FAQ: A Room of One's Own

Biographical References

Updated August 30, 2000
Created January 20, 1998

Does Woolf base any characters in A Room on real people?

Mary Beton, the narrator, is obviously a fictionalized version of Woolf herself, but "I is only a convenient term for somebody who has no real being" (Room 4).

Mary Carmichael, the author of Life’s Adventure in Chapter 5, in which "Chloe liked Olivia" (Room 82), is also the pseudonym of birth control advocate Marie Stopes, whose novel Love’s Creation (1928) Marcus links to Room ("Bull"), pointing out that Love's Creation begins with two women in a laboratory (like Chloe and Olivia).  See also Hussey, "Ballad of the Queen Mary’s" on a literary source of the three Mary’s in Chapter 1 ( Mary Beton, Mary Seton, Mary Carmichael).

Sir Chartres Biron, mentioned in the Chloe and Olivia passage (Chapter 5), was presiding magistrate at the Radclyffe Hall obscenity trial (Lee 519-19). Hall’s novel The Well of Loneliness (1928) was banned in England for its lesbian subject matter.

Jane Harrison (1850-1928), referred to as "J—H—herself" in Chapter 1, and by name at the beginning of Chapter 5, was an unconventional classics scholar at Cambridge and a graduate of Newnham. For interesting interpretations of Woolf’s use of Harrison, see Marcus "Sapphistry."

George ("Dadie") Rylands was the friend Woolf actually lunched with at King’s College, Cambridge before giving the after-dinner talk on Women and Fiction at Newnham (Lee 556). In Room chapter 1, she contrasts that sumptuous lunch to the lesser fare at the Newnham dinner. Lee says that Rylands did not recall the lunch being so sumptuous.

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