Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Book Review - "A Room of One's Own" by Virginia Woolf

This short book (which was compiled from a series of lectures delivered by Virginia Woolf to Newnham College and Girton College at Cambridge University in October 1928)  resonates with me personally because I am an aspiring writer in my retirement! For exactly the reason elaborated by Woolf in the book - financial security being a prerequisite to the dream of authorship – I shelved my writing plan as common sense told me long ago that it was best to keep that dream dormant until I could secure a room of my own!

I like the way Woolf tried to engage her audience by painting a vivid picture in their mind through the narrator, using her beautiful poetic prose to depict the historical backdrop of her subject matter "women and fiction" in the first half of the book. I thought this fiction-like narrative was a clever way to establish emotional rapport between the speaker and the audience.

Her key message is in fact quite simple and can be found in these two sentences: "Intellectual freedom depends upon material things. Poetry depends upon intellectual freedom."

Woolf's secondary point which is just as important as the key one, and with which I also have complete agreement, is that woman writers should not write consciously as a woman. She quoted Coleridge's saying that a great mind is androgynous. This is what she said:

"It is fatal for anyone who writes to think of their sex. It is fatal to be a man or woman pure and simple; one must be woman-manly or man-womanly. It is fatal for a woman to lay the least stress on any grievance; to plead even with justice any cause; in any way to speak consciously as a woman. And fatal is no figure of speech; for anything written with that conscious bias is doomed to death. It ceases to be fertilized."

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