A Room of One's Own
by Virginia Woolf
Where It All Goes Down
An English University Campus; London, England; October 1928
You might have noticed that we don't move around much in A Room of One's Own. We stroll around a few campuses outside of London, visit the library, then spend the rest of the time in Mary Beton's apartment, leafing through books and looking out the window. In fact, as the essay goes along, our surroundings get smaller and smaller: first the natural world of the campuses, then the library, then a room in the narrator's apartment.
How could Woolf have something to say about enormous subjects like Women and Fiction if she stays in such a small space?
- You might think of A Room of One's Own as an allegory, a story that takes small things and makes them stand for larger ones. (See "Symbols" for our take on this.)
- Or you might also say that the narrator's mental journey is wide-ranging: we visit Judith Shakespeare in Elizabethan England, sit at Lady Winchilsea's writing desk, and contemplate pure "reality" (6.16).
Okay, maybe not so claustrophobic after all.
Bright Lights, Big City
Apart from her trip out of town to visit Oxbridge University and Fernham College, Mary spends her time in London. (Check out "Themes: Visions of London" for more about this.) But one major reason that London matters as a setting is that it's teeming people and symbols. Even if Mary is just staring out the window at leaves falling and people getting into taxicabs, she's soaking in the city and all that it means.
Woolf wrote A Room of One's Own when the battle of the sexes was raging. Sure, women in England had many of the rights they have today—owning property, voting, having careers—but the battle sure wasn't over, and the struggle was still fresh in everyone's mind.
Woolf reminds her listeners and readers of the state of affairs:
may I remind you that there have been at least two colleges for women in existence in England since the year 1866; that after the year 1880 a married woman was allowed by law to possess her own property; that in 1919—which is a whole nine years ago—she was given the vote?
This little jab works on two levels. First, check out that "whole nine years ago" jab: what she really means is that she can't believe it took so long for women to get the vote.
But it's also a little wakeup call. Sure, they haven't had these rights for very long, but they do have them now—so, women had better get out there and start changing and achieving.