The world did not say to her as it said to them, write if you choose; it makes no difference to me. The world said with a guffaw, Write? What’s the good of your writing?
This book and writer that I’m going to talk about need no introduction. Virginia Woolf has been a much talked about writer from the course of twentieth century. I had heard of her ‘Mrs. Dalloway’ and had planned to read it but somehow chanced upon ‘A Room of One’s Own’ before and hence this review.
‘Evolution’ and ‘Feminism’ are the two terms that can suffice the context of this book. But let’s get a bit deeper into it.
Whenever I get introduced to new writers (writers which I’m reading for the first time), I love to get to know about them (which isn’t unusual for any bibliophile); their thoughts, their perspectives, their stories behind the stories they created- everything interests me. But I prefer to not to know about the book beforehand. Unlike those who read the brief description of the book, I prefer to keep all such information at bay and dive directly into the book, especially if it is as short as this one. I like the book to unfold itself, word by word, paragraph by paragraph, page by page, and chapter by chapter.
Nothing different happened with ‘A room of One’s Own’. In fact, only while into the first chapter did I learn that this is a non-fiction. Little did I know that this non-fiction was my, accidental, first feminist read. To call it a mere feminism book is belittling the book’s value; because it is much more than that.
Book’s first line makes you aware of Woolf’s intention of writing this 113 pages non-fiction. It tells you that the book is going to revolve around women and fiction. In 113 pages, Woolf imparted, creatively and effectively, the journey of women writers in English land. Only after reading ‘A Room of One’s Own’ did it hit me (it probably has always been there in my sub-conscious mind though) that if today my pen lingers around without any prejudices, if today I’m being read by every gender regardless of my own, it is because of the women in past, because of their efforts, their movements, their fight. It is their struggle’s effect that today we, women, are writing with as much freedom as men.
Freedom to writing was, too, not granted to us; it, too, was fought for.
Alas! a woman that attempts the pen, Such a presumptuous creature is esteemed, The fault can by no virtue be redeemed. They tell us we mistake our sex and way; Good breeding, fashion, dancing, dressing, play, Are the accomplishments we should desire; To write, or read, or think, or to enquire, Would cloud our beauty, and exhaust our time, And interrupt the conquests of our prime.
Woolf, it’s clear from her views, had high opinion of Charlotte Bronte, Emily Bronte, Jane Austen and George Elliot. It is clear from her comments on these women’s writings and also from the frequency with which Woolf has used them and their writings as example. As I’ve read the books by all these women, I could relate to whatever Woolf said but then she surpassed them and went way back to sixteenth century; a century about which I knew nothing of.
But it’s only from sixteenth and seventeenth century that one can learn about the struggles that women writers had to face. Like every other right, right to writing was only with and for men; women were considered capable of only the (so-called) womanly things like cooking, sewing, dancing and dressing. And so it was never easy for a woman at that time to weave a poetic or a fictional piece. Unlike Shakespeare, who rose above all his inhibitions and wrote unrestrainedly, a woman never could do that. One, because she was poor, second, she never had her own room where she could sit and write without any interruptions, undisturbed.
Because, in the first place, to earn money was impossible for them, and in the second, had it been possible, the law denied them the right to possess what money they earned.
Many men’s writing’s epicenter was women; but no women must write, was the general idea. How aptly did Woolf put it,
She pervades poetry from cover to cover; she is all but absent from history…Some of the most inspired words, some of the most profound thoughts in literature fall from her lips; in real life she could hardly read, could scarcely spell, and was the property of her husband.
If today we take pride in our writings, we owe a part of it to our past heroines, who demanded, who fought for their right, for our right to write.
Woolf has used her own experiences (from eighteenth century) too to reflect the unjust treatment that women still faced. Yet, she wasn’t only beating on men. In fact, she talked about how women’s own thought process, which was affected by decades and centuries of the treatment that their gender had been facing, and women’s own inhibitions have affected their writing.
Today, if we don’t write, it’s nothing because of men or because of no money or lack of one’s own room; it rather is due to one’s own shortcomings, one’s own weak desire to create, to write.
I find deplorable, I continued, looking about the bookshelves again, is that nothing is known about women before the eighteenth century.
A very interesting revelation about the creation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice also occurred in the book. Austen also didn’t own her own room. She wrote her most-loved piece amongst the hustle-bustle of people moving around, blabbering around. She completed her work in a general sitting-room and by hiding it from the servants or visitors. Whenever she heard a visitor approaching, she hid her manuscripts as if to be caught red handed whilst in a severe crime, and get back to them once the person was gone.
If not having one’s own room, owning only few pennies (if they did, I’m not sure) wasn’t enough, Austen and many other women had to write secretly. Yet what a masterpiece did Austen weave. The circumstances under which she crafted Pride and Prejudice didn’t affect it, at all.
Similarly, Woolf, very shrewdly, noticed how Charlotte Bronte’s own killed desires, wishes, which I didn’t even consider considering, were getting reflected in bits and pieces, here and there, in Jane Eyre.
I wonder what magic would have gotten created had these women not been leashed and were allowed to write uninhibitedly, passionately, fearlessly, and free of any prejudices!
Another instance, which is practiced even in twenty-first century, of how men still dominates writing world is usage of pen names. A man using a pen name of a man and a woman, too, using a pen name of a man- what does it imply? Why, ever, a man or even a woman not used the name of a woman instead as a pen name? There ain’t any need of an answer.
Currer Bell, George Eliot, George Sand, all the victims of inner strife as their writings prove, sought ineffectively to veil themselves by using the name of a man.
The book, ingeniously, talks about equality among both the genders (what we call feminism), predicaments women writers faced and underwent decades and centuries back, and what ideas did chauvinists had about writing being undertaken by women.
There is no harm in saying that what we do today has its rippling effects decades or, maybe, centuries later. If one wants to see a change, step needs to be taken today, so that the effects can be enjoyed later. One might not even stay alive to enjoy them but it shouldn’t matter; what would have happened if, women writers had thought the same centuries back? We, probably, would still be considered too meager to attempt for the art of writing. Those women fought for themselves but they fought for us too.
For masterpieces are not single and solitary births; they are the outcome of many years of thinking in common, of thinking by the body of the people, so that the experience of the mass is behind the single voice.
I cannot express how this short non-fiction book has affected me; and how beautifully Woolf has crafted the whole piece. It’s vastly informative as well as creatively framed. A book divided into six chapters is a must-read for every gender, every class, every color, every age. Throughout my article, I’ve incorporated relevant lines from ‘A Room of One’s Own’, but these are only the glimpses of what magic is held in the book; unless you read it, you won’t realize what you’re missing in the reading world and otherwise too.
The mind is certainly a very mysterious organ, I reflected, drawing my head in from the window, about which nothing whatever is known, though we depend upon it so completely….in the man’s brain the man predominates over the woman, and in the woman’s brain the woman predominates over the man. The normal and comfortable state of being is that when the two live in harmony together, spiritually co-operating. If one is a man, still the woman part of his brain must have effect; and a woman also must have intercourse with the man in her.
If you’ve happened to read ‘A Room of One’s Own’ or any other work of Woolf, do share your views on the book/author. Let’s discuss.
IF YOU ARE A FIRST-TIME VISITOR OF MY BLOG, DO REFER ‘First-Timers’. IT WOULD HELP YOU IN EXPLORING THE PLACE.
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