SCHOLASTIC Roundup: A Room of One's Own


We read A Room of One's Own written by Virginia Woolf in 1928 for my Twentieth Century British History class this week. What a beautiful and insightful reading! She writes this book only a few years after the women finally get the vote. Though women were finally considered equal citizens, they were not allowed to get the same university education as men. In this book, Virginia discusses why it is that there has been no literature or poetry written by women that has been able to equal the genius of Shakespeare. Then she goes further to try to figure out what it is that women need in order for their genius to be freed: they need a room of their own (for peace and quiet uninterrupted), 500 pounds a year (we'd need much more nowadays), and time. When women can obtain these three things they can be as successful as men have been in their writing. Of course, she goes into detail about these three are some  of my favorite excerpts:

If only Mrs. Seton and her mother before her had learnt the great art of making money and had left their money, like their fathers and their grandfathers before them, to found fellowships and lectureships and prizes and scholarships appropriated to the use of their own sex, we might have dined very tolerably up here alone off a bird and a bottle of wine; we might have looked forward without undue confidence to a pleasant and honourable lifetime spent in the shelter of one of the liberally endowed professions. We might have been exploring writing; mooning about the venerable paces of the earth; sitting contemplative on the steps of the Parthenon, or going at ten to an office and coming home comfortably at half-past four to write a little poetry.

But what still remains with me as a worse infliction than either was the poison of fear and bitterness which those days bred in me. To begin with, always to be doing work that one did not wish to do, and to do it like a slave, flattering and fawning, not always necessarily perhaps, but it seemed necessary and the stakes were too great to run risks;...what a change of temper a fixed income will bring about.

For it is a perennial puzzle why no woman wrote a word of that extraordinary literature when every other man, it seemed, was capable of song or sonnet.

Shakespeare's sister [Judith, who Woolf speaks of hypothetically] as I had made it, is that any woman born with a great gift in the sixteenth century would certainly have gone crazed, shot herself, or ended her days in some lonely cottage outside the village, half witch, half wizard, feared and mocked at. For it needs little skill in psychology to be sure that a highly gifted girl who had tried to use her gift for poetry would have been so thwarted and hindered by other people, so tortured and pulled assunder by her own contrary instincts, that she must have lost her health and sanity to a certainty.

What are the great poetical names of the last hundred years or so? Coleridge, Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley, Landor, Keats, Tennyson, Browning, Arnold, Morris, Rossetti, Swinburne--we may stop there. Of these, all but Keats, Browning, Rossetti were University men; and of these three, Keats, who died young, cut off in his prime, was the only one not fairly well to do. It may seem a brutal thing to say, and it is a sad thing to say; but, as a matter of hard fact, the theory that poetical genius bloweth where it listeth, and equally in poor and rich, holds little truth. As a matter of fact, nine out of those twelve were University men: which means that somehow or other they procured the means to get the best education England can give. As a matter of hard fact, of the remaining three you know that Browning was well to do...the poor poet has not in these days, nor has had for tow hundred years, a dog's chance...we may prate of democracy, but actually, a poor child in England has little more hope than had the son of an Athenian slave to be emancipated into that intellectual freedom of which great writings are born.

So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters.


Anonymous said...

I have never had a vote, and I have raised hell all over this country. You don't need a vote to raise hell! You need convictions and a voice!
Mother Jones

The Regal Seagull said...

I'm offended that as V-Wolf listed the great writers of the day, she left of a name we all know...Pfeffer.

Ann Marie said...

Sorry, "Pfeffer"