A Room of One's Own

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Themes and Colors
Financial and Intellectual Freedom Theme Icon
Women and Society Theme Icon
Creating a Legacy of Women Writers Theme Icon
Truth Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in A Room of One's Own, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Truth Theme Icon

Beneath Woolf's argument about what it takes for a woman to create fiction is another more universal argument about the nature of truth, which inevitably casts a shadow over the points she makes. Woolf seems to realize two main points about the nature of truth that she passes on to her audience.

The first point has to do with is subjectivity. As a lecturer, she says she hopes that her listeners find some truth in what she is saying, but she doesn't claim to be able to impart it herself. She claims that all truth is a kind of experience and is subjective. She hopes to impart something truthful, not by stating facts or beliefs but by showing her experience and perspective and, in doing so, perhaps the listener can deduce something true. She goes about the essay in this vein, describing with an "I" voice the sensory and mental processes of her day.

The second point is that the quest for truth connects her with both the women and men in her story. As the narrator finds herself shut out of college buildings and women writers absent on the library shelves, she observes the extent of the intellectual life around her and, indeed, in front of her in the form of the women of Newnham and Girton whom she is addressing. Her pursuit of knowledge and her taste for debate and intellectual expression connects her with those around her, including the male ‘professor' types who have been so supported by society.

Truth ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Truth appears in each chapter of A Room of One's Own. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Truth Quotes in A Room of One's Own

Below you will find the important quotes in A Room of One's Own related to the theme of Truth.
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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Meanwhile the wineglasses had flushed yellow and flushed crimson; had been emptied; had been filled. And thus by degrees was lit, half-way down the spine, which is the seat of the soul, not that hard little electric light which we call brilliance, as it pops in and out upon our lips, but the more profound, subtle and subterranean glow which is the rich yellow flame of rational intercourse.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

Woolf, now speaking as an unnamed narrator, has been describing a day at a fictional "Oxbridge" college. The narrator attends a luncheon party, where the food is delicious, wine is plentiful, and the attendees delight in the relaxed, idyllic atmosphere. Here Woolf alludes to the idea that we often imagine genius to be a "hard little electric light" that turns on by itself. In this passage, she shows that this is not the best way to understand the production of art and knowledge. Rather, "rational intercourse"––intellectual exchange––that takes place in settings such as the Oxbridge college is often what creates meaningful thought. The implication of this is that if women are excluded from these intellectual settings, they will not be able to produce works of genius or be thought of as "brilliant." 

Chapter 3 Quotes

Perhaps now it would be better to give up seeking for the truth, and receiving on one's head an avalanche of opinion hot as lava, discoloured as dish-water.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator has returned home, feeling disappointed about what she has so far discovered about women and fiction. She wonders if it would be better to abandon her search for truth, and instead embrace "an avalanche of opinion hot as lava." Here Woolf presents a disdainful view of "opinion," reflecting her earlier skepticism about men's writing about women. Yet when it comes to the topic of women, the search for truth is almost equally frustrating, as there is so little knowledge about the actual history of women's lived experience. Despite this frustration and the ambivalence in this passage, however, Woolf does end up concluding that it is better to seek truth than settle for opinion, which––as shown by the narrator's comparison of popular opinion to discoloured "dish-water"––will only ever obscure the true nature of the world. 

A very queer, composite being thus emerges. Imaginatively she is of the

highest importance; practically she is completely insignificant.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator has read Professor G.M. Trevelyan's The History of England in the hope of finding more information about women's lives throughout history. She is disappointed to find very little concrete detail, and no evidence of women having any influence or importance of their own. On the other hand, as Professor Trevelyan points out, in literature––such as Shakespearean drama––women are represented as being full of "personality and character" and existing at the centre of the narrative action. The narrator does not understand how to reconcile the totally unimportant role women are assigned within history with the complex, interesting, and pivotal part women play in artistic representation. 

This is one of several points when the narrator identifies the paradoxical ways in which patriarchal society constructs the role of women. (Another example is when she highlights male authors' obsession with writing about women, yet total lack of interest in listening to women's own accounts of themselves.) Woolf shows that this use of paradox enables the sustained belittling of women without women necessarily understanding or resisting the ways in which they are oppressed.

Chapter 5 Quotes

Do not start. Do not blush. Let us admit in the privacy of our own society that these things sometimes happen. Sometimes women do like women.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 82
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator has described a hypothetical contemporary novel by Mary Carmichael called Life's Adventure, which contains the sentence "Chloe liked Olivia." Presupposing that the audience might be scandalized by this, the narrator encourages the women listening to remain calm and admit that "sometimes women do like women." This mention of homosexuality is one of the most important moments in the speech. At the time, open discussion of homosexuality was highly taboo; while male homosexuality was widely acknowledged and explicitly forbidden, many people did not believe––or at least did not openly admit––that female homosexuality even existed. However, depictions of lesbianism were beginning to emerge in contemporary literature, and Woolf highlights this as another reason why literature by women was so important. 

Note the narrator's specification that lesbianism can be discussed only "in the privacy of our own society." Public representations of lesbianism, for example in Radclyffe Hall's 1928 novel The Well of Loneliness, had led to scandal and censure. Another important reason for the existence of intellectual spaces for women, therefore, is that they provided the conditions for lesbianism to be discussed openly. In making this point, the narrator is not assuming that the majority of her audience are lesbians, and that this would be directly meaningful to them in this sense. Rather, lesbianism is presented as a fact about some women's lives that is obscured when intellectual endeavors (and specifically depictions of women) are dominated by men.