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Virginia Woolf's Style and Subject in a Room of Her Own

Essay by review  •  March 22, 2011  •  Book/Movie Report  •  1,886 Words (8 Pages)  •  1,309 Views

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Virginia Woolf’s Style and Subject in a Room of Her Own

Times have changed since universities admitted only male students. Women have gained the right to educate themselves, and the division of the sexes in business has decreased dramatically. When Virginia Woolf wrote her essay A Room of One’s Own, however, there was a great lack of female presence in literature, in writing specifically. In the essay, Woolf critiques this fact by taking the reader on a journey through a day in the life at a fictional university to prove that although women are capable of critical thought and want to write great works of literature, they are unable to for lack of means. The way she comes to this conclusion through writing a work of fiction is not only interesting, but also very unusual. Using the generalizing term “I”, commenting on what she is doing, and shifting gears abruptly are some stylistic ways in which she makes her point that women need money and a room of their own in order to write fiction. Looking at chapters one and six of the essay, it is clear to see that the way she writes about women in fiction, while critiquing the lack thereof in confrontational and sarcastic manner, shows that although Woolf is ardent about getting her message across, she is aware that she may be brushed aside by her male oppressor.

Throughout A Room of One’s Own, Woolf uses “I” and different personas to eloquently relate a day in the life at her fictional university, Oxbridge. It is immediately clear that she is not referring to herself, Virginia Woolf, when she says “I” because she conveniently adds a disclaimer as she begins her fiction, “Here then was I (call me Mary Beton, Mary Seton, Mary Charmichael or by any name you pleaseвЂ"it is not a matter of any importance) sitting on the banks of a river a week or two ago in fine October weather, lost in thought” (Woolf, 5). Her use of “I” here is not gratuitous, but with the parenthetical note mid-sentence, she tells the reader that anything that happens henceforth should not be taken as actual occurrences in Woolf’s life, but as things that could happen to any female writer. The next sentence takes a different turn when Woolf seems to interject herself into the fiction by saying, “That collar I have spoken of, women and fiction,” (5), using “I” to actually talk about herself, the lecturer. This is confusing to one who doesn’t immediately see what she’s doing here: blurring the lines between herself and female writers. By using “I” and different personas Woolf is subversively making the point that because she is a female writer who was asked to lecture on the topic of women in fiction, she embodies the topic and is entitled to speak not only about herself, but about women. So she puts herself in the shoes of other female writers in order to show that every time a woman tries to finish her thoughts, a man stops them because of sex.

The changing “I” in the essay, shortly after the spell by the river, finds herself wanting to read up on a certain poem, and conveniently happens to be across the quadrangle from Oxbridge’s library where the text is stored. This part of the fiction shows how Woolf abruptly changes gears at specific moments to prove her point. The thought from the river that had been brewing, now was accelerating into something specific and huge, an inner discussion of proper style and meaning (ironic, since the style of the piece is not normal for a lecture or an essay), and now, Woolf shows her character walking toward the library musing,

But then one would have to decide what is style and what is meaning, a question whichвЂ"but here I was actually at the door which leads into the library itself. I must have opened it, for instantly there issued….a kindly gentleman who regretted in a low voice as he waved me back that ladies are only admitted to the library if accompanied by a Fellow of the College or furnished with a letter of introduction (8).

Woolf blatantly stops her character mid thought, an indication of the oppression that women have to endure without the proper accessories. Not only is she stopped in mid sentence, but her profound thought is cut off by a man, telling her that, as she is, she may not continue to think critically.

It is clear that Woolf is using the abruptness of tone to show the immediacy of the problem of the lacking female writer. In chapter six, the “I” changes again, and moves away from women and instead personifies the male writers of the day. Woolf’s character is reading on a beach when she is interrupted by this “I” in the form of a shadow, “watching Phoebe…coming across the beach. Then Alan got up and the shadow of Alan at once obliterated Phoebe. For Alan had views and Phoebe was quenched in the flood of his views” (99). Not only was Phoebe overtaken and interrupted in her walking by Alan’s form, but the character reading was also interrupted by the shadow of an “I” on her page. Obviously the use of “I” here refers to the respectable vision of a man. Men in this fiction are free to do what they like, when they like, where they like, and have been as such since birth. Because of this, they have the power to overshadow women and also dictate what they can do. The dilemma then arises of what to think of male writers. The “I” is respectable, honest, dignified and concise, but also oppressive and powerful, forcing Woolf’s character waffle on the subject, as she is trying to overcome a person she respects.

Woolf certainly realizes that she is breaking many rules of proper essay form in this piece, and so it is expected that she would note this by commenting on what she is doing. She does so first in chapter one, when talking about the luncheon she attends at Oxbridge, “novelists have a way of making us believe that luncheon parties are invariably memorable for something very witty that was said, or for something very wise that was done…here, however, I shall take the liberty to defy that convention and tell you that the lunch on this occasion began with soles” (10). She is surrounded by men here who are all free to wander about Oxbridge, while she is simply denied entrance to the college’s library. She is unable



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