Course Hero. "A Room of One's Own Study Guide." Course Hero. 13 Feb. 2018. Web. 21 Jan. 2019. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-Room-of-Ones-Own/>.
Course Hero. (2018, February 13). A Room of One's Own Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved January 21, 2019, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-Room-of-Ones-Own/
(Course Hero, 2018)
Course Hero. "A Room of One's Own Study Guide." February 13, 2018. Accessed January 21, 2019. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-Room-of-Ones-Own/.
Course Hero, "A Room of One's Own Study Guide," February 13, 2018, accessed January 21, 2019, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-Room-of-Ones-Own/.
Virginia Woolf has been asked to give a lecture on women and fiction and begins by discussing her thought process about how to approach the topic. After some thought, she concludes, "A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction." She invents a fictional persona, "Mary Beton," who will narrate a series of events and the thoughts they inspire, so the audience can follow the train of thought that led to her conclusion.
Mary sits on the bank of a river in Oxbridge (an imaginary men's university akin to Cambridge or Oxford) thinking about "women and fiction." After a while, she rises and begins to walk across the grass. A man gestures to her she should stay on the path—not walk on the grass. She visits the library, but a gentleman at the door tells her women are not allowed unless accompanied by a Fellow or in possession of a letter of introduction. She goes to an elaborate luncheon and enjoys wonderful food and drink. Dinner is at Fernham, a women's college, and it is terribly plain in comparison. This contrast leads to thoughts about the wealth of men and the poverty of women.
In a new setting—London—Mary now explores the questions: "Why was one sex so prosperous and the other so poor? What effect has poverty on fiction?" She goes to the British Museum, and finds many books written by men about women. Some of the topics question whether women can be educated, have souls, or are divine. One book makes her very angry: The Mental, Moral, and Physical Inferiority of the Female Sex. She realizes men often put women down because they are used to having all the power and having women prop up their self-image. Now, with the women's rights movement, men's confidence and power are threatened. This makes them uncertain, and thus they try to regain superiority through logic.
Mary has lunch at a restaurant, and pays with her own money—money she inherited from her aunt. She thinks back to what it was like to have no money and considers the power and freedom having her own money has given her.
Mary investigates the question of why women in Elizabethan times—the time of Shakespeare in the 16th century—wrote nothing. She concludes Elizabethan women had no money of their own, were forced into marriages, and did not have the training or experience needed to become a writer. She invents a fictional sister for Shakespeare, a woman named Judith with the same gift and drive as her brother. While William went off to school, married, had a child, and went off to London to seek his fortune, Judith stayed home, was betrothed, and ran away to London to avoid the marriage. In London, her interest in theater was thwarted, and she was taken advantage of. Unable to express her gifts, she killed herself. Therefore, it would have been impossible for a woman in Shakespeare's time to write plays. Gifted women would have become outcasts, suicides, or prostitutes, as there was no way for them to obtain the things they needed to become a writer. The work of Shakespeare shows evidence of "a mind ... incandescent, unimpeded," but a woman at the time would never have lived in circumstances that allowed the development of this kind of mind.
The idea that any woman would be able to have "a mind ... incandescent, unimpeded" in the 16th century seemed unbelievable at the time: Rich women could write a little, perhaps. But as time went on, women writers began to emerge, and some even made money. This gave legitimacy to writing as an acceptable occupation for women. By the 19th century several women novelists were recognized for their literary contributions. Writers like Jane Austen perfected the kind of writing that depended on keen observations and interactions between people in sitting rooms. But even so, many of this generation of women writers showed signs of anger and struggle against their limitations, and this detracted from their writing.
Mary moves on to the writing of her own time. She invents an imaginary author, "Mary Carmichael," and gives commentary on Carmichael's book Life's Adventure. She notices the sentences do not flow well, her scenes do not proceed in order, and overall the book is not sublime. But the book has potential, and given enough money and a room of her own to write in, Carmichael might become a great writer, or at least a better writer.
Mary wakes up the next day, and as she watches the people in the street, she observes two people, a man and a woman, get into the same taxi. This becomes an image of what she thinks needs to happen in the mind in order to produce great writing. The male nature and the female nature—both present in the mind—must coexist peaceably together. As British poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge asserted, a great mind is androgynous. However, men have doubled down on their masculinity because women are demanding their rights and want to live more equitably with men. This has made women's writing poorer because they are in opposition to the womanly part of their own minds. She concludes, "It is fatal for anyone who writes to think of their sex."
Setting the persona Mary Beton aside, Woolf reasserts a woman must have "five hundred a year and a room ... if [she is] to write fiction or poetry." She encourages the women writers in the audience to make money and have a room of their own. This will lay a foundation for future generations, so that someday Judith Shakespeare will truly be born, and will write works of genius, drawing upon the legacy of all the women writers who came before her.