Virginia Woolfs

Virginia Woolfs A Room of Ones Own was written as a response to her being asked to speak about the topic of women and fiction and excerpts from it was reprinted in the article, A Womans Place. The article examines Woolfs views on the place of women in literature and her feelings on discrimination against women in society as a whole. Throughout A Room of Ones Own, Woolf emphasizes that a woman needs a room of her own to be a complete writer and also a complete woman.

Woolf felt that the issue of a womans place in literature and the world was an important topic for discussion because, at that time, women had no place in either. She blames this in part on institutional sexism and discrimination against women from colleges and places of education that refused to admit women to their classes. But she places the majority of the blame for women not having a voice or a place to belong on the fact that the resistance being fought by women was not being fought in the public eye, so it was largely ignored. She states that the realm of the public eye was places like bars, restaurants, courthouses and other public meeting places. These places were for men, so the battle for the emancipation of women couldnt be fought here. Instead, women were staging their resistance in the place that they ruled  the home. This battle was not only to have a voice in the literary world, but also to be able to define who they were as women and not be confined by the boundaries society had placed on the female gender. Woolf points out that its impossible for a woman to write at home without a room to herself where she could get away from household chores, children, and husbands. Male writers did not have this kind of domestic responsibility, so they didnt realize it to be one more hurdle for women writers to get over in order to write successfully.

Woolf relates the analogy of Shakespeares sister as an example of how hard it must have been to have been a woman who wanted to write, act or be a part of the intellectual world back in the sixteenth century. She imagines that if Shakespeare had a sister, she would not have been afforded any of the educational or acting opportunities that Shakespeare had as a man. She wouldnt have been allowed to act, she probably would have been betrothed by her father into a marriage with a man she didnt love, and she would have been taken advantage of by any man that she tried to get to help her act or be educated. In her analogy, the female version of Shakespeare ends up committing suicide because the world simply doesnt accept her for what she wants to be. This is Woolfs way of illustrating how different opportunities and rights were for men and women back in the sixteenth century and before, and why this is all the more reason that change needed to happen then.

She also pointed to two popular public commentators in the sixteenth century, Oscar Browning and Mr. Greg, that both expressed opinions about a womans place in society. They both felt that women were intellectually inferior to men and that a womans primary role in life was to support and care for men. This was the only way in which women were useful. Woolf relates her anger at reading this.

One of the reasons that Woolf feels a woman needs a room of her own and money to write, and nothing more, is because prior to the nineteenth century a room of her own would have been an impossibility. Prior to that women were under the control of their father or the male head of her household, and he also controlled all her money and education. Attempts at self-expression like writing were forbidden or mocked. The fact that female writers were all but nonexistent before is all the more reason why they have become so self sufficient and need so little to survive and write in Woolfs time. She uses Shakespeare as an example again in her conclusion, but this time she points to Shakespeares mind as being one that was free and unencumbered because he was able to say and write whatever he wanted. She is saying that women should have this freedom of expression too, because everyone should be able to have a mind as free as Shakespeares.


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