A Room of One’s Own

by: Virginia Woolf

The Narrator

The unnamed female narrator is the only major character in A Room of One’s Own. She refers to herself only as “I”; in chapter one of the text, she tells the reader to call her “Mary Beton, Mary Seton, Mary Carmichael or any other name you please . . . ” The narrator assumes each of these names at various points throughout the text. The constantly shifting nature of her identity complicates her narrative even more, since we must consider carefully who she is at any given moment. However, her shifting identity also gives her a more universal voice: by taking on different names and identities, the narrator emphasizes that her words apply to all women, not just herself.

The dramatic setting for A Room of One’s Own is Woolf’s thought process in preparation for giving a lecture on the topic “women and fiction.” But the fictionalized narrator is distinct from the author Woolf. The narrator lends a storylike quality to the text, and she often blends fact and fiction to prove her points. Her liberty with factuality suggests that no irrefutable truth exists in the world—all truth is relative and subjective.

The narrator is an erudite and engaging storyteller, and she uses the book to explore the multifaceted and rather complicated history of literary achievement. Her provocative inquiries into the status quo of literature force readers to question the widely held assumption that women are inferior writers, compared to men, and this is why there is a dearth of memorable literary works by women. This literary journey is highlighted by numerous actual journeys, such as the journey around Oxbridge College and her tour of the British library. She interweaves her journeys with her own theories about the world—including the principle of “incandescence.” Woolf defines incandescence as the state in which everything is personal burns away and what is left is the “nugget of pure truth” in the art. This is the ideal state in which everything is consumed in the intensity and truth of one’s art. The narrator skillfully leads the reader through one of the most important works of feminist literary history to date.

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