Virginia Woolf's A Room Of One’s Own

2627 words - 11 pages

In Virginia Woolf’s feminist essay “A Room of One’s Own,” Woolf argues that “a woman must have money and a room of her own” (16) if she is to write fiction of any merit. The point as she develops it is a perceptive one, and far more layered and various in its implications than it might at first seem. But I wonder if perhaps Woolf did not really tap the full power of her thesis. She recognized the necessity of the writer’s financial independence to the birth of great writing, but she failed to discover the true relationship to great writing of another freedom; for just as economic freedom allows one to inhabit a physical space---a room of one’s own---so does mental freedom allow one to inhabit one’s own mind and body “incandescent and unimpeded.” Woolf seems to believe that the development and expression of creative genius hinges upon the mental freedom of the writer(50), and that the development of mental freedom hinges upon the economic freedom of the writer (34, 47). But after careful consideration of Woolf’s essay and also of the recent trend in feminist criticism, one realizes that if women are to do anything with Woolf’s words; if we are to act upon them---to write the next chapter in this great drama---we must take her argument a little farther. We must propel it to its own conclusion to find that in fact both the freedom from economic dependence and the freedom from fetters to the mind and body are conditions of the possibility of genius and its full expression; we must learn to ‘move in’: to inhabit and take possession of, not only a physical room, but the more abstract rooms of our minds and our bodies. It is only from this perspective in full possession of ourselves that we can find the unconsciousness of ourselves, the anonymity in which Woolf believes we must write.

If I intend to say (as I do) that women can only write as Woolf asks us to write if we do such-and-such, then it falls to me to first clear up the question of how exactly she believes we should write---for the matter is not entirely apparent at first glance. Woolf gives us an example of what it means to her to write well when she speaks of Shakespeare. “[T]he mind of an artist,” she says, “in order to achieve the prodigious effort of freeing whole and entire the work that is in him, must be incandescent, like Shakespeare’s. . . . There must be no obstacle in it, no foreign matter unconsumed” (43). By this, she means that when Shakespeare wrote, he was able to “use writing as an art, not as a method of self-expression” (55). He did not use his writing to vent his frustrations with the world; he used it for nothing at all---that is, no particular end. His writings are ends in themselves. It is in this way that Woolf asks us to write.

Woolf demonstrates how women writers have often failed in this because of our frustration and bitterness with a world that presented to us and our writing not welcome, or even indifference, but hostility (41). She makes it clear that...

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