Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Room of One's Own

Okay, so, to start off, I would classify this essay under the categories of gender, and maybe education.
In A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf, the author argues that the reason that women are not producing poetry and great works of fiction is because they lack a “room of their own” to write in and have uninterrupted time to write. Why don’t women have their own space to write beautiful poetry in, to place their names amongst the masters? The answer, according to Virginia Woolf, is simply money. In her argument, money is the primary element that prevents women from having a room of their own, and thus, having money is of the utmost importance. Because women do not have power, their creativity has been systematically stifled throughout the ages. The narrator, also known as Mary, writes, “Intellectual freedom depends upon material things. Poetry depends upon intellectual freedom. And women have always been poor, not for two hundred years merely, but from the beginning of time . . .” Women are not only unsuccessful poets because they are frequently interrupted by children who need attention and housework, but because of a lack of independent financial power. Because of these frequent starts and stops, women are, according to the narrator, more likely to write fiction because have no room of their own, and writing fiction is more practical for a woman who cannot have alone time. These were her reasons for why women were less successful writers than men.

All of this illustrates the belief, held by Woolf, that women were suppressed creatively, through no fault of their own. Another example of this was the tragedy of Shakespeare’s sister, whose inability to express her creative genius because of her gender leads to her demise. After all of the commentary, Woolf closes the essay with a plea to her audience of women to create a legacy worth living for their daughters.



  1. Interesting. I always thought the title of the book itself was interesting until someone explained to me that there isn't a room in the average home for just the woman. The kids get a family room, the husband gets the den or office, the master bedroom, kitchen, etc. are all to be shared. The wife doesn't have her own personal space. I don't know if that's what Woolf had in mind but it makes sense in that way now, at least.

  2. This should also go under feminism! I feel like one of the things that is implied is not only that women are lacking these things, but that women have the capabilities to further the world as men do. The whole hypothetical sister of Shakespeare doesn't even really examine the question of if a sister of Shakespeare could possibly possess talent equal to a man: she is already sure of it. Since Woolf's argument is that women of the time do not have the MEANS to further themselves, she's clearly leaping over that first question. 3 points towards the capabilities of women lending towards the rights of women! Why would a society give opportunity to a group of people if they could not prove themselves to be any more capable than peacocks?
    That's a pretty big deal! This demonstration of 2nd wave feminism (as I see it) shows SO clearly the new kinds of questions that are being asked. Big big deal!

  3. I agree with Natalie, It should also go under feminism. Yet, I think that perhaps the reason why Woolf doesn't address, but only implies the ability of women to be good writers is because she has already proven that in her own writings--let alone those of Austen, the Bronte Sisters, Louisa May Alcott, and others.
    I think in one respect I disagree with Woolf's "room of one's own" argument. I think Women own many rooms of their own, almost the entire house is at their disposal. Each room is theirs to do with what they please, even if they feel restricted to what society dictates as acceptable, functional, and appropriate in certain spaces. My mother "owned" the entire house, and still does. My dad has his shed outside of the house where he is able to escape, but even his own bedroom is not his own. My mother decorates, cleans, and cares for every aspect of the room, and every other space in the house. I have seen that the writings of my mother, and even my own writings, are enhanced and enriched by being in these places where you can be interrupted and subjected to the outside world calling your name. Often times my best ideas come when I have been taken away from my writings and experience the world around me.
    I do realize what Woolf was getting at, and for her time the argument was valid. However, in today's society with the situations women are in, I don't see evidence to support her argument for our day and time.

  4. I also agree with Natalie and Kathryn that this book falls under the category of feminism. Virginia Woolf made a strong argument and demonstrates that there are necessary conditions for literary genius to adequately express itself. The reason that there have been relatively few female works that have secured a place in the literary canon reflects that women's position in society does not provide them with the basic ingredients for literary achievements. Money is a necessity for education and success, however women are reliant upon men to provide for them. I disagree that women did not have their own space in which to write. Children can be a distraction, and women were kept busy fulfilling domestic duties, however, they kept gaining more free time with the modern conveniences that were produced in the 20th century. Furthermore, I really like Kathryn's point that the wife is more possessive of the home than the husband. Although he may earn the income, she controls and maintains the home, and therefore it is her space. I wonder if Virginia Woolf felt that her creative genius was being restricted (obviously she produced fabulous literature). Perhaps she compared herself to Shakespeare's sister?

  5. I liked the contrast Woolf outlined between women writing novels and women writing poetry. Novels were the primary source of writing for women because they told a story; a story that could be interrupted and easily picked up again. But poetry was seldom written by women because they did not have a room of their own to write in the moment that inspiration struck them. I can see the parallels to life today. Women that work inside or outside the home are constantly demanded by society to be proactive. They may be watching the children or meeting the demands of the workplace. When do they have time to relax, close out the world, and think? The same could be argued for men but men generally do not have to come home after work to care for their children. For Woolf, women were severely underrepresented in different writing areas that are crucial to our world today. This is because the people we know best are the ones that have left tangible records behind.

  6. I think that I agree with Woolf more than the above commenters do. Sure a woman can clean and decorate the rooms in the house, but that doesn't make them "hers". I think there is a difference between being in charge of the rooms and having a room belong to you. I also don't believe that modern conveniences give women more free time - we have washing machines but that just means that we wash our clothes after every individual use, and that we can own more clothing to spend more time washing. It is the same with dishwashers, and carpets, and drapes etc etc. Plus, the standard of acceptable cleanliness has gone way up.
    This definitely makes me think of the article The Second Shift, about how traditionally men are off-duty when the come home from work, but women are basically never off-duty, whether they work inside the home, outside of the home, or both. As great as literature is, and as much as it pains the idealist in me to say this, literature is not necessary to basic survival, so when you have only enough time to perform necessary tasks, things like literature get pushed to the back.
    I can never read A Room of Ones Own without thinking about the book The Yellow Wallpaper, in which a woman actually does get a room all to herself, and she ends up going insane. It is written like 30 years before Woolf's piece and it is really unrelated to the rest of my comments...I just think it is an interesting conjunction.

  7. Yes this book definitely goes under the category of feminism. All throughout history, in order for one to be educated and enjoy free time in which one could write or read, one had to have money! Therefore, only the wealthy had such luxury. Within the small society of the wealthy class, often, like Woolf's book discusses, the men were catered to, educated, and given their own rooms to study and read in. While some wealthy women did have the opportunity to be educated, few had a room of their own, and like Allison said, lacked independent financial power. It is amazing all the many contributing factors that lead to the gender struggle women have always had within society.