A Room of One’s Own and Modern Fiction
One of the first things to notice about A Room of One’s Own is that it is not a typical lecture. It rambles and flows back and forth, in and out. It is more narrative than logic. It breaks many of the conventions of a formal address. Why does Virginia Woolf choose to do this? Why choose this style, this method? One reason is to turn predominantly masculine, or traditional, thinking on its head in order to undermine its authority. There is another reason for her approach, however—one that rises from her most basic ideas about what literature and writing should be and do. Her ideas about what makes for good writing are contained in this text, if indirectly. Grasping these ideas allows the reader to see how she is able to write so convincingly, particularly since there seems to be such a significant lack of argument involved. Where she does not tell the reader what she thinks, she shows them. But why does she add an undergraduate in a boat, and why a river? She is doing more than simply trying to keep the reader interested with a few colorful descriptions. She is showing us what she values most about writing while at the same time artfully expressing her views on women and fiction.
Woolf is a modernist, concerned with illuminating life through the subjective consciousness and its impressions. Her seemingly random details and descriptions, in fact, work together to paint a picture, to leave a skillfully crafted impression upon the reader. She believes the best door to the human mind and heart is through the subjective. She places us inside the minds of others, where we, more often than not, find a little of ourselves. Eudora Welty writes, in her foreword to To the Lighthouse, “The interior of its [the novel’s] character’s lives is where we experience everything. And in the subjective—contrary to what so many authors find there—lies its clarity” (viii). Part of the power of A Room of One’s Own is its ability to engage the depths of human psychology where logical analysis and rhetoric might fail to do so.
Though the problems with which Woolf is presented in A Room of One’s Own are significantly attached to historical problems, her main role in the work is as a literary critic rather than historian, though on the surface she does not seem to say much about style, method and criticism in it. She mentions Jane Austen’s sentences, how material concerns influence writers, a few words about the structure of the novel and that “fiction is like a spider’s web” (Woolf, AROO 35). These themes seem to be contained in greater detail throughout the work, but hidden, just beneath the surface. There are other places, however, where Woolf speaks more directly about the aims and methods of writing. In her 1925 essay, “Modern Fiction,” she claims that it is Life that good writing must search for and somehow capture. She writes: “Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; but a luminous halo, a...