Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.

The Importance of Money

For the narrator of A Room of One’s Own, money is the primary element that prevents women from having a room of their own, and thus, having money is of the utmost importance. Because women do not have power, their creativity has been systematically stifled throughout the ages. The narrator writes, “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 . . .” She uses this quotation to explain why so few women have written successful poetry. She believes that the writing of novels lends itself more easily to frequent starts and stops, so women are more likely to write novels than poetry: women must contend with frequent interruptions because they are so often deprived of a room of their own in which to write. Without money, the narrator implies, women will remain in second place to their creative male counterparts. The financial discrepancy between men and women at the time of Woolf’s writing perpetuated the myth that women were less successful writers.

The Subjectivity of Truth

In A Room of One’s Own, the narrator argues that even history is subjective. What she seeks is nothing less than “the essential oil of truth,” but this eludes her, and she eventually concludes that no such thing exists. The narrator later writes, “When a subject is highly controversial, one cannot hope to tell the truth. One can only show how one came to hold whatever opinion one does hold.” To demonstrate the idea that opinion is the only thing that a person can actually “prove,” she fictionalizes her lecture, claiming, “Fiction is likely to contain more truth than fact.” Reality is not objective: rather, it is contingent upon the circumstances of one’s world. This argument complicates her narrative: Woolf forces her reader to question the veracity of everything she has presented as truth so far, and yet she also tells them that the fictional parts of any story contain more essential truth than the factual parts. With this observation she recasts the accepted truths and opinions of countless literary works.


Woolf’s concern throughout the essay is not just how to allow women to write, but how to allow women to write works of genius. In service of explaining her ideal literature, the narrator introduces the idea of an incandescent mind. Incandescence, here, appears to draw from both of the word’s definitions—illuminated and passionate—to signify a mind that is full of its own artistic vision and transmits it to its chosen artistic medium without any hint of self-consciousness or insecurity on the part of the author. She uses William Shakespeare and Jane Austen as examples of writers who have achieved this incandescence because, according to Woolf, they do not appear in their stories and overshadow their characters’ thoughts and feelings. In Chapter 6, she likens this incandescent mind to the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s idea that the poet’s mind should be androgynous. In the narrator’s interpretation, this androgynous mind is not overly concerned with its own gender but rather concerned with the art it is trying to create, the characters, images, or musical notes. Insecurity, bitterness, and anger disrupt the incandescence of an artist’s mind, producing inferior quality art.