gas; to offer up their own lives and their children’s lives. Walk through the Admiralty Arch (I had reached that monument), or any other avenue given up to trophies and cannon, and reflect upon the kind of glory celebrated there. Or watch in the spring sunshine the stockbroker and the great barrister going indoors to make money and more money and more money when it is a fact that five hundred pounds a year will keep one alive in the sunshine.”

On writing:
“…to write a work of genius is almost always a feat of prodigious difficulty. Everything is against the likelihood that it will come from the writer’s mind whole and entire. Generally material circumstances are against it. Dogs will bark; people will interrupt; money must be made; health will break down. Further, accentuating all these difficulties and making them harder to bear is the world’s notorious indifference. It does not ask people to write poems and novels and histories; it does not need them. It does not care whether Flaubert finds the right word or whether Carlyle scrupulously verifies this or that fact.”

And this one, on being honest as a writer:
“What one means by integrity, in the case of a novelist, is the conviction that he gives one that this is the truth. Yes, one feels, I should never have thought that this could be so; I have never known people behaving like that. But you have convinced me that so it is, so it happens. One holds every phrase, every scene to the light as one reads – for Nature seems, very oddly, to have provided us with an inner light by which to judge of the novelist’s integrity or dis-integrity.”

Lastly, this one, which I found pretty:
“The river reflected whatever it chose of sky and bridge and burning tree, and when the undergraduate had oared his boat through the reflections they closed again, completely, as if he had never been.” ( )
5 vote gbill | Feb 6, 2016 |
Woolf's well known essay on feminism and women in the writing profession still holds much weight today, and has aged beautifully. Woolf's enchanting mastery over prose make every moment of this essay a joy to read. If you enjoy reading things that are both serious and witty, with the power to send you into a state of deep contemplation, then this is 100 pages of genius that you should not deprive yourself of. Simply put, it is brilliant. ( )
  hickey92 | Jan 24, 2016 |
I have read sections of this book, but I believe this it the first time that I have read it in its entirety. Here one sees the nascent women's studies movement ready to take flight, for better or for worst. Here, for better. Woolf's approach is light and, even at times humorous. She poses illuminating what ifs, such as what if Shakespeare had had a gifted sister? What would her fate have been? What if women had had money of their own? The book contains one of the very best attempts to define what makes a book a classic that I have come across. If the book has any faults, I would say that there is a tendency to be too precious and like-able. It seems a bit of a put on at times and a bit condescending. All in all a worthy and important look at women in literature by the early 20th century ( )
  lucybrown | Sep 27, 2015 |
I have read sections of this book, but I believe this it the first time that I have read it in its entirety. Here one sees the nascent women's studies movement ready to take flight, for better or for worst. Here, for better. Woolf's approach is light and, even at times humorous. She poses illuminating what ifs, such as what if Shakespeare had had a gifted sister? What would her fate have been? What if women had had money of their own? The book contains one of the very best attempts to define what makes a book a classic that I have come across. If the book has any faults, I would say that there is a tendency to be too precious and like-able. It seems a bit of a put on at times and a bit condescending. All in all a worthy and important look at women in literature by the early 20th century ( )
  lucybrown | Sep 27, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (36 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Woolf, Virginiaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Beeke, AnthonCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bell, VanessaCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gubar, SusanEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Simonsuuri, KirstiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Valentí, HelenaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Waals-Nachenius, C.E. van derTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
This essay is based upon two papers read to the Arts Society at Newnham and the Odtaa at Girton in October 1928. The papers were too long to be read in full, and have since been altered and expanded.
Dedication
First words
But, you may say, we asked you to speak about women and fiction -- what has that got to do with a room of one's own? I will try to explain.
Quotations
A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0156787334, Paperback)

Surprisingly, this long essay about society and art and sexism is one of Woolf's most accessible works. Woolf, a major modernist writer and critic, takes us on an erudite yet conversational--and completely entertaining--walk around the history of women in writing, smoothly comparing the architecture of sentences by the likes of William Shakespeare and Jane Austen, all the while lampooning the chauvinistic state of university education in the England of her day. When she concluded that to achieve their full greatness as writers women will need a solid income and a privacy, Woolf pretty much invented modern feminist criticism.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:46 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

Why is it that men, and not women, have always had power, wealth, and fame? Woolf cites the two keys to freedom: fixed income and one's own room. Foreword by Mary Gordon.

(summary from another edition)

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