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A Room of One's Own

Examining feminist theory in A Room of One's Own
by

virginia woolf

on 16 September 2013

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Transcript of A Room of One's Own

A Room of One's Own

Chapters 4 & 5
Chapter 1
Virginia brings to light that in order for a woman to write fiction she must have a room of one's own and money. She also believed that "one cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well." Without these resources women were destined to be trapped without a creative outlet.
Virginia uses "I" as a way to speak to women as a whole, all women should be able to relate to what she is expressing. In her mind "'I' is only a convenient term for somebody who has no real being."
The division of educational opportunities and funding disturbs Virginia and she questions the women of past generations for not learning the art of making money, it frustrates her that women cannot fund women's colleges but she also acknowledges that "the law denied them the right to possess what money they earned."
To experience the riches of male universities, women must be accompanied at all times and have letters of introduction. Knowledge is not freely available to women and it can be assumed that her "Fellow of the College" could dictate what a woman would have access to.
Chapters 2 & 3
Professor von X and "The Mental, Moral, and Physical Inferiority of the Female Sex".
The face of patriarchy
Is it really about inferiority?
Individual Class Privilege v. Civil Rights for all Women
Judith Shakespeare
Illustrates the differences in gendered socialization and how socialization impacts life-outcomes.
Why are there so few women in literature?
Contemporary literature
Chapter 6
Taxi cab and the possibility of unity between sexes:
"Are two sexes in the mind corresponding to the two sexes in the body, and (do) they also require to be united in order to get complete satisfaction and happiness?" (96)
Creates an androgynous soul/mind - "naturally creative, incandescent, and undivided" (97)
"No age can ever have been as stridently sex conscious as our own" (97)
Discussion Questions
In regards to the divisions in education, have we not seen this occur in recent history with the segregation of schools? Do we still see this occurring with the distribution of resources to schools?

Is simply having a room of one's own and money enough for women to be creative beings?

How did Austen overcome this anger and bitterness? What about her financial situation allowed her to do this? Is this a raced and classed phenomenon?

How does Woolf use arguments for essentialism to support her advocacy for writing of integrity?

What are your thoughts on Woolf's assertion that oppression is not so much about perceived inferiority, but more about the maintaining of the status quo for those in power?

Is it problematic that Woolf's character acknowledges her class privilege but does not suggest liberating working class women?

How accurate is Woolf's statement that "no age can ever have been as stridently sex conscious as our own"? Is this true for our time as well?
Virginia Woolf 1882 - 1941
Growing up Virginia Woolf came from an intellectually privileged home and while she did not receive formal education she was surrounded by books and scholars.
She attended the Ladies Department of King's College from 1897 to 1901. This exposed her to individuals who were pushing for women to be able to receive formal education and liberation. She also was part of the Bloomsbury group which prided itself on maintaining the importance of liberal arts.
Due to her parents unexpected deaths and sexual assaults by her half brothers, Virginia was prone to nervous breakdowns and spent time in institutions specifically for women with nervous disorders.
Woolf's privileged upbringing afforded her the ability to publish works through her publishing house, Hogarth Press.
On March 28, 1941 Virginia lost her battle with bipolar disorder and drowned herself in the River Ouse outside of East Sussex England.


“Yet it is clear that could she have freed her mind from hate and fear and not heaped it with bitterness and resentment, the fire was hot within her” (66).
“But how could she have helped herself?” (67).
“No woman of sense and modesty could write books” (69).
“Dorothy, who was sensitive and melancholy, the very opposite of the Duchess in temper, wrote nothing” (69).
"Middle-class woman began to write” (72).
"It is she…who makes it not quite fantastic for me to say to you tonight: Earn five
hundred a year by your wits” (72).
“Here was a woman about the year 1800 writing without hate, without bitterness, without fear, without protest, without preaching” (74).
“The minds of both [Shakespeare and Austen] had consumed all impediments" (74).
“But perhaps it was the nature of Jane Austen not to want what she had not” (75).
“She [Charlotte Brontë] is at war with her lot” (76).
Chapter 4: The Problem of Emotional Reaction to Circumstance in Women's Writing
Chapter 4: Writing with Integrity
Writing a Novel with Integrity: “the conviction that he gives one that this is the truth” (78).
“Nature seems, very oddly, to have provided us with an inner light by which to judge of the novelist’s integrity or disintegrity” (78).
“Would the fact of her sex in any way interfere with the integrity of a woman novelist—that integrity which I take to be the backbone of the writer?” (79)
“She left her story, to which her entire devotion was due, to attend to some personal grievance” (79).
Ways women writers reacted to their being women:
- Aggression/Conciliation
- ‘Only a woman’/’As good as a man’
- Docility and diffidence/anger and emphasis
“It does not matter which it was; she was thinking of something other than the thing itself” (80).
Jane Austen and Emily Bronte were the only two female writers capable of maintaining focus on “the thing itself” (81).
“They wrote as women write, not as men write” (81).
Chapter 4: The Difficulty of Writing for One Without a Tradition
These women writers “had no tradition behind them” (82).
“The weight, the pace, the stride of a man’s mind are too unlike her own for her to lift anything substantial from him successfully” (82).
“…such a lack of tradition, such a scarcity and inadequacy of tools, must have told enormously upon the writing of women” (83).
“But all the older forms of literature were hardened and set by the time she became writer. The novel alone was young enough to be soft in her hands…” (83)
“…who shall say that even this most pliable of all forms is rightly shaped for her use?” (83)
"Again, the nerves that feed the brain would seem to differ in men and women, and if you are going to make them work their best and hardest, you must find out which treatment suits them…” (84)
“And yet, I continued, approaching the bookcase again, where shall I find that elaborate study of the psychology of women by a woman?” (84)
Chapter 5: Modern Woman's Writing and the Short Study of Mary Carmichael's Life's Adventure
Mary Carmichael’s Life’s Adventure and the “beginning [of women] to use writing as an art, not as a method of self-expression” (85).

“Chloe liked Olivia perhaps for the first time in literature” (87).
“And I tried to remember any case in the course of my reading where two women are represented as friends. …They are now and then mothers and daughters. But almost without exception they are shown in their relation to men” (88).
“…her alterations between heavenly goodness and hellish depravity—for so a lover would see her as his love rose or sank, was prosperous or unhappy” (88).
“Suppose, for instance, that men were only represented in literature as the lovers of women, and were never the friends of men, soldiers, thinkers, dreamers; …how literature would suffer!” (89)
“Love was the only possible interpreter” (89).
“…to praise one’s sex is always suspect” (90).
“There is no mark on the wall to measure the precise height of women” (90).
“Few women even now have been graded at the universities; the great trials of the professions, army and navy, trade, politics, and diplomacy have hardly tested them” (91).
“They remain even at this moment almost unclassified” (91)
Chapter 5: Woolf's Notions of Essentialism, Man/Woman Points of View, and the Future of Women's Ability to Write with Integrity
“For there is a spot the size of a shilling at the back of the head which one can never see for oneself” (95).
“A true picture of man as a whole can never be painted until a woman has described that spot the size of a shilling” (95-96).

“She wrote as a woman, but as a woman who has forgotten that she is a woman, so that her pages were full of that curious sexual quality which comes only when sex is unconscious of itself” (97-98).

“Give her another hundred years, I concluded, reading the last chapter—… —give her a room of her own and five hundred a year, let her speak her mind and leave out half that she now puts in, and she will write a better book one of these days” (99).

“She will be a poet…in another hundred years’ time” (99).
Women and fiction
"It is fatal for any one who writes to think about their sex"
Conscious bias
Cannot reach minds of others
Collaboration necessary
"Men...are now writing only with the male side of their brains. It is a mistake for a woman to read them, for she will inevitably look for something that she will not find." (100)
Write! Write whatever you can, for "books have a way of influencing each other" and offer a glimpse of reality (107)
Concluding thoughts
Narrator stops speaking, Woolf writes as herself
Giving up competition and prestige for the sake of prestige
"So long as you write what you wish to write, that's all that matters" (105)
Woolf lists "womanly" traits: unconventionality, completeness, anonymity
Peroration - remember your influence on the future
"No human should be shut out the view" (111)
"Intellectual freedom depends upon material things. Poetry depends upon intellectual freedom." (106)
"Women have always been poor, not for two hundred years merely, but from the beginning of time...That is why I have laid so much stress on money and a room of one's own"
"When I ask you to earn money and have a room of your own, I am asking you to live in the presence of reality..." (109)
Possible to achieve "if we have the habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think" (111)
Focus on material gain
Full transcript