Monday, February 9, 2009

A Room of One's Own (Mini Challenge # 6)

This book fulfills #6, 'borrow a library book' in the Year of Mini-Challenges. It actually fulfills several of the categories in this challenge because it is a 'new to me author' (I can't believe it either, but I haven't read anything by Virginia Woolf before now). It could also fill the 'read 2 essays from the same collection' because this book is based on two talks she gave in 1928. But, I'm only going to count it towards #6 because I have some other things in mind for these other categories, and I want to do all twelve mini-challenges separately.

I know this will definitely not be my last book by Virginia Woolf. I love her writing style. She is very witty while at the same time fleshing out a serious argument. Woolf was invited to speak to two British women's colleges in 1928 on the subject of women and fiction. She begins her talk by explaining that she has had quite a bit of difficulty preparing her remarks. She came to the conclusion that what she really wanted to explain is the fact that in order to write or be creative in any number of ways, it is crucial for a person to have freedom. She must be able to have a place to get away from the everyday interruptions and responsibilities of life and the money that provides that type of freedom. This is where the title of the book comes from -- a room of one's own.

She accomplishes her goal by fictitiously describing the two days that preceded her coming to this meeting. During these two days, she illustrates the myriad ways that women are 'kept in their place.' For example, she's walking outside when she forgets herself and mistakenly takes the path reserved only for the male scholars of the university. She has just had a brilliant idea when a male figure begins approaching her with his arms waving wildly. In the ensuing moments, she forgets the idea that was forming in her mind. She proceeds in this manner describing event after event in which women are treated differently than men, which in turn stymies the creativity of the women.

All sorts of questions are raised in her mind as she goes through these two days in preparation for her talk. "Why did men drink wine and women water? Why was one sex so prosperous and the other so poor? What effect has poverty on fiction? What conditions are necessary for the creation of works of art?" She seeks the answers to these questions in the British Museum by taking book after book off the shelf. What she soon discovers is that for most of recorded history, the majority of books were written by men, even the books about women. Then more women began to write and publish books in the mid to late 1800s -- George Eliot, the Brontes, Louisa May Alcott to name a few. However, she noticed something different in the writing of these women in comparison to the great male writers of the day. Even with their immense talent, she felt that they were at a disadvantage because they lacked the necessary freedom to write without restraint. She goes on to say that she believes that in another 100 years possibly women will be able to write without thought of gender like men have always had the luxury of doing.

There is absolutely no way I can do this book justice. Virginia Woolf makes a very compelling argument without bitterness or blame. She simply states the fact that to be able to be creative and write well, a person needs money and personal space -- something that women have lacked throughout history. Creativity needs freedom to be able to think and write without worrying about daily responsibilities or societal expectations. Woolf accomplishes her goal with candor and humor. As I said at the beginning of this long, winding post, I will definitely be reading more Virginia Woolf in the very near future.

10 comments:

Nymeth said...

I loved this book. Excellent review, Lisa.

Lisa said...

nymeth, thanks. I'm glad you liked it, too. I don't really think it's possible to do it justice without quoting the entire book. It's one of those you just have to read for yourself.

Eva said...

You reminded me of how much I want to read this one! Thanks! :)

BooksPlease said...

It's been a while since I read this - I loved it too. I loved Mrs Dalloway and To the Lighthouse as well.

Lisa said...

Eva, I know what you mean. There are just too many great books to keep up with.

Booksplease, I have Mrs. Dalloway on my night table. I'll be reading that one soon.

JoAnn said...

I've never read Virginia Woolf either, but that WILL change this year. Great review!

Rebecca Reid said...

Sounds awesome! I read Woolf long long ago. I don't *think* I read this one. I guess that means I really must read more. Thanks for this review!

Lisa said...

JoAnn, This is probably a good introduction to her writing because it's short and even though it's technically nonfiction, she writes like a storyteller.

Rebecca, I know I'm definitely going to read more of her work this year. I'll be anxious to hear what you think if you read this one.

Dorothy W. said...

I love this book too. I'm not sure if I love Woolf's fiction or her nonfiction more; both are really excellent. Her book Three Guineas is another great work of nonfiction, if you want to go in that direction.

Lisa said...

Dorothy, thanks for the suggestion. I'll definitely check that one out.