A Room of One's Own

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A Room of One's Own Symbol Analysis

A Room of One's Own Symbol Icon
The image of a room that the woman writer can own and use to write in, away from the demands of traditional womanhood, is a powerful and vivid symbol of the life of intellectual freedom Woolf is championing for the women attending her lectures. Woolf describes the forgotten women, the women unable to live up to their artistic potential, as inhabiting busy family spaces and always living dependent upon men rather than owning their own property. She therefore sees a room of one's own as representing the quintessential needs of future women writers if they are to create their own literary legacy.

A Room of One's Own Quotes in A Room of One's Own

The A Room of One's Own quotes below all refer to the symbol of A Room of One's Own. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Financial and Intellectual Freedom Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Harcourt edition of A Room of One's Own published in 1989.
Chapter 1 Quotes

All I could do was to offer you an opinion upon one minor point—a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction; and that, as you will see, leaves the great problem of the true nature of woman and the true nature of fiction unsolved.

Related Characters: Virginia Woolf (speaker)
Related Symbols: A Room of One's Own
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

Woolf has been asked to give a speech on the topic of women and fiction, and here she admits that her speech will be limited to "an opinion upon one minor point" related to this issue. She explains that she believes a woman must have money and "a room of her own" to write fiction––two things which, historically, extremely few women have possessed. The fact that Woolf presents her main argument right at the beginning of her speech highlights the way in which this argument is both simple and non-negotiable. While other writers and philosophers had invented much more complex explanations for why there were so few female authors in comparison to male ones, Woolf insists that the only valid explanation is the socioeconomic subordination of women.

Woolf seems to intentionally downplay the weight of her argument by saying "All I could do was to offer you an opinion upon a minor point." This may be a sardonic reflection of the low expectations for women's intellectual and argumentative capacities at the time. The use of the word "minor" is certainly ironic, as Woolf's point––as she herself admits in the second half of this passage––has hugely significant consequences for our understanding of both women and fiction. Indeed, A Room of One's Own resulted in a major shift in the way people viewed the literary canon; in response to Woolf's intervention, it became common to search for or imagine the voices of people who would have been able to write had their socioeconomic circumstances been different. 


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Chapter 3 Quotes

What one wants, I thought—and why does not some brilliant student at Newnham or Girton supply it?--is a mass of information; at what age did she marry; how many children had she as a rule; what was her house like, had she a room to herself; did she do the cooking; would she be likely to have a servant?

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Related Symbols: A Room of One's Own
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:

Pondering the lack of knowledge about the history of women's lives––and considering the case of the Elizabethan woman in particular––the narrator suggests that what is needed is "a mass of information" about life as a woman during Elizabethan times. Note that the narrator speaks of a singular woman when in fact she is referring to any number of women. This rhetorical strategy allows her to contrast the kind of knowledge she wishes to gain with the kind that already exists. While the details of almost all women's lives have been lost to history en masse, and while existing knowledge about women tends to take the form of unfounded, subjective generalizations, Woolf here suggests that the life of each individual woman who has ever lived is worth knowing about in all its mundane detail.

Indeed, it is significant that Woolf refers to domestic questions such as "what was her house like" and "did she do the cooking." Part of the justification for the exclusion of women's lives from the mainstream historical record lies in the fact that women throughout Western history have mostly been confined to the home, and information about home life is not thought to be historically significant. Here the narrator explicitly opposes this assumption, inviting the students in the audience to take up the challenge of investigating the historical facts of women's lived experience and implying that this knowledge will prove useful.

Chapter 4 Quotes

She will write of herself where she should write of her characters. She is at war with her lot. How could she help but die young, cramped and thwarted?

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Related Symbols: A Room of One's Own
Page Number: 70
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator has spoken admiringly of Jane Austen, comparing the way in which Austen-as-the-author disappears in her novels to the genius of Shakespeare. She speaks less approvingly of Charlotte Brontë, who––despite her talent––is not able to conceal her own bitterness within her work. According to the narrator, this makes her write "foolishly" and distracts from her characters. However, the narrator empathizes with the reason for Brontë's bitterness, considering she died "young, cramped and thwarted."

Once again, the narrator depicts the experience of being a woman––and especially a woman with creative, intellectual ambitions––as being characterized by a kind of suffocation and lost potential. The word "cramped" echoes the description of the cucumber "choking" the flowers to death in the discussion of Margaret Cavendish, and strengthen's Woolf's point that without a room of her own a woman's talents will end up smothered by her circumstances. 

Chapter 5 Quotes

Give her a room of her own and five hundred a year, let her speak her mind and leave out half that she now puts in, and she will write a better book one of these days.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Mary Carmichael
Related Symbols: A Room of One's Own
Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:

Having finished reading Mary Carmichael's imaginary novel, the narrator admits that Carmichael was "no genius," but that given her circumstances the novel was impressive. She adds that if Carmichael were to receive the prescribed allowance of five hundred pounds a year and a room of her own, as well as the freedom to "speak her mind," she would write a much better novel. Again, Woolf seems careful not to overestimate women's existing literary achievements. Instead, she stresses their potential, and emphasizes the idea that the work people produce is highly determined by their social situation. For Woolf, the tragedy of women's place in intellectual history lies less within the notion that female genius has gone unnoticed, and more in the idea that women have not been able to realize the true extent of their own capabilities. 

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A Room of One's Own Symbol Timeline in A Room of One's Own

The timeline below shows where the symbol A Room of One's Own appears in A Room of One's Own. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Financial and Intellectual Freedom Theme Icon
Creating a Legacy of Women Writers Theme Icon
...explains how she came to think about these themes as expressed in the title " A Room of One's Own " when she sat down to think about the subject. She considers what one means... (full context)
Financial and Intellectual Freedom Theme Icon
Creating a Legacy of Women Writers Theme Icon
Truth Theme Icon
...the matter. She can only offer her opinion, that a women needs money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction. She can show how she came to this opinion... (full context)