Today I’m going to be doing something different, this will be a discussion about Virginia Woolf’s ‘A Room of one’s own. There are Spoilers for the Novel, so if you haven’t read it come back when you have to discuss it. Published in 1929, Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own is a key work of feminist literary criticism. Written after she delivered two lectures on the topic of ‘women and fiction’ at Cambridge University in 1928, Woolf’s essay examines the educational, social and financial disadvantages women have faced throughout history.
It contains Woolf’s famous argument that, ‘A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction’ – although Woolf describes this as ‘an opinion upon one minor point’, and the essay explores the ‘unsolved problems’ of women and fiction ‘to show you how I arrived at this opinion about the room and the money’.
So off we go into the land of feminism with Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. My questions and Answers are below, but, anything is on the table for discussion in the Comments. So I hope you’ll join me in discussing and pondering this book.
Also, I know this is a great feminist text with so much to discuss related to that topic, but I’ve tried to focus more on the literary questions raised by the text. Woolf raises some amazing points. These are all my own Opinions!
What is the central idea of “A room of ones own” by Virginia Woolf
The central idea of A Room of One’s Own is freedom, namely the financial freedom to pursue knowledge and creativity.
What encouragement does Woolf offer her audience?
I think much of her encouragement comes in chapter 6. Woolf Encourages women to seek their intellectual and material freedom—to seek that room with a lock on the door and the money to pay for it. A room of one’s own thus takes on the simple meaning of a little independence away from the male dominated system. This allows for “a room of one’s own”
“Intellectual freedom depends on material things. Poetry depends on intellectual freedom. And women have always been poor, not for two hundred years merely, but since the beginning of time.”
Does Woolf’s argument still make sense today? Why or why not? How does Virginia Woolf make her ideas apply to twenty-first century life.
Woolf’s writing seems relevant to the 21st century because women are still, in many places in the world, held down by old conventions and old ways of thinking. Woolf addressed the need for women to have their own time, space and money to become writers; she considered the possibility that woman could be as great in their writing as someone like Shakespeare. She also considers women who do not fit into the “mould” as existing in a dangerous world which people might not approve of.
Why might marriage have been “hateful” to Judith Shakespeare? How does her father’s reaction show how little he understands her?
Judith wanted to express her talents and identity without being in the shadow of a man. Her father could not accept this very counter-culture point of view.
Soon, however, before she was out of her teens, she was to be betrothed to the son of a neighbouring woolstapler. She cried out that marriage was hateful to her, and for that she was severely beaten by her father. Then he ceased to scold her. He begged her instead not to hurt him, not to shame him in this matter of her marriage. He would give her a chain of beads or a fine petticoat, he said; and there were tears in his eyes. How could she disobey him? How could she break his heart? The force of her own gift alone drove her to it. – Chapter 3
Do men and women really write so differently? Can you think of examples when a woman has been praised for writing in a masculine style?
I do believe that Men and Women write differently (Not in all cases though). Their approaches are different. Their styles are different. Their tones, their words, their sentence construction is different. I read a lot of books. By far—and not always, but most often—the male writers get to the point sooner. They jump into action and begin the story without hesitation. Do women write this way? Of course some do. Does everyone need to write this way? Of course they don’t. I find that work written by Women tends to flow better, and be more flowery, which isn’t a bad thing. I really like that type of writing style. But I am definitely not saying this is the case for all authors.
What predictions does Woolf make for women’s writing in the future? How do they look from our current vantage point?
Virginia Woolf predicts that until women have equal rights with men in terms of material wealth, career opportunities, support with issues impeding their progress such as childcare, property ownership and education opportunities, they would continue to make less progress in terms of writing and in terms of other careers too. She held that women were not as visible as men in the career and intellectual and academic hierarchies because their material circumstances held them back.
Does Woolf think poems are superior to novels? Explain.
In a Room of One’s Own, Woolf doesn’t believe poems are superior to novels but rather argues that, to reach their full potential and articulate what it is to be a woman, women need to make every genre their own and not allow men to dictate to them how they should write. In fact, Woolf sees the novel, because it is a newer form, as better adapted to women’s writing than poetry. Speaking of Jane Austen, Woolf writes:
The novel alone was young enough to be soft in her hands—another reason, perhaps, why she wrote novels.
While not seeing poetry as superior to novels (Woolf herself wrote prose), she did understand that for women
it is the poetry that is still denied outlet.
Some women, she contends, who became novelists should have been poets, not because poetry is better than prose, but because that was their natural medium, only thwarted by the circumstances of a woman’s life.
Why, in Woolf’s view, did Elizabethan women not write poetry?
Woolf proposes that in the Elizabethan era, a woman could have been just as “extraordinarily gifted” as her brother but would not have been offered the same platform from which to become a poet, playwright, or any other kind of writer. Unlike her brother, this theoretical Elizabethan woman would not have been sent to school to learn “grammar and logic” or the Latin and Greek greats. Even when she chose to read, she would be advised to take on household tasks instead “and not moon about with books and papers.” Barely an adult, she would have been forced to marry.
This was very interesting to write. If you enjoyed this and would like me to do more of these, Please let me know on the Comments. I would love to do more discussions like this. Have you read A Room of one’s Own? Or maybe you’ve read something else by Virginia Woolf? What did you think? Do you have your own answers for any of these questions?