A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf – A Summary

In an excerpt from her extended essay, “A Room of One’s Own,” author Virginia Woolf examines the obstacles and prejudices that have hindered women writers before the 20th. She deploys a number of methodologies: historical and sociological analysis, fictional hypothesis, and philosophy, to answer her initial question of why there have been so few female writers. She ties their minority status largely to socioeconomic factors, specifically their poverty and lack of privacy. Her main theme throughout the essay is that a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write creatively.

            Woolf also exposes the gender consciousness that she believes cripples both male and female writers. Most men she maintains, derogate women to maintain their own superiority and most women are angry and insecure about their inferior status in society. Male writing, then, is too aggressive, whereas women’s writing is reactive. Both genders obscure their subjects and instead focus on themselves and their own personal grievances. The writer of incandescent genius, Woolf maintains, rises beyond his or her petty gripes and attains a heightened, objective relationship with reality; the subject is the world, not the writer’s self.            She argues that the reason there were so few prominent, highly respected women authors before the twentieth century is because most women had not led lives conducive to creating great art or literature. She maintains that there was no actual body of notable women’s literature because, in the past, women did not have the education, the income, the privacy, the experiences of travel to broaden their world, or the time to write. Dominated by men throughout history, females have been denied access to education, independent travel, and to publication. Without income, women are totally dependent upon men.

           Women are responsible for bearing children, and in almost all cases have the primary responsibility for bringing them up. Few have the luxury of hired help. Although rewarding in many ways, child rearing allows for little privacy, independence and solitude, prerequisite conditions for writing, painting or composing. If privacy is nonexistent, interruptions block creativity. In this essay, she clearly states that what a woman needs is a room of her own and a guaranteed fixed income in order to write noteworthy fiction. Here she challenges women to become economically self sufficient in order to acquire the necessary intellectual freedom to create outstanding literature. She believed that the remarkable, the momentous could be found amongst the mundane details and occurrences of everyday life. She encourages women to write about all of the “minutely obscure lives” which men have ignored, and about themselves, their feelings and their reactions to the world around them.

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