Virginia Woolf's essay A Room of One's Own is a landmark of twentieth-century feminist thought. It explores the history of women in literature through an unconventional and highly provocative investigation of the social and material conditions required for the writing of literature. These conditions—leisure time, privacy, and financial independence— underwrite all literary production, but they are particularly relevant to understanding the situation of women in the literary tradition because women, historically, have been uniformly deprived of those basic prerequisites.
In her exploration of this idea, Woolf launches a number of provocative sociological and aesthetic critiques. She reviews not only the state of women's own literature, but also the state of scholarship, both theoretical and historical, concerning women. She also elaborates an aesthetics based on the principle of "incandescence," the ideal state in which everything that is merely personal is consumed in the intensity and truth of one's art.
Just as Woolf speaks out against traditional hierarchies in the content of her essay, so, too, does she reject standard logical argumentation in her essay's form. Woolf innovatively draws on the resources of fiction to compensate for gaps in the factual record about women and to counter the biases that infect more conventional scholarship. She writes a history of a woman's thinking about the history of thinking women: her essay is a reconstruction and a reenactment as well as an argument.
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