Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Virginia Woolf: A Room of One's Own

I have recently been reading A Room of One’s Own, Virgina Woolf for an essay I am currently writing on her. This is my first (but hopefully not last) Woolf book that I have read, because I love it. I have decided to do quick review from the beach in Dubai (yes, I am in Dubai again). 

The book was originally written as lectures Woolf was asked to give on the topic of “women and fiction.” She a large amount of the book discussing what that even means, describing her thought process as she considers how to write her speech. Woolf then begins her arguments: she discusses how women are limited by their roles in society; how can they write great novels that encompass all kinds of experiences, when they are confined mostly to their homes? Men are able to go into business and to travel the world; their freedom allows them to gain the experiences necessary to write novels of depth. Men also have the advantage of independence and leisure time. Women, however, can’t dedicate themselves to writing because they can’t be independent, and they don’t have the time or a quiet place to themselves in which to write.

Genius cannot shine through without experience behind it. Woolf imagines that Shakespeare had a sister who was equally gifted but never given the opportunity to use her talents. Whereas Sheakespeare married, had children, moved to London, got a job in a theatre, became an actor, met lots of interesting people and became famous, his sister (Woolf names her Judith) would have remained in the house. Although she was just as imaginative and adventurous as her brother, Judith would not have been to school; she would have learned how to darn socks and make stew. She would have been married off regardless of her feelings. Even if she had run off to London with the same gifts as her brother, she would never have gotten into the theatre; if she had tried, the manager might have suggested a cruder profession, and she would have ended up pregnant by an actor manager and then dead by suicide. Woolf argues that women need the same freedoms as men to be able to create art on the same level as theirs.

She argues that, under the circumstances women have historically been forced to write, their personal feelings, anger, and rage, have leaked into their work, marring the pure substance of the story. In order to serve only the story and not oneself, a woman must have the freedom to sit with an untroubled mind. She can’t sit down in a crowded sitting room, constantly interrupted, and have the story flow unimpeded from her pen. She must be able to sit down, financially secure and sure of peace and quiet, to be able to write her story clearly.

A Room of One’s Own is a feminist landmark and it is very interesting to read how a feminist thought a hundred years ago and how, surprisingly, it is still the same things people care about now.