A Room of One’s Own

by Pericles Lewis

A Room of One’s Own (1929) is Virginia Woolf‘s most famous work of feminist literary criticism. If much of Woolf’s feminist writing concerns the problem of equality of access to goods that have traditionally been monopolized by men, in this work Woolf prefigures two concerns of later feminism: the reclaiming of a female tradition of writing and the deconstruction of gender difference. Woolf imagines the fate of Shakespeare’s equally brilliant sister Judith (in fact, his sister’s name was Joan). Unable to gain access to the all-male stage of Elizabethan England, or to obtain any formal education, Judith would have been forced to marry and abandon her literary gifts or, if she had chosen to run away from home, would have been driven to prostitution.

Woolf traces the rise of women writers, emphasizing in particular Jane Austen, the Brontës, and George Eliot, but alluding too to Sappho, one of the first lyric poets. Faced with the question of whether women’s writing is specifically feminine, she concludes that the great female authors “wrote as women write, not as men write.” She thus raises the possibility of a specifically feminine style, but at the same time she emphasizes (citing the authority of Coleridge) that the greatest writers, among whom she includes Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and Marcel Proust, are androgynous, able to see the world equally from a man’s and a woman’s perspective.[1]

  1. ↑ This page has been adapted from Pericles Lewis’s Cambridge Introduction to Modernism (Cambridge UP, 2007), p. 30.

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