A Room of One's Own | Study Guide

Virginia Woolf

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A Room of One's Own | Key Figure Analysis

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Mary Beton

Mary Beton is one of the names Virginia Woolf suggests the audience call her narrator, and it is the one that sticks. Although Mary Beton has to be fictionalized because she visits fictional places and interacts with fictional people as part of the essay, she basically speaks for Virginia Woolf and can be viewed as the author's alter ego. Mary Beton is also the name of the narrator's aunt, who died and left her an inheritance. The liberating experience of having this inheritance is one of the reasons she concludes a woman writer must have money and a room of her own.

Mary Carmichael

Virginia Woolf suggests three names for her fictional narrator—Mary Beton, Mary Seton, and Mary Carmichael—but ends up settling on Mary Beton. Mary Carmichael becomes the name of the fictional female author of a mediocre novel, Life's Adventure, that Mary Beton reads and analyzes. Mary Carmichael stands in for female writers of Woolf's time, who might not be great writers yet, but who are able to tell the stories of women better than men. Mary Beton decides Mary Carmichael's novel is not a work of genius, but it is a sign of progress, and in time, with a room of her own and a little money, she may write an even better book. Since Carmichael stands for women writers of the period, this conclusion suggests money and a private room are what women's fiction needs.

Judith Shakespeare

Woolf creates Judith Shakespeare to explore the question of why there are no great women writers from Shakespeare's time. The essay traces Judith's life and how it diverged from her brother's. Both are gifted writers, but when Judith goes to London to pursue her passion for theater, she is laughed at and taken advantage of. Finally, pregnant and despairing, she kills herself. This elaborate scenario helps to prove the point that women cannot become great writers when faced with these kinds of challenges. Men, on the other hand, have been able to allow their gifts to thrive. In order for the inherent genius of women to become manifest in great works of literature, they will need the financial independence and privacy men enjoy.

Mary Seton

Virginia Woolf suggests three names for her fictional narrator—Mary Beton, Mary Seton, and Mary Carmichael—but ends up settling on Mary Beton. Mary Seton, then, becomes the name of the narrator's friend at Fernham. The two discuss the poverty of women, consider the difficulty in raising money to attend a women's college, and rail against their female ancestors for failing to leave them money.

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