Adeline Virginia Woolf was one of the most important modernist authors of the 20th century and a pioneer in feminist literature. An essential part of the literary and artistic society, Woolf’s published works include The Voyage Out, To The Lighthouse, Mrs. Dalloway and Orlando. Her exceptional book, A Room Of One’s Own, is an extended essay based on the two lectures Woolf delivered in the women’s colleges of the University of Cambridge. One of the most invaluable non-fictional feminist texts, the essays feature a fictional narrator and describes how the patriarchal literary society needs to make room for women in fiction.


A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.

The author has plunged into the issue headfirst by explaining her choice of the title. Being asked to give a lecture on women in fiction, she elucidates how it might mean women and what they are like, women and the fiction they write, or women and the fiction that is written about them. And she continues to contemplate the combination of all three possibilities to do justice to the important topic.

The essay starts with the author’s vivid and lilting descriptions of her surroundings in the university and her playing with and tumbling the ideas and issues regarding women in fiction. And, while doing so, she subtly establishes various ways in which women are discriminated against in the university. During this description, the flow of her narrative juxtaposed with the environment as well as her literary prowess with mellifluous metaphors arrests the reader with amazement and awe.

The tongue-in-cheek and stream-of-consciousness style of Woolf leaves the reader agape with wonder and bemusement upon coming across her wry remarks about how men had encroached upon the literary space with their massive metaphorical limbs. She systematically and analytically lays out every opinion of men about women that she comes across, to show the readers how ridiculous and abhorrent these misogynistic views are. She does all this without once showing any righteous anger or over-flowing passion, but in a very matter-of-fact manner and overly-polite sarcasm.

Women have served all these centuries as looking glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size.

She then ventures to describe how slowly and surreptitiously women dared to enter literature starting with the bored aristocrats to the diligent and stubborn middle-class women wielding the pen to uphold the household. She mentions many leading names of historical women in literature such as Aphra Behn, lady Winchilsea, Rebecca West, Mary Seton, Margaret Cavendish and many more.

When, however, one reads of a witch being ducked, of a woman possessed by devils, of a wise woman selling herbs, or even of a very remarkable man who had a mother, then I think we are on the track of a lost novelist, a suppressed poet, of some mute and inglorious Jane Austen, some Emily Bronte who dashed her brains out on the moor or mopped and mowed about the highways crazed with the torture that her gift had put her to. Indeed, I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.

Woolf proclaims that, in order to achieve greatness in fiction, women must first find a room of their own. This room must symbolize the power to think for oneself and a salary of 500 pounds a year, and hence the power to contemplate so as to be independent and free of all the shackles of patriarchal labor. Only then could a woman achieve true literary freedom, by overcoming all impediments and embracing an androgynous mindset in which the gender of the author won’t contaminate the fiction.

The author ends with a rare combination of sarcastic wit and ever-lasting hope, reminding the women that every woman of posterity, who had been silenced even before they could find her voice, lives on in each of us, and that “to work for her even in poverty and obscurity is worthwhile.”

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.

Ameya Rating:

The rich language, the enlightening notions about literature and the humorously engaging tone of the narrator make this work worthy of 4.7 out of 5 stars. A must-read for every woman pursuing a career in the fickle world of stories, A Room of One’s Own is sure to leave you wiser in the ways this world moves when it comes to women and their rightful place in literature.

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