Virginia Woolf’s ‘A Room of One’s Own’ In the Literary Canon of Feminism
Any criticism of a literary work is a juxtaposition of individual perceptions and prevalent cultural or social values. When Virginia Woolf published A Room of One’s Own, Bennett (1929) expressed a viewpoint that it could hardly be regarded as a feminist work. However, Daiches (1942) questioned the validity of this assertion, claiming that Woolf’s essay highlighted the crucial aspects of feminism. In her research of Woolf’s works, Black (1983) points out that this female author “pushed the ideas of the social feminists to their natural conclusion, the transformation not just of women’s roles, but also of society and finally of men” (p.194). The similar notion is suggested by such modern critics as Doyle (2001), Berkman (2005) and Fernald (2006). This research is aimed at analysing the position of A Room of One’s Own in the literary canon of feminism.
The beginning of the 20th century was characterised by the wide spread of the feminist movement, although suffragists were mainly concerned with women’s voting rights. In her work A Room of One’s Own Woolf (1989) emphasises that women should have equal rights with men as to fiction writing. As the author acknowledges, in the patriarchal world females have little opportunities to reveal their individualities and freely express their thoughts. Explicitly criticising male dominance over women, Woolf (1989) uncovers social prejudices and mentions all barriers to female writing. She asserts that those women who want to be writers should reject any subordination and imposed social roles. In Woolf’s opinion, females should not imitate males or their writing; recognising gender differences, Woolf (1989) insists on the formation of a female style of writing. In A Room of One’s Own Woolf (1989) reinforces a distinct subjective voice, unveiling a female search for her self and inner integrity. According to Blain (1983), Woolf attempts to come “through the barriers of inherited male conventions towards the expressions of an authentic woman’s voice; not the voice of Everywoman so much as the voice of Virginia Woolf as subject-of-consciousness” (p.118). In this context, Woolf’s essay is an attempt to create an image of a woman who finds a balance between opposites and who has enough resources to acquire her own room, where she can think and write. As Woolf (1989) implies “it is far more important… to know how much money women had and how many rooms than to theorise about their capacities” (p.105).
For Woolf, such economic independence of women paves the way to freedom of thought and social equality. As Alexander (2000) states, in A Room of One’s Own Woolf definitely shows that “women’s ‘right to earn’ [is] the only right worth having” (p.276). Unquestionably, this obsession with female economic independence was unusual for many feminists of the 1920s; however, Woolf depicts that real feminism is deeply rooted in all spheres of life. Demonstrating a particular interest in female writing, Virginia Woolf (1989) identifies poverty as the major reason for the lack of female fiction in the past: “Intellectual freedom depends upon material things… And women have always been poor, not for two hundred years merely, but from the beginning of time” (p.108). The author considers that this poverty results in poor education and wasted lives of women; in this regard, A Room of One’s Own is a rebellion against social and political constraints, in general, and patriarchy, in particular. Woolf (1989) opposes the notion that women are intellectually inferior to men; referring to such female novelists as Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot and Jane Austen, Woolf (1989) proves that women may considerably excel men, at least in writing. Hence, as Alexander (2000) speculates, Virginia Woolf adheres to “a feminism that is more a state of mind, a common mentality than a political Utopia” (p.286). But Woolf (1989) pays attention to the fact that feminist thinking changes a woman and destroys her relations with the opposite sex.
As the essay suggests, in her work A Room of One’s Own Virginia Woolf (1989) reconsiders the concepts of feminism, differentiating between the prevalent feminist ideas and her own socio-political vision. Woolf’s feminism demonstrates versatility, humanism and a challenge to prior literary conventions. Such a breakthrough vision of feminism was not understood by her contemporaries, but modern feminists (e.g. Harris, 1996; Maze, 1997; Bowlby, 1998; Berkman, 2005; Fernald, 2006) appraise Virginia Woolf as a herald of literary feminism. Woolf’s intention to increase female consciousness and subvert the male dominance has many parallels with contemporary feminist insights. The writer’s androgynous allusions signify “the mind that combines both masculinity and femininity” (Alexander, 2000 p.284) rather than the elimination of gender differences.