“Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt, that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.”
Every woman should read Virginia Woolf. Or, at the very least, every woman should read A Room of One’s Own.
I was about to give a summary of some of her more interesting points, but that would be boring in my words (but fascinating in hers), and the response I had to this book was far more emotional than academic.
Faced with the challenge of delivering a lecture on women and fiction, Woolf scours her brain and the British Museum, searching for clues to the answer to this. Though she doesn’t claim to deliver the answer, she comes up with some interesting observations, and learnings.
Her basic premise is that to write fiction a woman needs money and a room of her own. In illustrating this, she touches on many things – the divide between educational facilities available to men and women, and chronicles the history of a woman’s position in society, particularly in relation to men. She notes how many books there are on women and how many, rather disproportionately, are written by men.
She says: “Sex and its nature might well attract doctors and biologists; but what was surprising and difficult of explanation was the fact that sex—woman, that is to say—also attracts agreeable essayists, light-fingered novelists, young men who have taken the M.A. degree; men who have taken no degree; men who have no apparent qualification save that they are not women.”
This is particularly interesting if one considers the relationship between power and writing; one could argue perhaps that true oppression means the ability to shape someone else’s story according to your own needs and convenience. Imperial nations did this to people of their colonies, and men, it seems, did this to women.
Her writing meanders on and off topic, often embarking on tangents that are not strictly about a room of one’s own, but her writing is so sarcastic and witty that it’s easy to stay engaged.
It occurred to me (though I’m not sure if she intended it this way) that a room of one’s own could be both tangible and metaphorical. It is to have a space where one can write uninterrupted but it can also mean figuratively – for women carve out a place for themselves in literature to tell their own stories in their own voices.
There has been so little room for women in fiction as writers or as characters that can drive a story without the help of male characters. Though this has changed largely from the 1920s, we still tend to veer towards stories of this kind.
I’ve discovered Woolf a little late, but she is addictive. This book will challenge you, through satire and dark humour, to take a step back and consider things in a new light. It will make you chuckle, as you can almost imagine her telling you all this in a conversation. The writing style slows you down a bit, but it’s one of those books you want to savour in any case. I have a feeling I’ll be going back to this book over and over again.
The vestiges of these issues still linger today, but we can continue to challenge them. A Room of One’s Own reminds us that we, as women writers, as still building our collective voice. It’s up to us to take our own narrative forward – for all the women of today, and those whose stories lay untold for centuries past.
– By Mira Saraf, for IWI*
This book was reviewed by Mira Saraf for IWI.*
All the opinions stated herein are of the reviewer and Incredible Women of India does not conform to the same.
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*If you wish to write for IWI, head to our submissions page.