A Room of One's Own was fashioned out of a series of lectures that Woolf delivered to groups of students at Cambridge women's' colleges. She addresses these women explicitly and draws on certain assumptions and common knowledge—that they are all learned for example and that they're women—so we immediately have to consider the particularity of the occasion when reading the text. As a successful woman, Woolf stands before these women scholars as their elder and somewhat superior but also as their compatriot. They are allies in the same cause, to become educated women and contribute to their society and the canon of scholarship and literature that inspires them.
Woolf is aware throughout that she, and these lectures, are part of the legacy and history of women writers (and thwarted women writers). From that starting point, of her as participating in a kind of legacy and offering something to the minds of the future, Woolf as the narrator invokes the women writers of the past and present to help her make her argument. From real authors like George Eliot and Lady Winchilsea to the invented Mary and Judith Shakespeare characters, Woolf presents a network of women who've missed out on their potential because of their status as women and the conditions of poverty and lack of education that that status implies. By creating an imaginary sister for Shakespeare, Woolf emphasizes the anonymity and invisibility of women; she makes us imagine many more forgotten women that history has left behind and whose minds will never be expressed.
Woolf describes male geniuses like Shakespeare as incandescent figures, known entirely by virtue of their work and not by their own lives. Woolf shows that it is very difficult for women to be this way, because their lives necessarily impose on them to such a degree, with childbearing, with homemaking, and with suffering. Therefore both women's fiction and the women themselves are defined by their deprivations rather than being incandescent, like the major male writers.
Woolf claims that as well as all the social conditions that have inhibited women, it is also this lack of history and legacy that continues to inhibit them, This is why she appeals to the young women before her: to use their education to be a different kind of generation and to create a history for their daughters like young men have always had to admire and emulate.
Creating a Legacy of Women Writers ThemeTracker
Creating a Legacy of Women Writers 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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.