A Room of One’s Own: our inheritance

Last year I entered an essay competition sponsored by the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain in memory of Julia Briggs, acclaimed Virginia Woolf scholar and a member of the executive council of the society who died in August 2007. The theme was ‘Why is reading Virginia Woolf still so crucial today?’ and my entry was about the lasting relevance of A Room of One’s Own, the wisdom it holds for women today. My essay wasn’t one of the winners, but later in the year the Society contacted me and asked permission to publish it–it appeared in the Society’s January 2012 Virginia Woolf Bulletin as “A Room Of One’s Own and Women’s writing today.”

My thesis is that A Room of One’s Own ” has revealed new truths and given renewed direction over the decades since its publication in 1929.  Even today, barriers exist and full equality does not; Room resonates for women, and men too, who have had to compromise or subvert their ambitions to societal convention or others’ expectations.  In this essay I hope to show why Room continues to be important as a reminder of the past, a companion for the present, and a guide for the future.”

I recall the writers who influenced Woolf — Aphra Behn, Jane Austen, the Brontës, Elizabeth Gaskell and George Eliot — and then Woolf’s influence on contemporary writers, particularly Margaret Atwood, A.S. Byatt, Margaret Drabble, Doris Lessing, and Alice Munro. The piece ends with the following:

“Woolf’s exhortations are no less valid today than they were in 1929 when she told her readers to write all kinds of books, because ‘history is too much about wars; biography too much about great men’.  Her peroration is an entreaty to read and learn from the classics in order to see more intensely, and to travel, idle, contemplate, dream, loiter: ‘So that when I ask you to earn money and have a room of your own, I am asking you to live in the presence of reality, an invigorating life. …’  She refers again to that time, one hundred years thence, when ‘Drawing her life from the lives of the unknown who were her forerunners, [Shakespeare’s sister] will be born’.  She continues to exhort us, Room’s readers today, to be vigilant, to remember our history and our forerunners, to forge new links in the chain that extends to future generations.”


About Alice Lowe

I am a freelance writer, avid reader and Virginia Woolfophile in San Diego, California. My personal essays have been published in more than 90 literary journals and can be followed on my blog: www.aliceloweblogs.wordpress.com. I have published essays and reviews about Virginia Woolf, including two monographs in the Bloomsbury Heritage Series published by Cecil Woolf Publishers, London: "Beyond the Icon: Virginia Woolf in Contemporary Fiction," and "Virginia Woolf as Memoirist."
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