Published in 1929, Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One's Own is a key work of feminist literary criticism. Written after she delivered two lectures on the topic of ‘women and fiction’ at Cambridge University in 1928, Woolf’s essay examines the educational, social and financial disadvantages women have faced throughout history. It contains Woolf’s famous argument that, ‘A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction’ – although Woolf describes this as ‘an opinion upon one minor point’, and the essay explores the ‘unsolved problems’ of women and fiction ‘to show you how I arrived at this opinion about the room and the money’.
Through the fictionalised character of ‘Mary’ – who visits the British Museum to find out about everything that has ever been written about women – Woolf builds the argument that literature and history is a male construct that has traditionally marginalised women. Woolf refutes the widely held assumption that women are inferior writers, or inferior subjects, instead locating their silence in their material and social circumstances. Women have been barred from attending school and university, for instance, or excluded by law for inheritance, or expected to marry during which their time is spent housekeeping and childrearing. Woolf imagines what kind of life ‘Judith Shakespeare’ – a brilliant, talented sister of Shakespeare – might have lived, concluding that she, ‘would have been so thwarted and hindered by other people, so tortured and pulled asunder by her own contrary instincts, that she must have lost her health and sanity to a certainty’.
It is also an issue of gendered values, Woolf insists. Writing in the 1920s, Woolf observes that it is, ‘the masculine values that prevail... This is an important book, the critic assumes, because it deals with war. This is an insignificant book because it deals with the feelings of women in a drawing-room’.
Woolf ends with an appeal to the audience ‘to write all kinds of books, hesitating at no subject however trivial or however vast’: Judith ‘would come again if we worked for her, and that so to work, even in poverty and obscurity, is worth while’.
- Full title:
- A Room of One's Own
- 1929, 52 Tavistock Square, London
- Hogarth Press
- Virginia Woolf
- Usage terms
© The Society of Authors as the Literary Representative of the Estate of Virginia Woolf. You may not use the material for commercial purposes. Please credit the copyright holder when reusing this work.
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- British Library
- Article by:
- Tamara Tubb
- Gender and sexuality
Margaret Cavendish and Katherine Philips both wrote across a range of genres and achieved considerable success in their day. Tamara Tubb explores their different approaches to the difficulties of being a 17th-century female writer: Philips created a reserved and modest literary persona, presenting herself as the ideal woman of the time, while Cavendish openly challenged literary and feminine conventions.
- Article by:
- Stephanie Forward
- Capturing and creating the modern, Literature 1900–1950, Exploring identity
Katherine Mansfield was a pioneer of the modern short story. Here Stephanie Forward provides close readings of three short stories from Mansfield’s celebrated 1922 collection, The Garden Party and Other Stories.
- Article by:
- Chloe Wigston Smith
- Politeness, sensibility and sentimentalism, Gender and sexuality, Rise of the novel, Satire and humour
Frances Burney’s Evelina unveils the dizzying and dangerous social whirl of Georgian London, where reputations and marriages are there to be made and broken. Dr Chloe Wigston Smith investigates Burney’s critique of fashion culture and the demands it places on women, in a novel that prizes feminine resilience.
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Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own began as two lectures, written to be delivered at the women-only ...