I have been planning this post for months and am super excited to finally write it. Why? Virginia Woolf is one of my all-time favourite authors, whose literary ideas have shaped the work of thousands of authors, both male and female.
As a modernist she experimented with different forms of writing, challenging the status quo, giving birth to techniques that we take for granted now, such as narrating from multiple perspectives reflecting human psychology, monologues and ‘stream of consciousness’. Woolf’s writing took place during the First World War, at a time when society was reasserting traditional values and her work was heavily influenced by Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx.
A member of the Bloomsbury Group (a Group of English writers, intellectuals, philosophers and artists who all worked or lived in close proximity to Bloomsbury, London whose work has had significant and long-lasting influence on literature, aesthetics, economics, women’s empowerment and sexuality) Woolf has written about 30 different texts with her most prolific being Mrs Dalloway, To the Lighthouse and A Room of One’s Own.
The latter is my favourite. This work is actually an essay as opposed to a fictional novel (which the majority of Woolf’s books are categorised as). This was based on a lecture given at Girton College, Cambridge and it was a revolutionary piece of work, given the time (1928), calling for women’s rights, intellectual freedom and financial independence. For me personally I love Woolf’s ideas in the essay that point out the following truths:
1.“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”
£500 a year to cover living expenses, a separate quiet space and time to write, ponder, draw or read are what Woolf calls as prerequisites for any woman wanting to pursue her own line of creative work.
Money, time and space are crucial to the creative process if we are to create anything of value. Due to child-bearing and child-rearing responsibilities, women have consistently been denied this throughout history. It is only now that there is more support for women in the workplace — although I question how much support there is at home. Casual interruptions by children or responsibilities such as cleaning, cooking, laundry lead to many women sacrificing their own ambition to raise their family. The more men support women at home, the closer women get to have their turn in ‘a room of their own’.
2. The three advantages that men have which women also need.
Men benefit from money, space, and education. These days women benefit from money and education too (unlike Woolf’s time when women were denied access to universities and had limited access to finances). However the majority of women still don’t have the luxury of time and space to write or pursue wholeheartedly their dreams and ambitions without being consumed with looking after children or housekeeping. Many fall off the career ladder either settling for work as part-time mothers or deciding to stay-at-home full-time. In Woolf’s times only wealthy women had access to nannies and could treat writing as a luxury. This is still true today. Whilst childcare is available it is still costly and some women choose to minimise this cost by either working part-time or staying at home. If men took on more of the burden and responsibilities at this stage, becoming equal partners, the time and space requirement might become a reality for all women and not just a few.
3. Creativity requires both the integration of the male and female minds.
People’s identities comprise a variety of personalities and whether you are male or female, the creative process requires drawing from both the male and female facets of the mind; with the freedom for both genders to experiment openly with different thoughts, ideas and feelings.
Lastly life can be difficult and often is a combination of struggles, suffering, hope and good times. We all need self-confidence, courage and conviction to believe in, pursue and fulfill our dreams and I quote Woolf, “ Life for both sexes is arduous, difficult, a perpetual struggle. It calls for gigantic courage and strength. More than anything, perhaps, it calls for confidence in oneself. Without self-confidence we are as babes in the cradle”. Regardless of your gender, work hard on building inner confidence and assertion. It will serve you for life and is a prerequisite to attain that ‘room of your own’.
A Room of One’s Own still remains relevant today and should be mandatory reading for both women and men. Refreshing, revitalising and empowering with vibrant prose, it will make you smile.
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