In addition to establishing the necessity for women to have financial and intellectual independence if they are to be able to truly contribute to the literary canon, Woolf addresses the societal factors that deny women those opportunities. As such, A Room of One's Own is a feminist text. But it does not assign blame for the state of society to particular men or as a conscious effort by men as a whole to suppress women. Rather, she describes a society formed by the instincts of the different sexes (for example women to have children, marry early, be tasked with mending and caring for the family and not being educated) that together define society and together influence individual's behaviors and opportunities.
This is not to say that Woolf sees society as being anything other than dramatically tilted in favor of men. She explores just how it is tilted, in two ways. First, she shows how she herself has been shut out of the fictional college "Oxbridge", an amalgamation of the two elite English universities Oxford and Cambridge. For Woolf herself, this "Oxbridge" idea was significant in her life; her brothers and male contemporaries all seemed to go off to Oxbridge while she tried to challenge herself and educate herself with what little external resources she had. Second, she creates an imaginary woman named Judith Shakespeare, sister of William Shakespeare and his equal in talent. She then shows how, while William rises to fame and becomes an "incandescent" poet, Judith is prevented by the structure of society from doing so and ends up committing suicide.
A Room of One's Own also examines the more taboo realm of female homosexuality, speaking honestly about the possibility of a woman's affection for women. By putting this usually silenced topic before her audience, she creates an atmosphere where feelings and taboos are able to surface and be expressed, and moreover are able to become commonplace and understood as a normal part of womanhood. It is also worth noting that while A Room of One's Own does not seek to blame men, when describing men it betrays a definite physical distaste at times. In her description of the men at the British Library for instance, they are a ruddy, almost disgusting presence, reminding her of all the flaws she sees in society as a whole.
Finally, it should be kept in mind that A Room of One's Own was crafted out of a series of lectures that Woolf delivered to women at the first women's colleges at Cambridge. With herself and those before her, Woolf creates a sense of a new community of women emerging, the educated, even professorial woman to match the naturally professorial man. This is a message of hope but also a warning and an incitement, that in order to change at all the fragile position of women in literature, this generation must forcibly change it.
Women and Society ThemeTracker
Women and Society Quotes in A Room of One's Own
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.
What force is behind that plain china off which we dined, and (here it popped out of my mouth before I could stop it) the beef, the custard and the prunes?
Of the two—the vote and the money—the money, I own, seemed infinitely the more important.
A very queer, composite being thus emerges. Imaginatively she is of the
highest importance; practically she is completely insignificant.
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?
What a vision of loneliness and riot the thought of Margaret Cavendish brings to mind! as if some giant cucumber had spread itself over all the roses and carnations in the garden and choked them to death.
All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn, […] for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds. It is she—shady and amorous as she was—who makes it not quite fantastic for me to say to you to-night: Earn five hundred a year by your wits.
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?
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.
Awkward though she was and without the unconscious bearing of long descent which makes the least turn of the pen of a Thackeray or a Lamb delightful to the ear, she had—I began to think—mastered the first great lesson; she wrote as a woman, but as a woman who has forgotten that she is a woman, so that her pages were full of that curious sexual quality which comes only when sex is unconscious of itself.
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.
The sight of two people coming down the street and meeting at the corner seems to ease the mind of some strain, I thought, watching the taxi turn and make off.
The fact is that neither Mr. Galsworthy nor Mr. Kipling has a spark of the woman in him.
Now my belief is that this poet who never wrote a word and was buried at the cross-roads still lives. She lives in you and in me, and in many other women who are not here to-night, for they are washing up the dishes and putting the children to bed.