Monday, April 7, 2014

A Room of One's Own - Virginia Woolf and the Necessity of Material Wealth

In A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf proves her merit as not only an educated woman, but a philosopher of her age.  To set the background for her argument, she imagines Shakespeare had a sister of equal talent and merit, but because of her situation, and without a room of her own or the money properly support her writing, she dwindled as the invisible and “inferior” sibling to the famous playwright.  She argues that women need to be educated, have financial support, and privacy in order to flourish and attain genius. Through writing, she says, women can achieve freedom, but they can only write if they have material indulgences.  Woolf takes the reader on a historic journey of women writers and their own strengths, but mostly, their shortcomings, because they lacked what Woolf considers to be of most value to a writer. Her tone is effective as it is simultaneously witty and lovely, and simple to read.

A Room of One’s Own reminded me of a movie I once viewed titled Mozart’s Sister, which I can’t help but think was inspired by Virginia Woolf.  Although its main purpose seems to be for entertainment, the movie took liberties describing the life of Maria Anne Mozart, depicting her as a very promising musician who faded into obscurity because of her sex.  In the film, she was a very daring woman who went as far as to cross dress in order to play for the dauphin. The introduction to this book states that “[she] is concerned with the fate of women of genius, not with that of ordinary women…not for universal justice.”  Even in this sense, the film appears to reiterate Woolf’s theme.  Had I not read the book, I would, and had, missed the relation entirely.  I have to pause and wonder how many other stories or works I have observed were inspired by this intelligent feminist. While I would not necessarily recommend the film because of some questionable material, I find it interesting the parallels it used in relation to A Room of one’s Own, and how Woolf continues to inspire and fascinate audiences more than eighty years after its publication.

From her writing, I have found that Woolf is not a radical feminist.  She is conservative, in many respects.  One, in her adamant belief that men and women are intrinsically different. This is not to say that she considers them unequal, but merely unique.  However, she states that the greatest writers must find a way to be androgynous in order to get their creative expression across without devolving too much of the personal in their writing voice.  I find it fascinating that she brought up the point that women, without any precedence except for male writers before them, were confined to writing about and in the manner of men, which caused their writing to suffer because they had not had the opportunity to share in those experiences in which they were writing about.  I am impressed by her manner of speaking, and her recognition of the subjectiveness of her viewpoint even while she attempts to paint a very convincing argument.  “At any rate, when a subject is highly controversial – and any question about sex is that – one cannot hope to tell the truth. One can only show how one came to hold whatever opinion one does hold.”  To me, it is endearing, although her mild wordiness that tended to appear whenever she was trying to make a point slightly got on my nerves.  Overall, however, I found her work to be enlightening and very suitably cast as a classic in feminist literature. The theme to which I would ascribe this work is most certainly feminism, as that is the focus point of the essay.  Although other themes are brought up, including gender as a role (or non-role) in writing, the overarching theme was freedom for women. 

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