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The dramatic setting of A Room of One's Own is
that Woolf has been invited to lecture on the topic of Women and
Fiction. She advances the thesis that "a woman must have money and
a room of her own if she is to write fiction." Her essay is constructed
as a partly-fictionalized narrative of the thinking that led her
to adopt this thesis. She dramatizes that mental process in the
character of an imaginary narrator ("call me Mary Beton, Mary Seton,
Mary Carmichael or by any name you please—it is not a matter of
any importance") who is in her same position, wrestling with the
The narrator begins her investigation at Oxbridge College, where
she reflects on the different educational experiences available to
men and women as well as on more material differences in their lives.
She then spends a day in the British Library perusing the scholarship
on women, all of which has written by men and all of which has been
written in anger. Turning to history, she finds so little data about
the everyday lives of women that she decides to reconstruct their
existence imaginatively. The figure of Judith Shakespeare is generated
as an example of the tragic fate a highly intelligent woman would
have met with under those circumstances. In light of this background,
she considers the achievements of the major women novelists of the
nineteenth century and reflects on the importance of tradition to
an aspiring writer. A survey of the current state of literature
follows, conducted through a reading the first novel of one of the
narrator's contemporaries. Woolf closes the essay with an exhortation
to her audience of women to take up the tradition that has been
so hardly bequeathed to them, and to increase the endowment for
their own daughters.
Ace your assignments with our guide to A Room of One's Own!