I've finally read a book by Virginia Woolf and it was a sheer joy. A Room Of One's Own is a novel length essay that was originally given as a series of lectures to women at Cambridge University in 1928. The theme was 'women and fiction' and Woolf examines women writers in history, their various successes and failures and themes of gender inequality and education. A Room Of One's Own is a feminist text and still very much relevant today.
Woolf concludes that "a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction," and sets out to prove why. What added to my enjoyment is that I couldn't help but read it in her voice thanks to my frequent listening of the only recording of Virginia Woolf's voice available on YouTube.
I was instantly gripped by her writing style on page 1, but reading the following description of a dinner on page 18 had me laughing and wishing I could be in her presence.
"Prunes and custard followed. And if anyone complains that prunes, even when mitigated by custard, are an uncharitable vegetable (fruit they are not), stringy as a miser's heart and exuding a fluid such as might run in misers' veins who have denied themselves wine and warmth for eighty years and yet not given to the poor, he should reflect that there are people whose charity embraces even the prune. Biscuits and cheese came next, and here the water-jug was liberally passed round, for it is the nature of biscuits to be dry, and these were biscuits to the core. That was all." Page 18
Towards the end of her essay (remember it was a lecture given at a women's college) she calls on members of her audience.
“Therefore I would ask you to write all kinds of books, hesitating at no subject however trivial or however vast. By hook or by crook, I hope that you will possess yourselves of money enough to travel and to idle, to contemplate the future or the past of the world, to dream over books and loiter at street corners and let the line of thought dip deep into the stream.” Page 103
On page 106, she proclaims to give her peroration (don't worry, I had to look it up too): "Young women, I would say, and please attend, for the peroration is beginning, you are, in my opinion, disgracefully ignorant. You have never made a discovery of any sort of importance. You have never shaken an empire or led an army into battle. The plays of Shakespeare are not by you, and you have never introduced a barbarous race to the blessings of civilization. What is your excuse?" You can read the rest here.
Woolf's writing is provocative and powerful and I enjoyed the ready access to her meandering thought processes as well as the ups and downs of her discoveries, statements and opinions.
Reading her work almost 90 years after Virginia Woolf penned these words, I had the distinct feeling she was giving me a TED Talk about women and fiction. The TED Talk format is enormously popular - and a favourite of mine, I'll confess - and I'm certain that if A Room Of One's Own was marketed as a TED Talk it would reach and inspire an entirely new audience.
My rating = *****
P.S. Thank you to my neighbour for lending me his copy.