As Virginia Woolf calls for women to equip themselves with a “Room of One’s Own” to write fiction, she sounds a trumpet for the strategic occupation of a woman’s private space. The occupation of this space may propel an intellectual movement evidenced by creativity, invention and outward expression that extends beyond the individual to propel social and economic ramifications.
“Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind,” Woolf writes in A Room of One’s Own.
Long considered a defining feminist manifesto situated in the first wave of feminism stretching from 1850 to 1930, some feminist commentary and suffrage advocates point out that Woolf viewed her class distinction as a stronger identifying force than her gender. “Of the two – the vote and the money – the money, I own, seemed infinitely more important,” Woolf writes in A Room of One’s Own.
On a personal level, I think my career path may have pleased Woolf. Just 61 years after her 1929 Room work, I got my first job as a daily newspaper reporter, making several hundred dollars a week. Even in 1990, I battled male reporters for meaningful assignments, taking me away from the skullduggery of covering things like the Miss South Carolina pageant. I wonder what she would think of the gender enrollment rates of colleges today or the ubiquity of blogs that allow women to communicate with audiences beyond their cities and countries. The writing outlets help modern women shape the economic, social and political happenings of our time.
Scholar Julie Solomon asserts that the special metaphor in Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own solidifies the meaning of the social and political existence of women. Solomon points out the modestness of Woolf’s feminist approach: “Woolf urges women to acquire economic, political and cultural power within institutions traditionally dominated by men,” Solomon writes.
To comprehend the spatial practices as work in A Room of One’s Own, we must further explore French theorist Michel DeCerteau’s point of view. By invoking DeCerteau, Solomon establishes a foundation for the tactical understanding of Woolf’s work. “Tactics can be used to subvert the established structure. But they can also function as behaviors of accommodation and conformity. The tactician, like the tightrope walker, can adapt and conform his/her behavior to the demands of an environment as well as subvert that environment.”
Citing A Room of One’s Own and Three Guineas as examples of DeCerteaunian tactical economies, Solomon writes: “In both essays Woolf advocates tactical practices with constitute the political alternatives of a subjugated group.”
As Bernice Carrol cites Woolf, “…If women took part in the existing institutions without severe conditions, they would end up as ‘female’ counterparts of Sir William Bradshaw and Mr. Ramsey.”
Through these works we notice the tension between intellectual prowess and the spatial “box” where women resided, subjects of childbirth, childrearing and innumerable tasks of domesticicy, leaving little time for writing and intellectual contributions.
In her fictional portrayal of Shakespeare’s sister, Judith, Woolf leads us down a path to understand the perilous predicament of a hypothetical woman poet born into a man’s body. “That woman, who was born with a gift of poetry in the sixteenth century, was an unhappy woman, a woman of strife against herself. All the conditions of her life, all her own instincts, were hostile to the state of mind which is needed to set free whatever is in the brain,” Woolf writes.
However, by carving a space of one’s own, the individual woman clears the canvas, giving her a space to where she may color her world with meaning. “A Room Of One’s Own creates a space within which women are not merely thoughts in a patriarchal brain … space is written by the mind and body in motion, assertions in subjectivity. It is also created by the mobile gaze, the countless individual points which re-write and challenge the spaces of panoptic or objectivizing eye. Those multiple, singular points of view, and the many ‘varieties of error’ through which space is written, lead to truth.”
Through her own pen, Woolf gives rise to a new space that prompts interpretation and dialogue. Throughout the book, as Doyle writes, “All of her chapters situate us in places, libraries, restaurants, lecture halls – she brashly flaunts her power to imagine the world, the place on her own terms through her own body.”
So, we come, we move, we write, we leave traces of our existence through scraps of work. For me, written relics of the past, such as a coffee table book, a master’s thesis, pamphlets and articles remain in cabinets. “Woolf forces us to live the tragic arc of the Daedalian fall from the sky, to live in the flight of being, despite the threat of exposure and entrapment it presents,” Doyle writes.
Carroll, B. A. (1978). To Crush Him in Our Own Country: The Political Thought of Virginia Woolf. Feminist Studies, 118.
Doyle, L. (2001). The Body Unbound: A Phenomenological Reading of the Political in A Room of Ones Own. Virginia Woolf Out of Bounds: Selected Papers from teh 10th Annual Conference on VIrginia Woolf (pp. 129-139). NYC: Pace.
Everything2. (2012, September 29). Retrieved from http://everything2.com/?node=the+value+of+money+in+british+literature
Solomon, J. R. (1989). Staking ground: the politics of space in Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own and Three Guineas. Women Studies, 331-345.
Whitworth, E. A. (2007). Locating Woolf: The Politics of Space and Place . New York: Palgrave Macmillan .
Woolf, V. (1929). A Room of One's Own . Orlando: Harcourt Brace and Company .