Saturday, 17 August 2013

Book #49 A Room Of One's Own by Virginia Woolf

A Room Of One's Own

Length Of Time In Possession : 1 day

I did a module on Virginia Woolf at university. I read Jacob's Room, Orlando, To The Lighthouse, Mrs Dalloway and Between The Acts, I also read a lot of general remarks by her, but I did not read A Room Of One's Own. I actually got a first in the essay I wrote on Woolf, a fact that still baffles me to this day, as I generally found no particular affinity for her as an author.

I saw A Room Of One's Own up for grabs in the library, and as it's rather slight, thought : Why Not?

It's an extended essay over several chapters, and interesting from a number of perspectives. It is borne of a much shorter address that Woolf was asked to give to Oxbridge on Women And Fiction, and generally is a feminist perspective on the historical progress of women as authors. Ironically, it's now a historical piece in itself, and one far detached from the realities of today's female writers.

Woolf, from a wealthy, well connected background argues that to succeed as a female writer one needs an independent means, (Woolf rather quaintly recommends £500 a year) and a room of one's own to write in.

She talks about Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen, how in Austen's case writing, prior to her fame, was almost a dirty secret, how Charlotte's frustrations at the limitations of her sex can be seen in Jane Eyre almost to its detraction as a work of fiction. (I've always thought Jane Eyre over-rated)

The male reaction to female writing and how it was seen as an intellectual threat is a diverting topic and the sexism of even Woolf's own era extraordinary.     

Perhaps the most interesting of all her reflections is on that of "Shakespeare's Sister" - a fictional entity who if she had wished to pursue the same career as her brother would have been laughed at and degraded, and would have most likely died a victim of sexual exploitation on a roadside near Elephant and Castle. Bleak as this is, I believe Woolf is correct nonetheless.

Where 'A Room Of One's Own' gave me most cause to reflect was in the discussion of women pre-Bronte and pre-Austen who were routinely silenced and had no creative outlet and were expected to have no opinion. It made me think that women today with literary ambitions should pursue them to the fullest, because we are lucky to live in far more enlightened times.

Woolf slightly misses the mark towards the end with the idea that even so, women's writing would remain the province of the upper class, working class women having no time for such pursuits with their poverty and life of drudgery. Snobbish though this may sound to our ears, Woolf even though she was a progressive simply could not conceive of two things : the world women know in 2013 and the literary world of 2013, a world were gender, sexuality and every social class is represented without any notion that this is something remarkable. If at times we grow complacent with the ways of the modern world we should remember just how huge a social and cultural transformation occurred throughout 20th Century Britain and just how fortunate, women particularly, are as a result.

One wonders what on earth Virginia Woolf would have made of it.

Verdict : 9/10

Destination : Return To Library


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