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A Room of One's Own | Quotes

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1.

Fiction here is likely to contain more truth than fact.


Narrator, Chapter 1

Virginia Woolf—best known as a writer of fiction, and lecturing on "women and fiction" here—defends fiction as more likely to contain truth than nonfiction. This also introduces the device she will use to make her argument—fictional characters in a fictional setting. This important difference between "truth" and "fact" is reiterated as Woolf explains: "Lies will flow from my lips, but there may ... be some truth mixed up with them."

2.

One must strain off what was personal and accidental ... and ... reach ... the ... oil of truth.


Mary Beton, Chapter 2

The search for truth is one of the driving forces of Woolf's essay. She wants her audience to search for the truth in her words, and her fictional narrator, Mary Beton, is also searching for the truth in the words of books in the British Library. This search means setting aside "personal and accidental" ideas, including those ideas and biases related to one's gender.

3.

The most transient visitor ... could ... be aware ... England is under the rule of a patriarchy.


Mary Beton, Chapter 2

Mary Beton reads a newspaper as she has lunch and reflects on how truthfully it portrays England. It is absolutely clear just from a glance that men in England hold all the power and have all the money. This realization is an essential ingredient of her conclusion in Chapter 2 that men are angry because their self-confidence is dependent on women being inferior. Ideas of women's equality threaten the presuppositions on which the patriarchal society is built. This realization is also part of her argument that women are impoverished compared to men, and therefore they need money if they are to progress.

4.

Women ... served ... as looking-glasses possessing the ... power of reflecting ... man at twice its natural size.


Mary Beton, Chapter 2

Woolf's point is that the relative value of men and women has been more important historically than the inherent value of men and women. If men looked at themselves and saw their "natural" importance, they would not feel as confident. But instead, they have been looking at women, whose relative inferiority makes the men seem superior in contrast. The image of women as a mirror that makes a person look larger than they actually are is used to make this point more concrete.

5.

Imaginatively she is of the highest importance; practically she is completely insignificant.


Mary Beton, Chapter 3

Mary Beton points out the extreme difference between women in fiction and poetry and women in real life. In fiction and poetry, women are practically divine. They are portrayed as goddesses, valuable and beautiful, spirited and eloquent. Yet in real life, women are oppressed, beaten, exploited, and confined. They are forcefully married off whether they want to or not and often live lives of drudgery. Thus, women portrayed in art are "of the highest importance" but in reality, they are "completely insignificant."

6.

What would have happened had Shakespeare had a ... gifted sister, called Judith, let us say.


Mary Beton, Chapter 3

This introduces the most well-known and frequently excerpted parts of the essay, in which an imaginary sister of William Shakespeare—Judith Shakespeare—is followed from birth to death. Her life is full of hardship and ends tragically, while her brother's is full of success. It is very important to the comparison that Judith has the same natural giftedness and brilliance of her brother. She, too, is "wonderfully gifted." This shows Woolf's view that women and men are not inherently more or less gifted and allows the comparison to focus on the differences in circumstances due to gender alone.

7.

The conditions ... were hostile to the state of mind ... needed to set free ... the brain.


Mary Beton, Chapter 3

The key to Woolf's argument is that women's poverty and oppression do not allow them to achieve the state of mind necessary for creating great works of literature. They have no privacy in which to write, and their day-to-day lives are limited and restricted by their role in society. If they have privacy—a room of their own—and financial independence, their minds will be free to exercise their gifts.

8.

The history of men's opposition to women's emancipation is more interesting ... than ... that [of] emancipation.


Mary Beton, Chapter 3

Woolf finds the attitude of men towards women more puzzling than women's desire for freedom. Men, it seems, both idolize and demonize women. In addition, the motivation of women who want more freedom seems simple and clear—they are suffering, and they no longer want to suffer. But the motive for thwarting this freedom seems less clear-cut and requires an analysis of the entire power structure of society.

9.

If ever a mind was incandescent, unimpeded ... it was Shakespeare's mind.


Mary Beton, Chapter 3

The "incandescent" mind is one that shines brightly with genius. This genius can only be expressed fully if it is "unimpeded"—if it does not encounter obstacles that suppress it. Shakespeare is the prime example, and is perhaps why Judith Shakespeare is Woolf's chosen comparative example.

10.

Money dignifies what is frivolous if unpaid for.


Mary Beton, Chapter 4

Woolf continually comes back to her main idea that money is an essential part of allowing women to write great fiction. While this is usually expressed as the need for money to provide less hostile living situations and more independence, here she makes the point that getting money for something legitimizes that very thing. Therefore, the more women are paid for their writing, the more it will be accepted as literature.

11.

Cleopatra's only feeling about Octavia is one of jealousy.


Mary Beton, Chapter 5

In men's fiction women's relationships with each other are not friendly. They compete with each other for men or are jealous of other women because men find them attractive. Cleopatra is jealous of Octavia because Antony marries Octavia.

However, in Mary Carmichael's novel, two women are friends and colleagues. They have a relationship apart from men, one that is invisible to men.

12.

Suppose ... men were only represented in literature as ... lovers of women ... how literature would suffer!


Mary Beton, Chapter 5

Mary Beton makes the point that in fiction written by men, women are only seen in relation to the men who are their lovers. To make her point clear, she asks the audience to imagine what literature would look like if the only stories told about men were ones in which they were women's lovers. What if this were men's only role in stories?

13.

Fellows and scholars only allowed on the grass! ... Aspiring and graceful female novelists this way!


Mary Beton, Chapter 5

As she reads Mary Carmichael's book, Mary Beton worries "the bishops and ... patriarchs" will obstruct Carmichael with their rules and conventions that keep women from rising. The first sentence refers to the experiences Mary Beton has in Chapter 1—a man shoos her off the grass and onto the path, and another blocks her from entering the library. The second sentence refers to the idea women are equipped for novel writing but not other kinds of writing, and that graceful women are more accepted as writers than less beautiful or wealthy women.

14.

Some marriage of opposites has to be consummated.


Mary Beton, Chapter 6

The "marriage of opposites" Mary Beton refers to is the "marriage" of male and female parts of the brain. If these two parts do not work together, the brain will be too female or too male, both of which diminish the greatness of the writing.

15.

Intellectual freedom depends upon material things. Poetry depends upon intellectual freedom.


Narrator, Chapter 6

At the end of the essay, Woolf assumes control of the voice again and sums up her argument by drawing a straight line from material things—like money and a room of one's own—to the ability to produce works of genius. She follows these statements with: "Women ... have not had a ... chance of writing poetry," and ends with, "That is why I have laid ... stress on money and a room of one's own."

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