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A Room of One's Own

A Room of One's Own

by Virginia Woolf

A Room of One's Own Chapter 5 Summary

  • Now Mary turns to the section of her bookshelf for women writers of today.
  • Women aren't just writing novels anymore: they're writing histories, works about archaeology, you name it.
  • We told you Mary's bookshelf is enormous. Also: weird way to organize your books, right?
  • She randomly picks out Life's Adventure by the (fictional) author Mary Carmichael.
  • Uh-oh. Something's wrong with the sentences.
  • First, they seem "interrupted." Something is hindering "the smooth gliding of sentence after sentence."
  • And then the plot seems weird, too. She's messing with "the expected sequence" (5.3).
  • Mary's about to tell us what she read next when... she interrupts herself to make sure that there "are no men present" (5.4).
  • Once she makes sure that "Sir Chartes Biron" isn't hiding behind a curtain, she reveals that two female characters "like" one another.
  • Crazy, right?
  • The point is that, before this book, women could only be jealous of one another or not have a relationship at all. They were "not only seen by the other sex, but seen only in relation to the other sex" (5.5).
  • In other words, women in literature never had a relationship because they just liked each other (or even hated each other). There had to be some kind of man involved.
  • (Good think that's not true anymore, right? Well. This seems like a good time to bring up the Bechdel Test.)
  • She pauses to imagine if the opposite were true and realizes that there wouldn't much literature left if men were only seen by and in relation to women.
  • Catching herself giving props to women, Mary checks herself.
  • Since women's lives have been lived privately—that is, not recorded in books—for nearly all of recorded history, it's hard to see if women deserve praise or not.
  • Mary thinks about how much "unrecorded life" there is out there (5.14).
  • The chapter ends with Mary imagining Mary Carmichael as a horse that has to jump over fences as male busybodies shout distracting criticism.
  • While Life's Adventure is pretty good, it will take another hundred years before Mary Carmichael (or, more accurately, the women who come after her) will be poets.
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