I was sixteen the first time I read an extract of Woolf’s famous A Room of One’s Own. I am now twenty-one and the reason why I decided to read the full essay is no other than I am preparing my master paper on Woolf’s essays. As a teenager, I had remembered few things from the essay in question but one thing that I never forgot was the feminist core of the paper.
But, you may say, we asked you to speak about women and fiction— what has it got with a room of one’s own? […] I sat down on the banks of a river and began to wonder what those words meant. […] The title women and fiction might mean, and you may have meant it to mean, women and what they are like, or it might mean women and the fiction that they write ; or it might mean women and the fiction that is written about them ; or it might mean that somehow all three are inextricably mixed together and you want me to consider them in that light.
From the beginning of her essay, Virginia Woolf tries to define what the two concepts this essay is supposed to be about might mean. Women and fiction : what does it mean ? How can we define women through fiction ? In which circumstances ? Virginia Woolf wonders. At sixteen, when my literature teacher asked me to analyze the title of AROOO, I came up with only one idea ; and it might have been linked to the fact that this teacher in question put the essay in relation with Alice Munro’s « The Office ». The analysis that I drew was the following : A Room of One’s Own could only mean one thing and it was that women needed their own workspace to be able to create, since all that exists in their home tends to push them to do other things — and I am not talking about hobbies, but about home chores like taking care of the children, of the laundry, or of the meal. This interpretation was the most simple and logical I could have given to my teacher at that time.
At twenty-one, if my high school literature teacher asked me to analyze this same title, I could never give her this kind of response. To me now, A Room of One’s Own is as Woolf herself explained in her introduction, about women and fiction, and the room that society prepared for them as writers, and characters of fiction.In the first chapter of the essay, Woolf talks about a luncheon. When I first started reading this, I wondered : what does it have to do with fiction ? But as Woolf’s own stream of consciousness flowed through the pages, I began to understand. At that luncheon, Woolf could notice many things and more importantly she could draw conclusions about the differences that lay between the two sexes.
Throughout the essay then, Woolf takes the reader with her, asking them to follow her thoughts. « The scene has now changed » she writes at the beginning of chapter II. A Room of One’s Own is a very dense and heavy essay, which surprised me in many ways. First of all, it is important to acknowledge that for a reason that I still do not know, Virginia Woolf stands amongst my favorite authors. Maybe it is the influence of the stream of consciousness, maybe it is just that I adore her writings, but somehow I was disappointed by this essay. Not because I did not like it, but because I found it hard to understand and to follow. It took me weeks to write this article and to finally decide and put words on this reading.
For days, I tried to find the good words to write about this essay but the truth is that I did not even know what to say about the essay, even after a second read. Today, I think I understood Woolf’s meaning, but I do not feel able to explain it. And this surprises me, because I did not expect to be so overwhelmed by this essay that I thought I understood so well.
A Room of One’s Own is an important work, I am sure of this. It helps us understand the context in which Woolf, as a woman, wrote fiction and non-fiction in a postwar Britain. It helps us understand the way Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, George Eliot and so many women writers were seen in the 1920s.
Now I understand that A Room of One’s Own could have something to do with the room women need to have to write, but overall I understand that the « Room » that Virginia is writing about is not the same one as in Munro’s « The Office », AROOO is more about the room that men agree to make for women in society, and in the literary sphere.
Today still, in the twenty first century, it is hard for a woman to find her place — her room — in society, and in the literary sphere. We see many debates blooming on the subject, and many women writers try to open up about the unfairness they can face in their every day life as writers.
This essay is a complex but very rich text, and if you decide to dive into it, I’d recommend that you let go of you bookish principles, take a pencil, prepare to highlight, underline quotes, words, phrases, because it is worth it. Virginia Woolf’s reflection is dense and intense and it might be the first time that I read it entirely, I know I will reread it again and again and again because, with Woolf, there is always one more thing to discover at every reading.