A Room of One's Own Summary
Virginia Woolf, giving a lecture on women and fiction, tells her audience she is not sure if the topic should be what women are like; the fiction women write; the fiction written about women; or a combination of the three. Instead, she has come up with "one minor point--a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction." She says she will use a fictional narrator whom she calls Mary Beton as her alter ego to relate how her thoughts on the lecture mingled with her daily life. A week ago, the narrator crosses a lawn at the fictional Oxbridge university, tries to enter the library, and passes by the chapel. She is intercepted at each station and reminded that women are not allowed to do such things without accompanying men. She goes to lunch, where the excellent food and relaxing atmosphere make for good conversation. Back at Fernham, the women's college where she is staying as a guest, she has a mediocre dinner. She later talks with a friend of hers, Mary Seton, about how men's colleges were funded by kings and independently wealthy men, and how funds were raised with difficulty for the women's college. She and Seton denounce their mothers, and their sex, for being so impoverished and leaving their daughters so little. Had they been independently wealthy, perhaps they could have founded fellowships and secured similar luxuries for women. However, the narrator realizes the obstacles they faced: entrepreneurship is at odds with child-rearing, and only for the last 48 years have women even been allowed to keep money they earned. The narrator thinks about the effects of wealth and poverty on the mind, about the prosperity of males and the poverty of females, and about the effects of tradition or lack of tradition on the writer. Searching for answers, the narrator explores the British Museum in London. She finds there are countless books written about women by men, while there are hardly any books by women on men. She selects a dozen books to try and come up with an answer for why women are poor. Instead, she locates a multitude of other topics and a contradictory array of men's opinions on women. One male professor who writes about the inferiority of women angers her, and it occurs to her that she has become angry because the professor has written angrily. Had he written "dispassionately," she would have paid more attention to his argument, and not to him. After her anger dissipates, she wonders why men are so angry if England is a patriarchal society in which they have all the power and money. Perhaps holding power produces anger out of fear that others will take one's power. She posits that when men pronounce the inferiority of women, they are really claiming their own superiority. The narrator believes self-confidence, a requirement to get through life, is often attained by considering other people inferior in relation to oneself. Throughout history, women have served as models of inferiority who enlarge the superiority of men. The narrator is grateful for the inheritance left her by her aunt. Prior to that she had gotten by on loathsome, slavish odd jobs available to women before 1918. Now, she reasons that since nothing can take away her money and security, she need not hate or enslave herself to any man. She now feels free to "think of things in themselves"‹she can judge art, for instance, with greater objectivity. The narrator investigates women in Elizabethan England, puzzled why there were no women writers in that fertile literary period. She believes there is a deep connection between living conditions and creative works. She reads a history book, learns that women had few rights in the era, and finds no material about middle-class women. She imagines what would have happened had Shakespeare had an equally gifted sister named Judith. She outlines the possible course of Shakespeare's life: grammar school, marriage, and work at a theater in London. His sister,...
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