I’m sure I’d read at least parts of A Room of One’s Own before, but I’m not sure if I’d read the whole thing. Having just read Jo Hamya’s Three Rooms, which quotes repeatedly from this and exists in part in relation to it, I figured I should read it in its entirety. So, right: asked to talk about “women and fiction” Woolf wonders whether she should talk about “women and what they are like” or “women and the fiction that they write” (or don’t write) or “women and the fiction that is written about them” (or the non-fiction that is written about them, which may I guess be fiction too, in the sense of it being lies/untrue). She ends up talking about all of those things and more, with the thesis that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction”: she argues that historically, the fact that women have lacked those things explains why they didn’t, generally, become writers of fiction earlier.

If you’ve heard one thing about this book you’ve probably heard about the part where Woolf imagines the depressing life that Shakespeare’s sister would have had, if he had had a sister who was as gifted and as driven to write and/or act as he was. If you’ve heard another thing about this book, you’ve probably heard about how Woolf talks about the “androgynous” mind, borrowing an expression from Coleridge. I remembered those parts, but had forgotten the parts about Lady Winchilsea and Margaret Cavendish and Charlotte Brontë and Jane Austen, or maybe I hadn’t read those parts before: Woolf argues that if a woman’s indignation at the position of women in society comes through in her poetry or fiction, it suffers for it. (She thinks that men’s writing can suffer for being overly male, too, whatever that means. She says “it is fatal for any one who writes to think of their sex.” She also says that “the weight, the pace, the stride of a man’s mind” are different from a woman’s.)

What I love, and hadn’t really remembered, are the excellent bits of description in various moments of the book. In the first section, Woolf imagines a woman writer comparing a men’s college and a women’s college—noticing the comforts of the former compared to the latter, and thinking of the money and history of the former—and how its spaces exclude women—and I love the descriptions of the lawns, the dining rooms, a campus at “the time between the lights when colours undergo their intensification and purples and golds burn in window-panes like the beat of an excitable heart.” Also this, later, about the bustle of the city: “London was like a workshop. London was like a machine. We were all being shot backwards and forwards on this plain foundation to make some pattern.”

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