Welcome to the Macat Multimedia Series. A
Macat Analysis of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. “A woman must have money – and a room
of her own – if she is to write fiction.” That famous line, written by the British novelist
Virginia Woolf, tackled head on the question of why men, rather than women, had authored
a large proportion of the greatest works of literature. Writing in 1929, Woolf argued
that the future of women’s participation in art and literature depended on altering
deeply entrenched ideas about their capabilities and ‘suitable’ aspirations.
Her essay A Room of One’s Own spoke of education as the key to women’s emancipation. Woolf
thought education could provide women with a voice they could use to contribute to culture,
and sought to highlight the discrepancies between what men and women can hope to achieve
in a patriarchal society. The central idea of her essay was that women
have not been given the space in which to think, read and develop as intellectuals.
Excluded for centuries from participation in public life, and rendered dependent on
men for financial security – she noted – women have historically lacked both the material
means and the legal freedom to voice their own ideas.
Woolf illustrates her point by inventing a fictional female character: Shakespeare’s
sister, Judith. In contrast to her brother, William, Judith
does not have the opportunity to go to school, nor is she encouraged in her efforts to read
or write. Instead, she finds herself trapped in the
home, where she is actively discouraged from pursuing creative goals.
Predictably, Judith never writes down her thoughts – so her ideas go unexpressed,
to be lost in history. Woolf’s essay suggests that William Shakespeare’s
success was not solely the product of his talent. He was offered opportunities to explore
and expand his creative calling – by participating in education and public life – and the chance
of earning a living as a professional writer. Woolf saw all of these factors vital to Shakespeare’s
success. Had he been born a woman, he would not have
had the opportunity to write, and we as a culture would have missed out on a great deal
of poetry, plays and influence. Judith Shakespeare was created by Woolf as
a metaphor – she shows the displacement of women from literature and the arts, from
public life and culture. The silencing of her character serves to remind readers of
the limitations that society has historically placed on women.
But, we are invited to wonder, how many literary greats might have been – if only aspiring
women writers had been granted the same chances as their male counterparts?
Today, Woolf’s essay is still studied as a foundational contribution to modern feminist
thought. A more detailed examination of her ideas can
be found in the Macat Analysis.