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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
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
Ace your assignments with our guide to A Room of One's Own!