A Room for One’s Own. Virginia Woolf. 1929



A Room for One’s Own was published for the first time in 1929. It is based on a lecture given at Girton and Newnham Colleges, in Cambridge. The main argument is simple: women should have money and a room of their own if they are to write fiction. However it is developed so originally that the book beyond being one of the greatest feminist texts, it is also regarded as a great reflection on the meaning of writing and of being a writer.

The narrative structure

The essay uses irony and imagination, social analysis and satire to explain at best the path Virginia followed to develop the concept of the room. She uses a narrative frame in which she puts on the voice of different women.

“Call me Mary Beton, Mary Seton, Mary Carmicheal” she says at the beginning of the book referring to the three Maries of the famous ballad Mary Hamilton. In this way she is able to outline her thesis through a perspective both illustrative and personal.


The conceptual structure

This multifaceted characterization of the narrative voice is merged for formal reasons in the person of Mary Beton: she is sitting on the grass of a park at a university campus, reflecting on women and novel.

The campus represents the symbol of the patriarchal society and it is the starting point, which will be soon physically overcome by the image of the following setting.

The following setting is in fact Mary’s room. There she moves, opening books, putting them aside, going to the window while thinking further.

She examines the careers of several female authors, including Aphra Behn, Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea, and George Eliot.

Their stories are used by Virginia to show the many obstacles women had to face in the past and are facing in her current time to become educated and writers. These stories well connect to her thesis so that she re-states it: a room and an income are what women need.

The theme of the room

The leitmotif of the room is presented in a very original way to reinforce the clearness of the main argument. The narrative voice moving from the college, symbol of the patriarchal society, to the room, both core and prison of women’s souls, widens the theme so that it may embrace all the different aspects of human experience: nature, culture, history and so on.

By building this intra-diegetic path unrevealing from the college to the room, Virginia is able to demolish the principles of the patriarchal society through clear and logical reasoning.

The novelty

A Room for One’s Own is regarded as one of the greatest feminist essays. His novelty lies mainly in presenting the argument through logical concepts so that the link between the possibility for women to become writers and the question of their rights presents itself in the most natural way.

This occurs as Virginia aims here also at outlining the importance for both women and men to fight for intellectual and conceptual freedoms. Being a writer, beyond any gender concerns, means to see life from a distance and it is possible only if one has the time, space and freedom to do so, beyond the physical restrains that are imposed to women or the privileges/obligations that characterize the idea of being a man.

The real writer is for Virginia that person who can embrace both feminine and masculine personality traits in order to develop them to access to a dimension where it is possible to write prose and turn it into poetry. Poetry, is not only intended as a formal structure, but rather as an advanced observation and communicative capacity.

The ideal writer

So here Virginia writes about women right and while doing this she manages to outline vividly a clear image of the ideal writer. Three levels of individual experience merge into this concept.

First, an emancipated feminine perception, second a more reflective masculine awareness and then the intuitions of an androgynous mind.

So that isolation becomes strength, sharpness. The will to take advantage becomes active listening, empathy. And writing becomes a real chance to comprehend the psychological and relational dynamics that govern human experience.