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A Room of One's Own Hardcover – November 7, 1991
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Essay by Virginia Woolf, published in 1929. The work was based on two lectures given by the author in 1928 at Newnham College and Girton College, Cambridge. Woolf addressed the status of women, and women artists in particular, in this famous essay which asserts that a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write. Woolf celebrates the work of women writers, including Jane Austen, George Eliot, and the Brontes. In the final section Woolf suggests that great minds are androgynous. She argues that intellectual freedom requires financial freedom, and she entreats her audience to write not only fiction but poetry, criticism, and scholarly works as well. The essay, written in lively, graceful prose, displays the same impressive descriptive powers evident in Woolf's novels and reflects her compelling conversational style. (The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature)
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*Features: The best characteristics of this book include three points.
1.Richness of contents --- The first criteria that I used to evaluate the book is whether the contents are rich and vivid. If the book can provide meaningful contents rich in substances that can guide readers to reflect on their life or social issues, the contents should be considered desirable. The contents in this book give insights into the common heritage of women. Through reading the stories written by Woolf, readers would know that any gender should not be overlooked or set aside because both women and men have equal importance to the society and the development of the world. "Human" dignity is an inseparable thing for every human being, no matter female or male.
2.Craft of language --- This criterion for evaluating a book is necessary because a qualified essay or fiction will always need to attract readers by the words feature of "picture in words". The language used by Woolf is very eloquent and poetic, making readers be able to follow and comprehend her thoughts but without transiting from one viewpoint to another in a fast way. With intense female consciousness, the author has showed her own amazing features in choosing the materials and in using the stylistic language.
3.Quality of book --- The paper quality or the appearance of a book also influences the evaluation. Thirdly, this book comes in a very convenient size and can even fit in the pocket; thus readers who purchased this book can read it at any place very conveniently. Also, the quality of papers of this book is desirable because the papers inside are not very thin like those in many books today.
*The only shortage of this book perhaps is that when I received it I found this book did not use the original packaging, but I think it endows this book a sense of period which I could accept.
She begins this 1929 book with the statement, “But, you say, we asked you to speak about women and fiction---what has that got to do with a room of one’s own? I will try to explain… I should never be able to fulfill what is, I understand, the first duty of a lecturer---to hand you after an hour’s discourse a nugget of pure truth to wrap up between the pages of your notebooks and keep on the mantelpiece forever. All I could do was to offer you an opinion upon one minor point---a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction; and that, as you will see, leaves the great problem of the true nature of woman and the true nature of fiction unsolved.” (Pg. 3-4)
She reveals that when she attempted to enter a library to read a manuscript of Thackeray, she was told “that ladies are only admitted to the library if accompanied by a Fellow of the College, or furnished with a letter of introduction. That a famous library has been cursed by a woman is a matter of complete indifference to a famous library. Venerable and calm, with all its treasures safe locked within its breast, it sleeps complacently and will, so far as I am concerned, so sleep for ever. Never again will I wake those echoes, never will I ask for that hospitality again, I vowed as I descended the steps in anger.” (Pg. 7-8)
She recalls a professor: “Possibly when the professor insisted a little too emphatically upon the inferiority of women, he was concerned not with their inferiority, but with his own superiority. That was what he was protecting rather hot-headedly and with too much emphasis, because it was a jewel to him of the rarest price… Without self-confidence we are as babes in the cradle. And how can we generate this imponderable quality…? By thinking that other people are inferior to oneself. By feeling that one has some innate superiority---it may be wealth, or rank, a straight nose, or the portrait of a grandfather by Romney---for there is no end to the pathetic devices of the human imagination---over other people.” (Pg. 34-35) She adds, “Under the spell of that illusion… They start the day confident… they say to themselves as they go into the room, I am the superior of half the people here, and it is thus that they speak with that self-confidence, that self-assurance, which have had such profound consequences in public life and lead to such curious mores in the margin of the private mind.” (Pg. 36-37)
She rhetorically asks, “it is a perennial puzzle why no woman wrote a word of that extraordinary literature when every other man, it seemed, was capable of song or sonnet. What were the conditions in which women lived, I asked myself.” (Pg. 43) She powerfully points out, “I could not help thinking, as I looked at the works of Shakespeare… that… it would have been impossible … for any woman to have written the plays of Shakespeare in the age of Shakespeare. Let me imagine… what would have happened had Shakespeare had a wonderfully gifted sister, called Judith… She was as adventurous, as imaginative, as agog to see the world as he was. But she was not sent to school. She had no chance of learning grammar and logic… She picked up a book now and then… But then her parents came in and told her to mend the stockings or mind the stew and not moon about books and papers… She had the quickest fancy, a gift like her brother’s, for the tune of words. Like him, she had a taste for the theater. She stood at the stage door; she wanted to act, she said. Men laughed in her face… She could get no training in her craft… That, more or less, is how the story would run … if a woman in Shakespeare’s day had had Shakespeare’s genius…” (Pg. 48-50)
She suggests, “[In fiction] All these relationships between women… are too simple. So much has been left out, unattempted… almost without exception they are shown in their relation to men. It is strange to think that all the great women of fiction were, until Jane Austen’s day, not only seen by the other sex, but seen only in relation to the other sex. And how small a part of a woman’s life is that; and how little can a man know even of that when he observes it through the black or rosy spectacles which sex puts upon his nose.” (Pg. 86)
She concludes, “it is far more important at the moment to know how much money women had and how many rooms than to theorize about their capacities… you may object that in all this I have made too much of the importance of material things. Even allowing a generous margin for symbolism, that five hundred a year stands for the power to contemplate, that a lock on the door means the power to think for oneself…” (Pg. 109-110) She adds, “Intellectual freedom depends upon material things. Poetry depends upon intellectual freedom. And women have always been poor… from the beginning of time. Women have had less intellectual freedom than the sons of Athenian slaves. Women, then, have not had a dog’s chance of writing poetry. That is why I have laid so much stress on money and a room of one’s own.” (Pg. 112)
This is a profound and always-timely response to the argument, “Why are there no great women poets/writers/scientists/philosophers?” [Of course, since Woolf wrote in 1929, we now HAVE seen women excel in all these areas, so far fewer people will ask such questions.] This is one of Woolf’s fascinating books, and is of great importance for the development of later feminist thought.