A Room of One’s Own

But, you might say, we asked you to speak about women and fiction – what has that got to do with a room of one’s own?

I will try to explain …

– a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction …

I have just finished re-reading A Room of One’s Own, this time in Norwegian translation. Once again I am struck by the actuality of Woolf’s writing.

The essay A Room of One’s Own is framed as a spoken lecture. It originated out of two talks given at a university; actually the university her brothers attended. (There were however no family funding for higher education of Virginia or her sister Vanessa).

A Room of One’s Own (1929) was an immediate success with its readers; it has never gone out of print either in the UK or the US.

In my privileged part of the world equal rights are secured by the government in form of legislations, but looking around I see that even in my own democracy women are being harassed & supressed in many strange ways – especially through misogynistic religions. So – unfortunately – A Room of One’s Own delivers a still relevant critique of patriarchal societies.

The Sitting Room at Monk’s House. The armchair was one of Virginia Woolf’s favourite reading chairs. It is upholstered in a fabric designed by her sister, Vanessa 

Going back to the origin, to Woolf’s situation in 1929, biographer Hermione Lee says:

A Room of One’s Own could be read as Woolf’s own disguised economic biography

– at this point of her life, at the age of 46, after having published 6 novels +, Woolf had sufficient money to plan, build, and furnish a new room at Monk’s House in Sussex. (Her reviews and essays continued to bring in more money than her fiction).

In A Room of One’s Own Woolf claim that women need an income of £500 a year, in today’s money this would equal a middleclass income.

12 comments on “A Room of One’s Own

  1. Thanks for this.

    A good companion volume to this book, in my opinion, is Jules Michelet’s La Sorciere. I mean the early part of that book which describes what can only be called a 1000-year genocide against women. Woolf’s research in AROOO that uncovers the bonded status of daughters, e.g., who could be beaten and “flung about the room” is minor stuff compared with what Michelet recounts.

  2. How can one disagree? As a woman, a space of your own and the income that supports it makes many things – not only writing – possible. But I also know that there have been many women writers – I’m most aware of those in England and the USA in the nineteenth century – where writing was done in crowded family conditions in busy lives. One of my heroes is Fanny Trollope – mother of Anthony – who found time for writing by getting up as 3.00 and 4.00am. She wasn’t impelled by any modern notion of creating great art but by the need to write commercially to support a family. Much as I admire Virginia Woolf’s writing, she occupied a very privileged place in a very stratified society and inevitably wrote from that perspective.

  3. One of my favorite quotes from Virginia Woolf’s “Professions for Women,” her 1931 speech to The Women’s Service League is: “…for it is a very strange thing that people will give you a motor car if you will tell them a story. It is still a stranger thing that there is nothing so delightful in the world as telling stories…” (Eight Modern Essayists, 5th Edition, 1990, New York: MacMillan & Co, page 12).

    While a woman writer writes what she knows, whether Fanny Trollope or Virginia Woolf, why she writes is because she is a storyteller, almost above all else, whether at the top or bottom of the economic scale. As readers, we get to read both, at times painfully aware of the discrepancy.

  4. I’m glad to share your interest in Woolf. A friend gave me a copy of “A Room of One’s Own” when we were in graduate school over twenty years ago and I have read it many times since. Though Woolf addresses herself to women, she is, to me, addressing the artist in everyone, female or male. As for the theme of androgyny, my wife and I read Orlando aloud over the summer two years ago; a beautifully strange and compelling novel.

    • Thank you.
      I agree, and it actually struck me, while re-reading “A Room …”, that if she had written it today, her main concern might have been the role and position of the writer/artist in the society (in comparison with e.g athletes or movie stars or pop musicians …), independent of gender
      – just a thought…

  5. I had wanted to read this since you posted it. It’s so interesting and speaks to me in a profound way. I didn’t remember that she didn’t only focus on having an actual room but also an income that permitted independence.
    I never thought of linking it to Michelet’s Sorcière and find it almost uncanny that I had that very book in my hands today.

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