Virginia Woolf: A Room of One’s Own

“A Room of One’s Own” Essay 

Virginia Woolf is one of the most outstanding representatives and theorists of the English modernism. Her essay “A Room of One’s Own” became the canonic text of the feminist theory. Virginia Woolf was not as radical as her contemporaries were in the choice of themes and managed to synthesize organically the new writing technique with the proficient analysis of pressing issues of the human life in her feministic novel, “A Room of One’s Own.” Being influenced by the biographical and cultural context, in which a book was published in 1929, “A Room of One’s Own” reflects the female roles and space in the society: on the one hand, a necessary condition for the social, economic, and creative solvency of a woman, and, on the other hand, the feministic vision of the world and the manifesto of the writer’s otherness.

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The creativity of Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) was repeatedly exposed to the judgment in the context of the feminist tradition. Being the author of several novels and essays devoted to the problem of emancipation, including “A Room of One’s Own,” “Orlando,” and “Three Guineas,” Woolf carved out a place in the world literature as one of the main representatives of the first wave of feminism (Sirkevic 2). However, at present, the interpretation of her ideas concerning gender perspectives is often rather stereotypic and narrows down to the literal statement of the main ideas contained in her feminist novels. The literary works of the author are characterized not only by the reception and judgment of the feminist program stated in the works of the authors at the earlier period, for example, Mary Wollstonecraft or John Stuart Mill but also by independent discoveries in the sphere of gender problems (DiBatista 34).

The first half of the 20th century was the time of the large-scale political events, social transformations, and changes in the cultural paradigm, first of all, in the sphere of everyday life. The years of Virginia’s life cover the period from the end of the reign of Queen Victoria up to the beginning of the World War II. During her life, striking changes occurred in family relations and gender roles in the country.

1929, when the work “A Room of One’s Own” was published, became the turning point in the reconsideration of the gender roles and emergence of the first feminist movements in the world. In Britain, 1929 witnessed several important events. First of all, it was the year when Miss Margaret Bondfield became the first lady in the UK government. Secondly, this year, the parliamentary election in Great Britain was based on the law on the equal vote rights for men and women (Sirkevic 4). Thirdly, in 1929, the first women’s cricket match was held in England. All these changes point at shifts in the patrimonial society towards equal opportunities and rights for all people, irrespective of their sex (Kronenberger). On the world stage, 1929 was also characterized by the feminism that was rapidly developing in the countries of Europe, Australia, and the USA. The new movement shook the traditional society and achieved the voting right for women. Even in the traditional Turkey, 1929 was the year when women received equal voting rights. However, despite this essential progress, females still did not feel themselves equal participants of the political and social process. It was especially noticeable in England, the culture of which was defined by the conservative Victorian heritage. Thus, the first edition of the book in 1929 was connected with the start of the first wave of the feminist movement, the introduction of the voting right for women, and the global emancipation.

Virginia Woolf felt the paradox of the situation both in the outside world projected in her literary works and in her personal life. Her family life and the complex relations with her father became the key to the understanding of her perspective on gender issues (DiBatista 41). Like the majority of European modernists, Virginia Woolf was brought up in the cultural family. The children in the Stephen family adored the mother and were rather afraid of the father, Sir Lesley Stephen, who was the leading literary critic of England. The life in this huge family was almost entirely devoted to the ambitions and desires of the father, an extremely ambitious and selfish person (Bell 45). Lesley Stephen demonstrated the traditional behavioral model of a Victorian man; he was rational, judicious, but rather prudish and suppressing for his family in the everyday life (Bell 48). Thus, the ambivalent relations between the father and other family members in the psychoanalytic space caused the rejection of beliefs of the conformal Victorian families by Woolf.

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Being the liberal person of the most progressive views, Virginia’s father positively perceived any social progress, including the democratization of the society. Nevertheless, as a writer, he adhered to the idea of the gender determinacy of literature (DiBatista 46). He believed that the sex of the author had a considerable influence on the set of characteristics of the literary work, starting from the stylistic unity of the text up to the system of imageries. For this reason, he strived to delimit the so-called female literature from the lump of the European fiction by treating women in literature rather critically. Lesley Stephen considered the inability to depict the truly male character a serious lack of the literary works of Charlotte Bronte and George Elliot. He regarded them as women in masks (Bell 148).

The motive of religious belief, which was the important factor characterizing the Victorian culture did not find any obvious expression in the works of the writer. The family had an ambiguous and complex attitude to religion. At the beginning of his career in Cambridge, Virginia’s father became the priest. However, later, he became an atheist and broke any relationships with the church. Therefore, the aspiration to the withdrawal from the traditional forms of religiousness and the world outlook transgression was reflected in her literary works, opening the modernism era and the feminist discourse into the literature.

Studying the critical literature on Virginia Woolf, it is possible to declare the opinion of some critics considering loneliness, hopelessness, the inevitable death and grief as the main motives of her work (Bell 176). The literary piece, “A Room of One’s Own,” reveals the needs of each person to have personal space and lonely place where one can mount hobbies. The room, traced by its owner, represents his world, which is a shelter and symbol of loneliness (Sirkevic 4). Woolf gives a detailed description of rooms of the characters, draws the readers’ attention to particular objects that can reveal the nature of their owners.

“A Room of One’s Own” tells about the difficult feminine destiny. The novel is rather autobiographical as it focuses on women, who chose to write instead of housing. The Exeter and Plymouth Gazette published on November 26, 1929 stated that Virginia Woolf protested against the patriarchal way of life, against her father who did not take her literature talent seriously, against the position of women in the society, in which females were humiliated by males (“The Hogarth Press” 2). In this essay, Woolf thinks out Shakespeare’s sister Judith, who is as gifted as her brother was, and tries to tailor her fate in the 16th century (Kronenberger). Moreover, Virginia tells the story of Jane Austen, who used to write in a drawing room. All the time, she had to listen to any scratch of the door and hid papers when somebody entered (Sirkevic 7). This book is the manifesto of the voice of women, who had suffered from the low position in the society for centuries. The modern critics of the creativity of Virginia Woolf state, “Mrs. Woolf’s chief exhortation is that woman break completely with the man-mirroring function that has been hers for so long, and in turn examine masculine concepts and reasoning” (Bogan). 

A number of external factors, such as the Victorian cultural heritage, some episodes from the writer’s biography, the worldview of the immediate environment, the ideas of psychoanalysis and emancipation, her professional literary activity, and the social and political situation both in the world and in England shaped the writer’s unique style (Kronenberger). Such a contextual perception of the Woolf’s creativity with a modern feminist discourse allows researching many current problems, in particular, the continuity of feminist ideas in the correct way (DiBatista 145). In her works, Woolf goes beyond the sociocultural paradigm of her era and anticipates the modern attitude in many respects.

The biographical, cultural, and political contexts essentially affected “A Room of One’s Own,” as the writer considered the world from the feminist point of view. Especially, the events of 1929 when women in some countries received the right to vote, as well as entered the UK government, coincided with the first edition of the book. It appeared at the very moment when the society was ready for changes towards the improvement of the place of women and equalization of human rights. However, when considering the gender perspective in the works of Woolf, one should remember that there was a certain contradiction between the cultural heritage determining the conditions, under which the writer was brought up, and the new type of mentality, which she intuitively anticipated and embodied in her creativity. While approving the need for the release of conformal beliefs and prejudices determined by the tenor of life of her era, Woolf realized the indissoluble communication of contemporaries with the old world. She became the first writer who so organically utilized and demonstrated new feminist ideas.


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