Virginia Woolf was asked to speak on women and writing at two universities and later published her lectures in an extended essay form – A Room of One’s Own. In this, she tackles several problems that women in general and particularly female writers have to face and why there are so few of them. Above all, Woolf states, women need a room to write – both literally and figuratively speaking.
A Room of One’s Own is a beautifully written, smart essay and, I think, essential reading for everyone who wants to understand the absence of female writers, or actually any unprivileged writers. And while I would like to say that it is outdated, it’s much too accurate even for today’s circumstances.
To be able to write, to be able to maybe even forego a “proper” job and concentrate on writing exclusively – that’s an extremely privileged position to be in. Writing is not something you can do in the margins of your life. It takes time and commitment and – as Woolf put it – room. There are a few people who will bite their way through their lack of privilege and still manage to write something anyway, but they are few. And according to Woolf at least, it also shows in their interrupted, abrupt writing.
I don’t know if I agree with that particular part of her theory, at least not to the extent that she proposes. But in general she is right and she illustrates her points beautifully – be it with her supposed biography of Shakespeare’s fictional sister who, equal in talent, would end up quite differently than her brother because she wouldn’t be afforded the same privileges and rooms as her brother and generally find herself treated very differently; or be it in the obstacles the narrator of her essay stumbles over in her attempt of writing that essay: denied access to education; finding only skewed research written by men; hampered by everyday demands on her time and on what is considered proper behavior.
Woolf’s arguments easily (and frustratingly) translate to today’s situation and to the situation of other oppressed groups, not just women. How little has changed in the last hundred years in that regard. It’s even more important to keep reading Woolf’s essay (probably best in conjuction with Russ’ How to Suppress Women’s Writing).
Summarizing: Absolutely recommended.