While we may be living through a brief period of backwards movement with respect to social politics, we must not forget just how far we’ve come in the last one hundred years. This book helped to remind me of that (Note: I am not suggesting that this means we can sit back and not continue to push forward.)
In A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf tackles the topic of Women and Fiction. Before the novel was published in 1929, Woolf gave a series of lectures at women’s colleges that ultimately became the backbone of this book. The title is really her thesis for why women had a difficult time prior to the 1920’s of creating any work of art (poetry, novels, etc.) Women often did not have “a room of one’s own” to create art in, rather they were subject to spending time in the sitting room where distractions were constant. Women did not have the pleasure of having a private space for working without interruptions. The other part of this thesis is that women did not have money (mostly because they did not work, but sometimes because the man of the house would have all rights to any money regardless) and thus had little chance at becoming a writer. She says,
“Intellectual freedom depends upon material things. Poetry depends upon intellectual freedom. And women have always been poor, not for two hundred years merely, but from the beginning of time. Women have had less intellectual freedom than the sons of Athenian slaves. Women, then, have not had a dog’s change of writing poetry.”
Early in the novel, Woolf describes a fictional Judith Shakespeare, William Shakespeare’s “sister.” She uses this character to demonstrate how a woman with the same talents as William Shakespeare would never have accomplished the feats that he did. This is not due to women being inferior to men, but rather because of a lack of financial stability or “a room of one’s own” for women like Judith.
Another great part of the novel was when Woolf commented on how difficult it is for women to overcome this barrier. She speaks of her friend, Mary Seton, and what would have happened if her mother had attempted to set aside motherhood and spent more time earning a living. She states,
“If Mrs. Seton, I said, had been making money, what sort of memories would you have had of games and quarrels? What would you have known of Scotland, and its fine air and cakes and all the rest of it? But it is useless to ask these questions, because you would never have come into existence at all.”
This really hit me hard. Women often have to choose between starting a family and building a life of her own (financially speaking). Men do not always have to make this choice. Of course, this has changed drastically from Woolf’s time, but it is still not equal (and likely never will be since we are the child-bearing individuals.) Even if women continue to work while raising children, we often get set back in our careers in order to make time for our families.
I could truly write for hours on this book and all the thoughts I had throughout my reading. I have a long week ahead of me, though, so I’m going to leave it at that and head to sleep. I may write another post about this book, though, just to cover all my thoughts. Keep in mind it only takes about two hours to read this so check it out if you haven’t read it yet!