Virginia Woolf's A Room Of One's Own

1651 words - 7 pages

Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own

Missing works cited

In A Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf ponders the plight of women
throughout history. Woolf 'reads the lives of women and concludes that if a woman
were to have written she would have had to overcome enormous circumstances' (Woolf
xi). Woolf's initial thesis is that 'a woman must have money and a room of her own if
she is to write fiction' (Woolf 4). Throughout the book, however, she develops other
important conditions for artistic creation. Woolf mentions many nineteenth century
female writers in order to explain these conditions, but she does not mention Mary
Shelley. Woolf most likely excludes the author of Frankenstein because her writing
contains considerable male influence. The circumstances of Shelley's life, however,
meet Virginia Woolf's basic requirements for the production of good fiction. Mary
Shelley possesses a well-rounded education, encouragement, and an 'androgynous and
incandescent' mind (Woolf 98).

In A Room of One?s Own, Virginia Woolf suggests women produce so little
literature because of the tremendous discouragement and criticism that female writers
face. She discusses the effects of opposition and disapproval upon the artistic mind. The
opinions of others greatly affect artists, and it is those of genius who are most sensitive to
criticism. Woolf proposes that it was literally impossible for a talented woman to write
well during the sixteenth century: ?A highly gifted girl who had tried to use her gift
would have been so thwarted and hindered by other people, so tortured and pulled
asunder by her own contrary instincts, that she must have lost her health and sanity to a
certainty? (Woolf 49). To further illustrate her point, Woolf constructs the tale of
?Shakespeare?s sister?: a sixteenth century woman born with a genius equal to
Shakespeare?s. Rejection and discouragement from family, friends, and society fills her
life. Because the world will not permit the expression of her genius, she eventually
commits suicide. Woolf argues that like ?Shakespeare?s sister,? any woman ?born with a
gift for poetry in the sixteenth century was an unhappy woman, a woman at strife against
herself? (Woolf 50). Although the circumstances of female writers greatly improve over
the next 300 years, Woolf finds that ?even in the nineteenth century a woman was not
encouraged to be an artist. On the contrary, she was snubbed, slapped, lectured and
exhorted? (Woolf 55). Despite the great odds against her, a few women managed to
disregard their discouraging environments and write successfully. The conditions that
they overcame amaze Woolf: ?What genius, what integrity it must have required in face
of all that criticism, in the midst of that purely patriarchal society to hold fast to the thing
as they saw it without shrinking? (Woolf 74).

Unlike most nineteenth century female writers, Mary Shelley is supported in her
intellectual pursuits throughout...

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