3 REASONS WHY YOU MUST READ VIRGINIA WOOLF’S A ROOM OF ONE’S OWN IN THE SPIRIT OF WOMEN’S DAY

We celebrate Women’s Day every year with different themes that aim to highlight the progress, pursuit, and pain of women. The antiquity of our gender is extensively discussed and amplified in this month, often to underline how much of ‘her story’ remains left out from ‘history’. So, here’s a piece from ‘her story’ that I believe needs more spotlight, Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own.

First published in 1929, A Room of One’s Own, is a very long essay comprised of Virginia Woolf’s lectures from Women’s colleges at Cambridge University. In this relevant piece of literature, she analyzed meritoriously why there were no women writers at the time who wrote fiction, the reason why only men held the position of ‘geniuses’, and even touches upon queer relationships.

That synopsis alone should convince you to find and read this book. However, like Virginia Woolf, I too am a skeptic who believes in the power of over-analyzing. So, here are three reasons why you must read A Room of One’s Own this March.

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  • Women Need Money and A Room

The book starts with Woolf’s attempt at answering the question of why women writers were less likely to write fiction in that era. She rationalizes this with her own experience of writing fiction. She makes the point of how her inheritance of 500 pounds a year from her late aunt and having a room to herself gave her the freedom (mental and socio-economical) to write fiction, which otherwise wouldn’t be possible.

She affirms that for writing fiction or writing at all, one needs money for sustenance (which in other words means independence) and a room to think in. For women, it was a rarity to have a space all to themselves where they could be alone with just their thoughts, sans the responsibilities of their societal roles.

How could then a woman write at all? The road to freedom (to write fiction), according to Woolf, was paved with access- to 500 pounds a year and a room of her own.

  • Must One Be A Man to Be a Genius?

This was a rhetorical question posed by Woolf (a genius herself) in this book. She brilliantly unravels this myth using a thought experiment where she imagines what would have happened if Shakespeare had a fictitious sister. She asks her readers to imagine her as a genius with a brilliant mind, like Shakespeare. Could she then have become as great as her brother?

She argues that despite her brilliance, her life would have turned out very differently because instead of letting her pursue playwriting, she would have been forced to be affianced. Or in a different twist of the tale, she would have fled to a city and joined a theatre group with the hope of acting and writing where she would have inevitably faced discrimination and humiliation at the hands of men. Eventually, she would have fallen prey to one of the stage managers and died pregnant with his child.

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Hence, she asserts that opportunities and privileges go together in making an individual a genius. Very few people can circumnavigate the trappings of a society and rise above to become great.

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  • A Great Mind is Androgynous

Strange as it may sound, Woolf makes a compelling case for this idea. She spoke about Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and more incredible minds who transcended the limitations imposed by their genders and created art that universally resonates to this day. And this she believed is where the greatness of a true genius lies.

She emphatically points out that a brain that’s only capable of thinking through a gendered lens cannot create. She underlines that an androgynous mind is porous and resonant. In other words, a free mind is free to create. Honestly, no arguments there.

 

I could go on and on about this piece of writing as this is truly the work of a transcendent genius who could see both sides and show the path of progress forward. So, if you could read just one book this March or year, make it this one and I promise you won’t regret it.

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