Updated August 28, 2000
Created July 8, 1997
Publication History: -October 1928 - Woolf delivers lectures on Women and Fiction at the two women’s colleges of Cambridge University, Newnham (Saturday, Oct. 20, an after-dinner lecture) and Girton (Friday, Oct. 26). No manuscripts survive of these lectures. -March 1929 - Woolf publishes "Women and Fiction" in Forum (8 pages) -24 Oct 1929 Hogarth Press publishes a much expanded and changed A Room of One’s Own (See also Publication History for information about the Rosenbloom manuscript edition.) Chapter One October, Oxbridge; Women are Poor Announces thesis ("an opinion based upon one minor point"): "a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction" (4) and proposed a novelistic approach to defending it, using a narrator, here called "Mary Beton, Mary Seton, Mary Carmichael or by any name you please" (5), but in Chapter 6 referred to as Mary Beton (105). Metaphor of thinking as fishing; beadle warns narrator off the turf and a librarian bars her from a "famous library." Elegant lunch at a men’s college; sees cat without tail (11); contrasts pre-war to post-war life ("humming noise" 12); glimpses "bent figure" of "J—H—" (17; later identified as Greek scholar Jane Harrison). Contrasts poor dinner at "Fernham" to the riches of the men’s colleges; her host "Mary Seton" traces history of the women’s colleges; narrator links their poverty to the status of women (20-24). Chapter Two London; Men are Angry Narrator goes to the British Museum to find out "Why did men drink wine and women water? . . . What effect has poverty on fiction?" (25) and, after seeing the card catalog on "Women," "Why are women . . . so much more interesting to men than men are to women" (27-28). Constructs picture of Professor von X, representing scholars who write on "W" (31) and analyzes the anger she and they feel on the subject (32), from all of which she extracts "the one fact of anger" (33). Refers to her aunt "Mary Beton" leaving narrator a legacy of 500 pounds a year (37; Woolf’s own legacy from her aunt Caroline Emilia Stephen was capital of 2500 pounds, or about $185,000 in today's U.S. dollars (115,000 in today's pounds). Invested, it earned her about 100 pounds a year, or about $7360 in today's U.S. dollars. Concludes with observations about women’s advancement and speculation on loss of protected status. Chapter Three London, Women in Fiction vs. Women in History Uses Professor Trevelyan’s History of England to look up information about women in England in the Renaissance to learn why women were not writing then as men were. Contrasts women depicted in fiction ("of the utmost importance" 43) with women in history books ("all but absent"). Imagines story of Shakepeare’s "sister," Judith Shakespeare, and speculates about lost women writers, "some mute and inglorious Jane Austen" or that "Anon . . . was often a woman" (49). Characterizes the situation of gifted Elizabethan women as unhappy, "a woman at strife against herself" (51), facing not only the world’s indifference but hostility, as expressed in the words of Mr. Oscar Browning [an actual person, a fellow at Cambridge]: "’the best woman was intellectually the inferior of the worst man’" (53). Chapter Four London; History of Women Writers, 16th to 19th Century Surveys writings of aristocratic writers Lady Winchelsea (Anne Finch, a countess, 59-61) and Margaret of Newcastle (a duchess, 61-62) and argues that their talent is distorted by anger and bitterness because of the "sneers and laughter" of male contemporaries. Presumes that only childless aristocrats with understanding husbands would be able to write literature at that time. Praises the letters of a middle class woman, Dorothy Osborne (62). Acknowledges the accomplishments of Aphra Behn (63-65), from whom she dates the "freedom of the mind" that writers need, but who also "proved that money could be made by writing at the sacrifice, perhaps, of certain agreeable qualities" (64). Speculates about why four major 19th century women writers wrote novels, not poetry (Austen, the Brontes, George Eliot), relating this to the circumstances of their writing in "the common sitting room" (66). Links Jane Austen to Shakespeare as a literary genius (68), in contrast to Charlotte Bronte, who "had more genius in her than Jane Austen," but whose rage makes her books "deformed and twisted" (69). Contrasts male and female values, whereby books on war are judged "important," while books on "the feelings of women in a drawing room" are insignificant (74). Only Jane Austen maintains the artistic integrity to "write as women write, not as men write" (74-75). Calls for a women’s sentence (76-77), which Austen created and which made her a better writer (though a lesser genius) than Charlotte Bronte. Suggests that genres also are gendered, and that the novel alone was young enough to be adapted by women writers (77-78). Chapter Five London, Chloe and Olivia Continues survey of library bookshelves, now in the 20th century, when "almost as many books [are] written by women . . . as by men" (79) and not only novels. Writes book review of imaginary novelist "Mary Carmichael," in whose first novel Life’s Adventures "Chloe liked Olivia," thus breaking not only the sentence but the expected sequence. [The lesbian idea here is indicated in the reference to Sir Chartres Biron, the presiding magistrate at the Radclyffe Hall obscenity trial going on at the time of the original Cambridge lectures.] Praises Mary Carmichael for writing "as a woman, but as a woman who has forgotten that she is a woman" (93). Chapter Six London, Androgynous Mind Opens with story of a man and woman meeting on the street and getting into a taxicab, all observed from the narrator’s window and interpreted as an image of the meeting of male and female in the quest for "the unity of the mind" (97). Cites Coleridge on the androgyny of great minds, which she regards as the fusion of the male and female parts of the mind (98). Critiques imaginary novelist, "Mr. A," who writes with the confidence and freedom of a man, but with a shadow across the page "shaped something like the letter ‘I’" (99). Mr. A. stands for men who are "now writing only with the male side of their brains" (mentions Galsworthy and Kipling). Critic "Mr. B." misses "the secret of perpetual life" because "his mind seemed separated into different chambers" (101). "Mary Beton ceases to speak" (105) and the narrator changes to "my own person." Closes with a peroration on women’s progress and opportunities, and a call to let Shakespeare’s sister "live in you and in me, and in many women who are not here tonight, for they are washing up dishes and putting the children to bed" (113).
Back to Virginia Woolf Seminar Home Page