A Room of One’s Own
The next morning, the narrator awakes and looks out over a London utterly indifferent to "the future of fiction, the death of poetry, or the development by the average woman of a prose style completely expressive of her mind." The sight of two people meeting, getting in a cab, and being swept off into the flow of the city gives her an intuition of unity and rhythm that had been absent from her strained thinking over the last two days. There are certain states of mind that "seem, even if adopted spontaneously, to be less comfortable than others. In order to keep oneself continuing in them one is unconsciously holding something back, and gradually the repression becomes an effort." Emerging from her unnatural essayistic mode, the narrator begins to toy with a theory of the unification of the sexes—one, akin to Coleridge's theory of the androgynous mind, in which each mind has male and female elements. The harmonious balance of these elements in the hallmark of genius. This theory refers to no special sympathy with or the opposite sex, she clarifies, but with the nature of the mind's very working. Such a mind, she imagines, would be "naturally creative, incandescent, and undivided"—like Shakespeare's.
In contrast to this ideal, she sees her own age as more explicitly sex-conscious than any other in history. This fact has, she speculates, "roused in men an extraordinary desire for self-assertion," as exemplified in the novel of Mr. A. "Virility has become self- conscious," she notes, in part as a result of the burgeoning (and threatening) self- consciousness of women. This is the dominant characteristic of fascism as well, yet neither sex is to blame. The narrator returns to her writing-table and looks at the page titled "Women and Fiction. "It is fatal," she concludes, "for anyone who writes to think of their sex."
Virginia Woolf takes over for her narrator at this point, and begins to anticipate the objections her audience may raise to the character's "failings and foibles." She has not, for one thing, offered any comments about the relative merits of the two sexes as writers. This jostling for status, she explains, is precisely what the artist must avoid. One might object, she also admits, "that I have made too much of the importance of material things," when we expect great minds and great art to rise above their circumstances. Yet the facts, she asserts, show incontrovertibly that the odds are against any would-be poet who has not money or education. She sums up her argument: "Intellectual freedom depends upon material things. Poetry depends upon intellectual freedom. And women have always been poor, not for two hundred years merely, but from the beginning of time. . . . Women, then, have not had a dog's chance of writing poetry. That is why I have laid so much stress on money and a room of one's own." Good writing is good for society, Woolf asserts. She urges her audience to write—not only fiction, but books of all kinds, "for books have a way of influencing each other." She urges them to remember their current advantages as well as the contours of their unwritten history, and to see their own work not only as worthwhile in itself, but as part of the crucial preparation for women writers to come.
Woolf discusses the strained state of mind in which this essay was written—a mode of thought that, while important and useful, is not restful to the mind and certainly not conducive to fiction. This unmitigated focus to sex is too self-conscious to be part of "the art of creation," yet an artistic unconsciousness of sex is the luxury of independence and freedom. "The whole of the mind must lie wide open if we are to get the sense that the writer is communicating his experience with perfect fullness. There must be freedom and there must be peace. Not a wheel must grate, not a light glimmer."
Woolf closes the door on her fictional narrator with the essay on "Women and Fiction" still unwritten; the point has been to show the thought process behind her theory that fiction writing requires a private income and a private room, and the process has become the substance of the essay itself. It is a story that promises to continue.
Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!