A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
January 14, 2011 § 1 Comment
In her essay Woolf presents the thesis that there are so fewer high quality female writers than male writers because in their creative pursuits women have had to overcome not only the self-doubts encountered in the creative process and criticism from reviewers and readers, but also the doubt cast from the centuries of belittlement of women and disparagement of their endeavors imposed in a patriarchal society. She says that women of her time must pave the way so future women don’t hear “the bishops and the deans, the doctors and the professors, the patriarchs and the pedagogues all shouting warning and advice.” The overarching direction of the essay is, of course, towards a room of one’s own as means to and result of financial and intellectual equality. I found “a room of one’s own” to stand as a three-fold metaphor, firstly as a sanctuary from discouragement, which is necessary for writing.
A room of one’s own next stands as economic independence. Woolf leads us along her thought process showing that once a woman has economic independence, she can no longer be made inferior to men. And once this is accomplished, she no longer needs male society’s approval and no longer resents men. And once this is accomplished she can reach the third incarnation of a room of one’s own, freedom of the mind. Now that she doesn’t need men’s approval she can present her own views and opinions, and now that she doesn’t resent men her thoughts and writing will be free of the anger and bitterness that sours and dates work.
Woolf uses the character Mrs. Behn, a middle class writer who supported herself through the profit from her writing to present her argument concerning the importance of economic freedom to a woman. She writes that the fact that Mrs. Behn “had to work on equal terms with men” was more important than anything she actually wrote, because she earned her financially equality though her own writing. This brings to mind a parallel scene from Julie Taymor’s movie “Frida,” about the life of the artist Frida Kahlo. In the scene Frida approaches the famous artist Diego Rivera with some of her paintings and asks him to tell her if she is any good. When Diego begins to reply that it doesn’t matter, if she is truly an artist she will paint no matter what, Frida cuts him off, saying she’s not just trying to amuse herself, she has to earn money for her family so if she’s no good she’ll do something else. Woolf’s statement, “money dignifies what if frivolous if unpaid for,” stands true to her belief that it is though economic independence that women will find equality.
Woolf’s predictions on the course of equality for women are eerily accurate. “…In a hundred years… women will have ceased to be the protected sex…they will take part in all the activities and exertions that were once denied them. The nursemaid will heave coal. The shop-woman will drive an engine.” Looking at my reading, I see all the fictional writers within these books have a room of their own in which to write—their “sanctuary from discouragement.” In “On the Road” Sal paradise has his room in his aunt’s house in New Jersey, and in “Love in the Time of Cholera” Florentino Ariza has his room in his mother’s house on the Street of Windows. Interestingly enough, each male writer gains access to their rooms through their female guardians. Perhaps we see in this reversal the branches of Woolf’s early thoughts on the necessity of feminist economics.