Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A quick reminder ... A Room of One's Own

Emily Wilson
Tuesday November 22, 2005
This article is taken from The Guardian

Author: Virginia Woolf
Publisher: Penguin
Date published: 1928

Next time you hear someone explaining that women are incapable of truly great art (be it poetry, literature, painting or music), this is the book to prescribe for them. "Intellectual freedom depends on material things," writes Woolf. "Poetry depends upon intellectual freedom. And women have always been poor, not for 200 years merely, but 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."

To write fiction, Woolf says, a woman "must have money and a room of her own". Woolf tells us that she herself was given the right to vote and £500 a year (from a dead aunt) at about the same time, and that the money felt "infinitely" more important. "No force in the world can take from me my five hundred pounds," she writes. "Food, house, and clothing are mine for ever. Therefore not merely do effort and labour cease, but also hatred and bitterness. I need not hate any man; he cannot hurt me. I need not flatter any man; he has nothing to give me."

A Room of One's Own is an extraordinary, beautifully written, poetic little book. It's based on two lectures on women and fiction that Woolf gave in Cambridge in 1928, and it's quite unlike the other great feminist polemics - or in fact anything else at all.

Woolf imagines for us, in a novelistic stream of consciousness, two days in which she wanders around "Oxbridge" and the British Museum, and browses through everything ever written about or by women. Why was there no female Shakespeare, she ponders? She imagines what life would have been like for a brilliant sister of Shakespeare - and finds the woman killing herself in her prime. Layer by layer, Woolf constructs her case. "[Woman] pervades poetry from cover to cover; she is all but absent from history," she writes. "She dominates the lives of kings and conquerors in fiction; in fact she was the slave of any boy whose parents forced a ring upon her finger. Some of the most inspired words, some of the most profound thoughts in literature fall from her lips; in real life she could hardly read, could scarcely spell, and was the property of her husband."

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