‘A Room of One’s Own’ by Virginia Woolf shows the importance of having ‘a room of one’s own’ for female writers or artists. An analysis of ‘A Room of One’s Own’, and an overview of some gender-related themes will be shown in this paper. Spaces, androgyny, money, and creativity are the main themes in ‘A Room of One’s Own’. This paper analyses the relation between these themes and female writing or artistic creation. Apart from the primary text, secondary sources will also be applied in this paper to explain several themes in Woolf’s book.
The major idea that Woolf wants to bring out is that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction” (29). It is suggested by Woolf that women should have their own places that allow them to be alone with their own thoughts. In their own places, no one and nothing distract or disturb them. However, it is not easy for a woman to have her personal space to write or to create something. According to Woolf, “to have a room of her own, let alone a quiet room or a soundproof room, was out of the question, unless her parents were exceptionally rich or very noble” (64). It shows women can hardly own private space in that period of time. According to Elizabeth, in the 18th-century, some female writers appeared, but they mostly wrote novels but not poetry or a play. This is because women did not have a private area to do their writing, and writing novels requires less concentration when compared to writing poetry or play (161). It is stated by Woolf that women at that time wrote in a shared room and were often being disturbed (75). Although women began to have a chance to be a writer, their writings at that time were restricted by gender.
Exclusion from particular spaces is another aspect of this theme. For example, women are not permitted to enter the library and were not allowed to go in to the college as they are not scholars (31-32). According to Roe and Sellars, these exclusions actually interrupt a woman’ thoughts (218). Women accepted the truth that they could hardly have a high status in the society. It is similar to the case of Judith Shakespeare, the manager thinks that “no woman could possibly be an actress” (Woolf, 61).
In the second chapter of the book, it can be seen that women exclude themselves. Woolf suggests that women are like mirrors, “reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size” (52). This indicates females were inferior to males. Females lose self-confidence when they compare themselves to men, that have higher social status than them. Therefore, women do not have the courage to criticise men. This is highly related to their creativity as they are frightened to express their own ideas. They lack opportunity and own space to produce ideas and create things. This is the reason why Woolf sees having ‘a room of one’s own’ is important to female writers.
Apart from spaces, money is another factor this is conducive to female writing or artistic creation. There are material differences between male and female. For instance, according to Woolf, the food at an all-male is good, but the food the narrator gets at an all-women’s college, is bad and not enough (39). She suggests that a good writer should be provided with sufficient and delicious food, therefore women do not feel comfortable to finish their writings well. Women were not supposed to have a job outside as their roles were to take care of the family. So, they could not earn money and donate money to their universities and changed the quality of the food. Apart from this, according to the United Kingdom Legislation, the money earned by women belonged to their husbands (43). Woolf says that financial independence is extremely important to female writer. This is because women do not need their husbands to provide financial support to them and the woman can be independent and free to create their writings. Woolf also states that poverty reduces women’ opportunities to do writings: “intellectual freedom depends upon material things. Poetry depends upon intellectual freedom. And women have always been poor, not for two hundred year merely, but from the beginning of time” (104).
Money and space are not enough for a woman to write great literature, an androgynous mind is also neccesary to female writers. At the end of the book, there is a scene that the narrator watches a couple get into a car. She says “the mind felt as if, after being divided, it had come together again in natural fusion” (96). It is seen that Woolf thinks that the differences between female and male are about their appearances but not their minds, which implies gender inequality exists. It is supposed by Woolf that each mind has a manly side and a womanly side. Good writers should balance between the two minds, which makes an androgynous mind. She says “It is when this fusion takes place that the mind if fully fertilised and uses all its faculties. Perhaps a mind that is purely masculine cannot create, any more than a mind that is purely feminine” (97). Woolf thinks that good literature requires a balanced mind. Female should not look down on themselves because of their gender. They should be confident that they get the ability to perform well in different aspects like men do, and they may even perform better. Woolf does not mean that there is no difference between the two genders, but that both men and women are equally competent and should be treated equally. It is crucial for everyone to have an androgynous mind, especially for female writers. They should have self-confidence and believe that they can be good writers as male writers.
Female literary tradition and history is the last factor that is mentioned in this paper. The narrator is shocked to discover there is no books written by female writers. There is no information about the middle-class and working-class women, only about “an Elizabeth, or a Mary; a queen or a great lady” (59). Women also lack literary tradition and this is problematic, because this is one of the difficulties for women to overcome if they wish to write. There is no female tradition like imaginings ideas, or language they can refer to because women were not allowed to write at that time. They are like men that has a long and well-formed literacy tradition and history. It is unfair and unfavourable for women to write (Anderson, 11).
In conclusion, Woolf’s thoughts on gender and gender roles were strongly conveyed in ‘A Room of One’s Own’. In the previous ages, women have low social status and played second-class roles in the society.It is shown in the book that Woolf believes having ‘a room of one’s own’ is important for female writers. Factors like money, androgyny and female literacy tradition and history are also conducive to female writing. This book tells that male writers often represent females according to social, cultural, and ideological norms. Also, the disappearance of women writers and creates a literary history that including female is addressed. ‘A Room of One’s Own’ is usually regarded as an important text for feminism because it is related to women’s literary development.
- Abel, Elizabeth. “Narrative Structures and Female Development: The Case of Mrs. Dolloway”.
- The Voyage In: Fiction of Female Development. Eds. Elizabeth Abel, Marianna Hirsch, and Elizabeth Langland, 161-185. Hanover: University Press of New England, 1983. Print.
- Anderson, Ana Cristina. “The Woman as Mother and Artist in Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse and Mrs. Dalloway”. Senior Honors Thesis Project. University of Tennessee, 2004.
- Roe, Sue, and Susan Sellars, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Virginia Woolf. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Print.
- United Kingdom Legislation. Married Women’s Property Act, 1882. 1882 Chapter 75, 45 and 46 Vict. PDF File. < .'>http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1882/75/pdfs/ukpga_18820075_en.pdf>.
- Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One’s Own. 1929. London: Wordsworth Editions, 2012. Print.