Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings

By Charles Lemert | Go to book overview

Virginia Woolf ( 1882-1941), the English novelist, biographer, and literary critic, is one of the most important writers of the twentieth century. Her fiction includes The Voyage Out ( 1915), Mrs. Dalloway ( 1925), and To the Lighthouse ( 1927). "A Room of One's Own" is possibly her most famous essay. As the text indicates, it began as a lecture on women and fiction. This essay became one of the most widely used points of reference for postwar feminism, particularly among academic and literary feminists who had to balance the demands of family and work with those of the ereative life. The delicately powerful description of a woman's experience on the manicured lawns of Oxbridge, like Charlotte Gilman The Yellow Wallpaper, is a fictionalized but powerful attack on the not-so-subtle forces of patriarchal culture. It is theory that requires no further explanation.


A Room of One's Own

Virginia Woolf ( 1929)

But, you may 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. When you asked me to speak about women and fiction I sat down on the banks of a river and began to wonder what the words meant. They might mean simply a few remarks about Fanny Burney; a few more about Jane Austen; a tribute to the Brontës and a sketch of Haworth Parsonage under snow; some witticisms if possible about Miss Mitford; a respectful allusion to George Eliot; a reference to Mrs. Gaskell and one would have done. But at second sight the words seemed not so simple. The title women and fiction might mean, and you may have meant it to mean, women and what they are like; or it might mean women and the fiction that they write; or it might mean women and the fiction that is written about them; or it might mean that somehow all three are inextricably mixed together and you want me to consider them in that light. But when I began to consider the subject in this last way, which seemed the most interesting, I soon saw that it had one fatal drawback. I should never be able to come to a conclusion. 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 to wrap up between the pages of your notebooks and keep on the mantel-piece for ever. 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. I have shirked the duty of coming to a conclusion upon these two questions--women and fiction remain, so far as I am concerned, unsolved problems. But in order to make some amends I am going to do what I can to show you how I arrived at this opinion about the room and the money. I am going to develop in your presence as fully and freely as I can the train of thought which led me to think this. Perhaps if I lay bare the ideas, the prejudices, that lie behind this statement you will find that they have some bearing upon women and some upon fiction. At any rate, when a subject is highly controversial--and any question about sex

____________________
Excerpt from A Room of One's Own ( New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers, 1929), pp. 1-4. Copyright 1929 by Harcourt Brace and renewed in 1957 by Leonard Woolf. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

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