15 November 2008

A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

For those who are fans of classic literature, and for anyone who isn’t, Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own is a must-read. Not only is it an extremely important polemic on women and fiction and a blazing light in the darkness of early 20th Century womens’ literature, it is an example of truly ingenious and forward-thinking writing, which is rare.

The key notion is that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction”. This is Woolf’s conclusion on the topic of ‘women and fiction’, a conclusion that she reveals in the first instance and goes to much effort to prove throughout (though she had me at the first sentence). The whole essay is written as a recollection of a train of thought; the very train of thought which lead her to come to her conclusion.

It is astounding the level of depth Woolf achieves in every sentence. Layers of meaning are compounded and purified in the guise of a simple sentence, “I find myself saying briefly and prosaically that it is much more important to be oneself than anything else.” And, conversely, the most lyrical sentences are created out of comparatively straightforward concepts: “Nature, in her most irrational mood, has traced in invisible ink on the walls of the mind a premonition which these great artists confirm; a sketch which only needs to be held to the fire of genius to become visible.”

It is the fact that A Room of One’s Own could only, ultimately, be written by a woman, which makes it such an achievement. The care which Woolf takes to shape a new notion of women’s fiction, to validate the fact it has been disfigured and delayed by men’s fiction (which, significantly, isn’t a topic of debate or lecture at all!), is testament to her own thesis, that Woman must forge ahead and continue to write, to work on her writing, despite everything going against her.

Woolf uses as an analogy to Shakespeare’s imaginary sister to conclude the essay. She maintains that the female Shakespeares would come “if we worked for her, and that so to work, even in poverty and obscurity, is worth while.” Intuitively, Woolf predicts that “if we live another century or so – I am talking of the common life which is the real life and not of the little separate lives which we live as individuals – and have five hundred a year each of us and rooms of our own … then the opportunity will come and the dead poet who was Shakespeare’s sister will put on the body which she has so often laid down.” I think Virginia Woolf has perhaps pre-empted Shakespeare’s sister.

This was written by Eleanor Weber for the Dossier Journal blog, but wasn't published, and so relegated to Raddest Right Now. Second to Dossier blog ain't bad!


Blogger xta said...

i love this book. also, coincidentally i had just been thinking about re-reading some of my favorites of hers, but i sold all of my books before moving to london! i gotta find copies of this one and three guineas and mrs. dalloway.

15 November, 2008 13:40  

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