First published in 1929, “A Room Of One’s Own” is an extended essay based on two lectures that Woolf did a year before. Here she explores the role of women in literature throughout time until the present (or her present rather). Despite this text being nearly a century old, it’s still relevant today.
Woolf argues how literature has been predominantly a male territory. Women didn’t have access to education in previous centuries, and even those who did try to write were often criticized and minimized by their male counterparts. It’s interesting how she mentions that the topics considered important were war and sports —activities only allowed for men. Yet topics regarding domestic living and dresses were categorized under “trivial”. But how were women supposed to write about war and sports when their day-to-day life consisted of other activities?
In sum, she concludes that for a woman to write a novel, she must have a room of one’s own (space and privacy) and earn 500 pounds per year (which today would be approximately 30,000£).
Despite presenting a difficult scenario for her fellow listeners back then —and probably still difficult for her readers now—, she still encourages them to write. And not only to write as a “woman” but as a person. A whole person, embracing both the feminine and masculine parts of our minds.
When Virginia Woolf wrote this, though women had gained more rights, there was still a long process ahead. If only she could still be alive and see all the women writers that have received prizes, and how many have become best-sellers. I believe she’d be surprised and proud of how literature has become more accessible now — for both readers and writers.
“Literature is open to everybody. Lock up your libraries if you like, but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind”.Virginia Woolf, A Room Of One’s Own