Book Review: A Room Of One’s Own by Virginia Wolfe

A Room Of One’s Own

By Virginia Wolfe.

First seen in Season 1, Episode 5. Rory is reading it on the bus on her way to Chilton when Dean scares her by showing up behind her.

Where do I begin? To be honest I found this book tough to read. I’m not sure if it was the language or the fact I was reading an e-book, when I hate reading on devices, or a mixture of both. Don’t get me wrong, the language is beautiful. You can see her genius bleeding on to the paper but she writes from another time. One that my brain is no longer used to.  I think I would’ve enjoyed this book more if I had read it later in the year when I’ve gotten more used to reading again. Alas, I read it first and thus did not get to fully enjoy it.

On to the content. Virginia Wolfe is a feminist writer. There is no doubt about that. She never utters the words ‘feminism’ except in quoting a friend, who uses the word as an insult, but the thoughts and theories are there. I found myself getting angry, at some points with her, at other points with the patriarchy. Then suddenly I would find myself fist pumping the air when she hit a point well. The world she lives in has certainly changed, I would certainly hope for the better, but other things she describes have barely changed. Our society seems to have gotten stuck, going back and forth but never quite breaking through the glass ceiling. She describes the patriarchy as holding so much power and yet they are angry. Why? I’ll let Virginia take it from here:

‘Yet it seemed absurd, I thought, turning over the evening paper, that a man with all this power should be angry. Or is anger, I wondered, somehow, the familiar, the attendant sprite on power? Rich people, for example, are often angry because they suspect that the poor want to seize their wealth. The professors, or patriarchs, as it might be more accurate to call them, might be angry for that reason partly, but partly for one that lies a little less obviously on the surface. Possibly they were not ‘angry’ at all; often, indeed, they were admiring, devoted, exemplary in the relations of private life. Possibly when the professor insisted a little too emphatically upon the inferiority of women, he was concerned not with their inferiority, but with his own superiority.

That was what he was protecting rather hot-headedly and with too much emphasis, because it was a jewel to him of the rarest price. Life for both sexes–and I looked at them, shouldering their way along the pavement–is arduous, difficult, a perpetual struggle. It calls for gigantic courage and strength. More than anything, perhaps, creatures of illusion as we are, it calls for confidence in oneself. Without self-confidence we are as babes in the cradle. And how can we generate this imponderable quality, which is yet so invaluable, most quickly? By thinking that other people are inferior to one self.

By feeling that one has some innate superiority–it may be wealth, or rank, a straight nose, or the portrait of a grandfather by Romney–for there is no end to the pathetic devices of the human imagination–over other people. Hence the enormous importance to a patriarch who has to conquer, who has to rule, of feeling that great numbers of people, half the human race indeed, are by nature inferior to himself. It must indeed be one of the chief sources of his power.’

Indeed, when I read this it made a lot of sense. This part I felt the most still resonated with modern society. Woman can now go to university and they can earn money that can be kept for themselves. They can enter university buildings that Wolfe herself couldn’t even enter when she wrote these essays. Yet they are still treated like the lesser sex. Men still hold a lot of power and there is still a lot of anger out there, due mostly to the threat of losing that power they hold so dear. Power that was given to them simply from being born into our patriarchal society.

‘A Room Of One’s Own’ main point seems to be that a women needs to be financially stable and have a room they can sit in uninterrupted to truly be a writer. I don’t necessarily agree with this sentiment but I understand the point she is trying to make and the reasoning behind it. There is a certain independence than comes with writing. Her thoughts are very clear on the matter.

A critique I have is that she’s too hard on women of the past. A lot of her negative thoughts are discussed with herself and eventually talked through to the point that she backs down and realises the differences time makes. Her critiques on Charlotte Bronte’s writing, however, didn’t sit well with me. She discusses Bronte’s writing as dripping with anger at her oppressors. She views that as a negative, something that held Bronte’s writing back. I, however, see anger as an appropriate reaction. Would Charlotte Bronte’s writing be better if she wasn’t angry? I don’t know, but she was brilliant and I don’t think that her anger hindered that.

Overall I enjoyed the feminist writing and I’m glad some things have changed from that time. It’s interesting, however, to see which points still ring true. Virginia Wolfe is a genius, her writing is clever and she truly was remarkable.  This is a book I was definitely suggest more people to read. Just maybe not as an ebook.

You can download the ebook here

Or if you want to purchase a hard copy of the book like I should’ve done you can do so here or click on the picture below