I’ll begin this review by congratulating myself on finishing my first book by Virginia Woolf, and not only finishing it but enjoying it. I chose this particular book because it’s not one I’ve attempted before (after failing to finish any of Woolf’s novels) and I wanted to start the #ccwomenclassics challenge with something new. It’s a book which is widely referenced as a feminist text and one of those classics which I feel guilty about not having read. If I must admit it, A Room of One’s Own is also fairly short (but I didn’t discover this until I had bought it so it wasn’t my driving motivation!)
The book is an essay based on a series of lectures that Viginia Woolf gave on the topic of women and fiction, and on the difficulties she faced in coming to terms with what this topic meant:
“I should never be able to fulfil what is, I understand, the first duty of a lecturer – to hand you after an hour’s discourse a nugget of pure truth… All I could do was to offer you an opinion upon one minor point – a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction; and that, as you will see, leaves the great problem of the true nature of woman and the true nature of fiction unsolved.”
A discussion of literary women throughout history is entwined with personal reflection about the challenges woman writers have faced (and are still facing), from lack of time, opportunity, education and encouragement down to the poor food in the women’s college compared to that of their male counterparts:
“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”
Having read Woolf’s essay, is is amazing to consider that women wrote at all, and indeed most of them didn’t. Towards the end of the essay, Woolf examines some of her contemporary female authors and finds something that is not quite right in the work of the unfortunate author she selects:
“Something tore, something scratched; a single word here and there flashed its torch in my eyes.”
Having money and a room of one’s own does not make you a good writer, Woolf concludes (though being compared to Austen and critiqued by Woolf is certainly setting the benchmark very high), but women have a lot of obstacles to overcome in order to write and will only triumph with hard work and perseverance. She generously remarks that this particluar author might produce something decent in a hundred year’s time!
Despite it being nearly ninety years since this book was first published, much of it still holds true in a society where males still dominate the publishing world to an extent. Thankfully much has changed (university food is now equally bad for both men and women), but I think that women still need money and a room of their own in order to write (or an awful lot of determination and not much sleep). Reading this for my January classic has now made me want to return to Woolf’s novels to try again, so watch this space for my February #2016ClassicsChallenge choice!