Certainly, as I strolled round the court, the foundation of gold and silver seemed deep enough; the pavement laid solidly over the wild grasses.

The narrator makes this observation of Oxbridge in Chapter 1. She evokes how much financial investment the university has received over the years to highlight that its reputation and ability to foster superior minds is not built merely from the intellect and philosophy of those who built the college. Instead, the centuries of money invested into the institution gave it the resources to become such a respected institution of learning. With this observation, the narrator breaks down any binary between the realm of the higher intellect and the material, demonstrating that one influences the other.

At the thought of all those women working year after year and finding it hard to get two thousand pounds together, and as much as they could do to get thirty thousand pounds, we burst out in scorn at the reprehensible poverty of our sex.

The narrator and her friend, Mary Seton have this judgmental initial reaction to Fernham’s lack of funding in Chapter 1, initially blaming their forebearers. Their gut instinct is to blame previous generations for being poor or miserly. This reaction mimics the reaction of someone who, without giving the circumstances much thought, were to consider the differences between Oxbridge and Fernham. However, as they ponder the question further, they realize that societal structures made women poor, not women’s actions.

However, as I say, my aunt died; and whenever I change a ten-shilling note a little of that rust and corrosion is rubbed off; fear and bitterness go.

In this quotation from Chapter 2, the narrator explains the joy of a stable income. By explaining the emotional effects of having a comfortable living, the narrator once again works to demonstrate that money has value beyond the shallow and material. In a society where money buys comfortable lodging and food, a stable income is not a shallow luxury but rather the key to having the emotional energy to accomplish anything instead of withering in anger and anxiety.

Money dignifies what is frivolous if unpaid for. It might still be well to sneer at “blue stockings with an itch for scribbling,” but it could not be denied that they could put money in their purses.

The narrator states this in Chapter 4, when describing the far-reaching effect of the playwright Aphra Behn proving that women could make money from writing. Money once again proves to be material to the creation of art because of the way profiting from an action can often lend it social legitimacy. Women writing for their own pleasure can easily be dismissed as fanciful, but if people are willing to pay them for what they write, their work takes on a new legitimacy.

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.

As Woolf steps out of her narrator persona and brings her essay to a conclusion, she boldly restates why she believes money plays such an important role in women’s writing. Using observations from the literary critic Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch as evidence that impoverished writers very rarely achieve fame, she reiterates that beyond anything, money gives writers the freedom to think. Without having to worry about basic survival, their mind is free to be creative. The historical poverty of women thus means only in very recent history did women have the same intellectual freedom as men.