Sunday, August 10, 2014

The World for Women Writers: A Room of One's Own

A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf
Penguin, 2009 (this edition - original published in 1929)

During a recent trip to London, I was roaming the streets in need of reading material. My requirements were few: I wanted something by an English author and something small enough I could easily fit into my purse. I found just what I was looking for along with plenty of enlightenment in this edition of Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own.

The short book is actually an essay, an expanded version of lectures Woolf gave at Cambridge University in 1928. In a stream of consciousness style that she became well known for, Woolf explores the challenges women writers were facing and famously states that "a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction." Though this text is nearly 90 years old, many of her arguments are still relevant today: the higher value put on the works of men than women, how women are expected to choose between a personal/home life and professional aspirations, how the working conditions women must endure are different from men's, and how the women of present are building themselves up on the shoulders of those who came before and while progress has been made, there is still much to be done.

I don't normally do so well with stream of consciousness texts as I find they have a tendency to be highly tangential, but this one kept me engaged. Perhaps because Woolf's writing here was not overly lyrical, I was able to follow along. It has been far too long since I've read anything like this. Not to say my usual world of YA lit doesn't make me think, but this made me think in ways I haven't since college. Like stretching muscles I'd forgotten about and neglected, this feminist and progressive essay has a feeling like it could have been written last year. There are so many fantastic quotes and nuggets of powerful thoughts in these pages, and I'm very interested in further exploring Woolf's greater body of work to see how she addresses many of the issues she raises here in her own fiction writing. I've never read anything else by her, and I am eager to change that.

If you are in the mood for something different, for something that challenges to conventions of its time as well as the present day, pick up A Room of One's Own. I'm so happy that I bought this because I can already tell this is the kind of book I can and will and should reread every few years, and that I'll no doubt get something new out of it with each reading.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

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