Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own (1929)

Virginia Woolf, one of the founders of the movement known as Modernism, is one of the most important woman writers in English. Her "stream-of-consciousness" essays and novels provide an invaluable insight into both her own life experiences and those of women at the beginning of the twentieth century. Her most famous works include Mrs. Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927), Orlando: A Biography (1928), The Waves (1931), and her most recognized work, A Room of One's Own (1929).
A Room of One's Own is an extended essay, based on Woolf's lectures at a women's college at Cambridge University in 1928. In it, Woolf addresses her thoughts on "the question of women and fiction," interpreted by Woolf as many questions. In A Room of One's Own, Woolf ponders the significant question of whether or not a woman could produce art of the high quality of Shakespeare. In doing so, she examines women's historical experience as well as the distinctive struggle of the woman artist.

Questions to Think About:

What is the meaning of the title of this piece?
When asked to speak of women and fiction, Woolf replies with a discussion of why it is important for women writers to have their independence. According to Woolf, what is the relationship or connection between rooms of one's own and "women and fiction"?

Woolf defines the question of women and fiction as being three inextricable questions: women and what they are like; women and the fiction they write; and women and what is written about them. What answers does she provide for each of these questions? What are women like, according to Woolf? What kinds of fiction do (or, as of 1928, did) women write? What is (or, as of 1928, was) written about women?

Why does Woolf say she is disappointed in herself for being unable to come to a conclusion that students can write in their notebooks and take away from them? Why would this be so important as a part of a lecture? Why would it be so important to Woolf to be able to do so?

Woolf writes, "a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is going to write." What does this mean to Woolf?

Why does it matter so much when Woolf walks on the turf at Cambridge University, and what does she make of this event? Why is a woman barred from admission to the University's library? Why does her exclusion make her so angry that she vows never to ask for "such hospitality" again?

What importance is it that the dinner at the women's college is "not good"? How does this lead to an exloration of the founding of the women's college? What is Woolf's broader conclusion about women and their cultural poverty that this incident leads to?

What does Cambridge University represent for Woolf, a Modernist? How is it a symbol of Victorianism?

Why are men so rich and women so poor, according to Woolf? What are the historical roots for women's poverty? What explains the startling contrast between women's estate in fiction (as "shining beacons" and as symbols of humanity) and in history (as slaves)?

What is the significance of the list of references to women she discovers in the course of her reading? What sorts of arguments about women does Woolf find in English writing prior to 1928?

Why has the woman artist, according to Woolf, led a life of such "disorder" and struggle? How does Woolf argue against the assumption that "no woman can write the plays of Shakespeare"?

What does Woolf mean by the statement, "Who can measure the heat and passion of a poet's heart when it is caught and tangled in a woman's body"?

Why, according to Woolf, have so many women written under assumed--male--names?

What history of women's writing does Woolf identify in A Room of One's Own?

Woolf discusses the ways in which limits of propriety blighted Jane Austen and Emily Brontë's writing, but she also argues that they both wrote "as women write." What does Woolf mean by this? What does her identification of this quality in Austen's and Brontë's writing say about Woolf's view of women's cultures?

What does Woolf mean when she says, "There is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of the mind"?


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