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A Room of One’s Own. Virginia Woolf. Chapter One. The essay begins with a question – ‘But, you may say,… what has that to do with a room of one’s own?’ Suggests that what is to come is unconventional, contrary to expectation.

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a room of one s own

A Room of One’s Own

Virginia Woolf

chapter one
Chapter One
  • The essay begins with a question – ‘But, you may say,… what has that to do with a room of one’s own?’
  • Suggests that what is to come is unconventional, contrary to expectation.
  • It’s as if a conversation has been going on and you are entering in the middle of it.
  • It is not possible to tell an objective story of women and fiction.
  • Woolf herself has a close connection to the subject of the essay and this is evident in the emotions she expresses when discussing the topic.
Woolf creates a fictional character narrator who will relate how she came to have such views, this itself is an activity of women and fiction. Woolf, a woman who writes fiction, creates a fictional woman who tells how she came to have a view about women and fiction.
  • The subject of women and fiction raises ‘all sorts of prejudices and emotions’. Given this a fictional discussion of the topic is likely to contain more truth than a factual discussion.
  • The reason a woman needs a room of her own to make fiction is privacy and solitude – keeping the world from ‘butting in’ are necessary for creation.
The structure of the essay follows how Woolf came to her view about privacy and money.
  • Woolf points out that there are several questions and approaches to the topic of women and fiction:
  • Pointing out certain women writers
  • Women and what they are like
  • Women and the fiction that is written about them
Woolf will consider how these three approaches are ‘inextricably mixed together’
  • Concludes the chapter with a fictional personal experience , the description of two imaginary meals as a way of depicting the educational situation of women at her time,including that of those who might some day create fiction.
  • Woolf notes that a formal education is almost always the possession of great writers – but for the most of history women were excluded from most formal education.
  • Concludes by thinking about the poverty and insecurity that characterises the lives of women and the effect of tradition and the lack of tradtion on the mind of the writer.
chapter two
Chapter Two
  • Scene shifts from ‘Oxbridge’ to the British Museum in London.
  • Here Woolf suggests she might find ‘the essential oil of truth’ and the answer to such questions like:
  • Why men drink wine and women water?
  • Why one sex is prosperous and the other poor?
  • What effect does poverty have on fiction?
  • What conditions are necessary for the creation of a work of art?

Woolf turns to books that are written by men about women. Her focus being women and what they are like.

Finds men’s thinking about women to be full of prejudice and contradiction. They are unscientific, emotional, angry.
  • This anger is seen to come from fear of the knowledge that men need women to bolster their own self-confidence. Men need to feel superior to women. This is what they are concerned with. Image of the looking glass/mirror
  • Woolf argues that with an independent income women would be free to relate differently to men and explore the nature of the other sex as theirs is explored.
  • Liberation from injustice consists of women being treated in much the same way as men are treated.
chapter three
Chapter Three
  • Woolf turns to history.
  • She begins with the Elizabethan era. Women’s lot was extremely servile. Wives beaten, daughters sold into marriage.
  • Women are the objects of literature. Imaginatively woman is of the highest importance;practically she is completely insignificant. Woolf points out the contrast between women’s imaginary and real lives.
  • History does not record the real lives of women in this period. Woolf turns to her imagination and creates the figure of Judith Shakespeare.
  • Creativity, Woolf argues, requires certain conditions that have typically been absent for women.
Woolf argues that women have also had to contend with being told that they cannot write, that they are not intellectual.
  • In response to this view Woolf argues that women of genius have always existed, but unlike men, few women have been granted the basic material and spiritual conditions to develop their talent.
chapter four
Chapter Four
  • Focus shifts to a consideration of women writers, both actual writers one of the author’s own creation.
  • There is a special interest in the effect of tradition on women’s writing.
  • Woolf argues that women are different from men and this has had an important effect on the development of women’s writing. Women writers have also been treated differently to men and this has affected how they developed.
Women’s lack of men’s freedom to experience the world has constrained women’s ability to create.
  • There is a feminist focus in this chapter. Woolf argues that women should develop an identity separate from men. There is a concern for what is good or appropriate for women as women.
  • Looks at women who wrote in the 17th C – first women who were known to write. Efforts seen as highly eccentric, ridiculed. Unable to attain the impersonality that Woolf believes is essential to great fiction.
Woolf discusses Aphra Behn – the first English woman to support herself as a professional writer.
  • Behn’s success in the 17th C led to many women earning money through writing in the 18th C who in turn were the forerunners of the successful women writers of the 19th C – Jane Austen, the Brontes and George Eliot.
  • The women writers of the 19th C develop a a kind of writing that has its own nature based on what it is to be a woman.
Woolf concludes that women were more likely to write novels as ‘women’s training inevitably includes the observation of character and the analysis of emotion. This being suited to the novel. However a woman’s domestic role narrowed her range of experience and limited her creativity. The fiction of women has therefore been diminished by social restrictions that limit her expereince.
Novels are seen to reflect the values of real life. The values explored in the writing of women were often considered secondary to those explored by male writers. According to Woolf only Jane Austen and Emily Bronte were successful in writing as women wrote, expressing the values that are naturally distinctive to women.
  • Great male writers cannot be standards for women. Women have their own style and manner of writing.
  • Woolf argued that women’s books should be shorter and more concentrated than those of men, since in their roles they are more likely to be interrupted than men are.
chapter five
Chapter Five
  • Considers what is distinctive about women and their writing in the modern era.
  • Woolf considers the ability of women writers to:
  • Portray women in an expanded manner
  • Present features of men that men are unable to see about themselves.

Woolf uses the fictional character of Mary Carmichael and her novel ‘Life’s Adventures’ to explore her concerns. It is a contemporary work by a woman, part of the developing tradition of women and fiction and breaks new ground in its depiction of women and their relationships with each other.

The role of women writers is to depict women as they are not as they appear to men. The ordinary lives of women need to be valued.
  • Women writer also have a duty to depict men as they are, to show them aspects of themselves that they are unable to see.
  • Woolf argues that men might benefit from the creativity of women.
  • Education according to Woolf shoud celebrate the differences between men and women.
chapter six
Chapter Six
  • Begins and ends with images.
  • Vision of a man and woman getting into a cab leads Woolf to contemplate cooperation and even a fusion of the sexes.
  • Thinking of two opposing sexes interferes with the unity of the mind.
  • Woolf considers the notion that a great mind is in fact androgynous. From the androgynous viewpoint, the aim of the artist is not to function simply as a male or female. Rather, the goal is to function as fully as possible as a complete human being, as a fusion of the male and female facets of one nature, even of one’s own gender predominates.
Woolf leaves the narrative voice and returns to her own persona. She also returns to the image of Judith Shakepeare suggesting that she lives in the person of the modern woman, and that she can flourish if women face reality and work to make an environment conducive to such genius.