VIRGINIA Woolf was bom into what she once described as “a very communicative, literate, letter writing, visiting, articulate, late nineteenth century world.”
NO PIECE of expository prose could be more luminous or, to use one of Virginia Woolfs favorite adjectives, more incandescent than A Room of One’s Own. Neither could it be more deceptively simple or transparent, especially for Americans sharing her language but unfamiliar with the academic institutions Woolf satirizes in her opening scenes or the legal and social history she confronts throughout.
Its incandescence has everything to do with its sometimes charming, sometimes mystifying allusions—and this holds true now, I suspect, for people from any national background. Not just the abundant quotations from literary and historical books but a plethora of sly references, blatantly borrowed characters, artfully constructed symbols, and dramatic ironies signal Woolfs decision to filter her intellectual ambitions through fictional narration, the “lies” she uses to engage the various economic, psychological, aesthetic, and sexual repercussions of gender, and to do so without boring her audience to distraction.
The author of such novels as The Voyage Out, Night and Day, Jacob’s Room, Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, and Orlando—all completed and published before A Room of One’s Own—is very much in evidence here.
Even the treatise’s stark central claim—that every woman needs a room of her own and five hundred pounds a year—condenses complex materialist arguments through a kind of elegant shorthand in need of deciphering.
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