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Sunday, October 17, 2010

We’ve Got to Fight for our Right to Write – A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

After reading the first two chapters of A Room of One’s Own, , I realized that sometimes I think (and sometimes I don’t think at all) that I prefer reading Virginia Woolf’s essays more than her books.  I shouldn’t really say that; it’s just that I find her essays so straight-forward and common sense.  (I said this in my last blog, I'm repeating myself, maybe I'm channeling Woolf).  I’m not sure how much the younger female generation can really appreciate this essay because the roads have already been paved for them.  Woolf’s generation made the roads, the next generation paved them, and my generation put up sign-posts; most of the work has been done for the current generation.  This was an essay that used two speeches on women’s rights for its building block.  The premise winds around a fictional story about a professional woman writer.  In her introduction to the book, Susan Gubar mentions how Woolf uses writing as a curative and self-analysis.  I found that especially true of To the Lighthouse, but it also works here in that it purges her angst on sexual discrimination.  Well, perhaps “purges” isn’t the correct word being that she probably still dealt with these frustrations. 

In the very beginning of the story, the person is hoping that the audience will have a “nugget of pure truth to wrap up between the pages of your notebooks and keep on the mantel-piece forever” (4).  She was hoping that everyone would grasp something of significance from her lecture – the truth.  At that time the truth was that jobs for women were pretty sparse; however, writing was a profession that a woman could partake in with little money and little disruption to family.  But – if a woman really wanted a full-fledged profession of writing, she needed to “have money and a room of her own” (4).  Both of these are synonymous to freedom.  If these two factors were met, a woman could devote the majority of her time to her profession of writing.  The room signified that you had privacy, a world of your own that you could lock out others and lock yourself away.

A couple of pages later, the lecturer is relating an incident where she was ushered off of the grass or turf at a men’s university.  She went into men’s territory and was shooed away.  The phrase “protect one’s turf” surfaced in my cerebral matter, and in relation to the story, I realized that this phrase reflects man not wanting woman on his “turf,” i.e. the workplace, the universities, politics.  When she is “chased” from the library, that demonstrates men not wanting women to be educated and read scholarly books. 

Her two meals at the separate universities, the men’s and then the women’s, contrast and demonstrate the differences in the two colleges.  The meal at Oxbridge was lavish, and the conversation afterwards was just as rich.  The meal at the woman’s college, Fernham, was stingy as was the conversation.  One thing I found interesting, especially after reading Gubar’s comment that writing for Woolf was cathartic, is the photo of the Dean’s mother on the mantelpiece, and our main character describes the photo.  The person in the photo describes Julia Stephens:  “her gay and dissipated life had left too few traces of its pleasures on her face” (21).  That describes every photo of Julia Stephen that I have seen after her marriage to Leslie Stephen.  Going back to the conversation between our lecturer and the dean, we learn that the reasoning behind the economic problems of the women’s college arises from not having enough donors.  Unlike the men’s college that Woolf, I mean our lecturer, describes as receiving “sacks of gold and silver,” married women had no property and conventionally women were not educated; therefore, with those two facts in mind, women had no money of their own to donate, and men didn’t want women educated, so they wouldn’t donate to a women’s college.  In reading these two chapters, my memory pulled from the depths the “He-Man Woman Haters” Club from the show “Little Rascals.”  It’s precisely how the men of her era wanted to keep their world, free of women (except at home). 

The second chapter deals a little more with finances.  The money bequeathed her by her aunt gave her the freedom to be honest; she didn’t have to be the magic mirror that enhanced men’s egos.  She was free to write what she wanted and word it whichever way pleased her.  With that said, some of the excerpts from her diary make her sound very dependent on the opinion of her network of friends and family.  And being that I’m getting wordy, I’ll end this with a comment on her prophetic comment at the end of this chapter:  “Moreover, in a hundred years, I thought, reaching y own doorstep, women will have ceased to be the protected sex” (40).  I found it spooky that she had come close to hitting the nail on the head because we have indeed come a long way.

Afterthought:  I found a jpeg of the original book cover.  I remeber Gubar talking about the irony of it being in pink and blue, the traditional colors of a girl or a boy.  I'm glad that I had read that, because the colors are so subdued that I wouldn't have caught it as "pink."

Work Cited:
Gubar, Susan.  Introduction.  A Room of One’s Own.  By Woolf, Virginia. Orlando, Florida:  Harcourt, 2005.  xxxv-lxi.  Print.

Woolf, Virginia.  A Room of One’s Own.  1929.  Ed. Mark Hussey.  Orlando, Florida:  Harcourt, Inc., 2005.  Print.

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