In 1928, Virginia Woolf was asked to speak on the topic of “women and fiction”. The result, based upon two essays she delivered at Newnham and Girton that year, was A Room of One’s Own, which is an extended essay on women as both writers of fiction and as characters in fiction. While Woolf suggests that, “when a subject is highly controversial-and any question about sex is that-one cannot hope to tell the truth,” (Woolf 4) her essay is, in fact, a thought out and insightful reflection on the topic. The main point she offers is that a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction. Within the essay Woolf centers on the economic constraints that society inflicts on women, resulting in financial dependency on men and ignorance because of lack of education.
As for issues that are addressed within the writing, one of the first is noticed when Woolf is at the library and the reader begins to see the treatment of women, “I must have opened it, for instantly there issued, like a black guardian angel barring the way with a flutter of black gown instead of wings, a deprecating, silvery, kindly gentleman, who regretted in a low voice as he waved me back that ladies are only admitted to the library if accompanied by a Fellow of the College or furnished with a letter of introduction.” (Woolf 8) During the 1500’s, women fought for their education; however the majority of men during this time questioned the thought that women should receive an education. Some men would make claims that women could learn, but that is was not a very good idea. Women felt that it was necessary for them to learn so that they can express themselves. This can be seen in A Handmaid’s Tale, because the handmaids in the Republic were given next to no rights. They were not allowed in certain places, were not given the gift of education, and were, in a sense, subject to the male dominancy of the times.
Also within the first chapter while discussing a Mrs. Seton, who is a student at Fernham College and friend of the narrator, she states that it would be useless to ask the question what might have happened to them had her mother and mother’s mother collected great wealth because, “in the first place, to earn money was impossible for them, and second, had it been possible, the law denied them the right to possess wha...
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...s own.”(Woolf 108) Here she closes with reasoning behind why she makes the claim of women needing money and a room of their own.
The novel as a whole seems to address a few different major themes. The first is the need for money and a room of one’s own to write. Woolf repeatedly insists upon this and gives a historical type of argument that a lack of money and privacy has not permitted women from showing their genius in writing. The next is the aggression of men. Woolf states how men have historically demeaned women in order to show their own superiority. She also claims that due to this aggression, men’s writings have suffered in the past. Along with this male aggression, there is also the theme of sexism shown as well. The patriarchal English society is closely examined by its limitation on women of the time. The main example of this is seen as when women are not even allowed into the library without a male escort or written permission. All of these tied together show the degrading look upon women of the time and the view of them as being a person of lower status within the society.
Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One’s Own. Florida: Harcourt Inc., 1989
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