Study Guide

A Room of One's Own Quotes

  • Literature and Writing

    Chapter 1
    Virginia Woolf

    Fiction here is likely to contain more truth than fact. Therefore I propose, making use of all the liberties and licenses of a novelist, to tell you the story of the two days that preceded my coming here. (1.1)

    This is not the kind of answer you can give to your parents about why you're home late. But is there a way that fiction is more universal than fact? Have you ever changed up a story so you could tell the truth better?

    Chapter 3
    Mary Beton

    What were the conditions in which women lived [during the Elizabethan era], I asked myself; for fiction [...] is like a spider's web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners. (3.2)

    A spider's web wouldn't work if it weren't attached to anything. This is a nice metaphor helping us see that fiction may be delicate and ethereal, but it's still connected to solid stuff.

    The reason perhaps why we know so little of Shakespeare [...] is that his grudges and spites and antipathies are hidden from us [...] If ever a mind was incandescent, unimpeded, I thought, turning again to the bookcase, it was Shakespeare's mind. (3.17)

    There's a metaphor here, but it's a little tricky. Woolf is saying (1) that Shakespeare's mind is on fire and (2) his desire to complain about his life or rag on others has been burned out. Without that need to complain all the time, he's able to just be a genius. (Is that all it takes?)

    For surely it is time that the effect of discouragement upon the mind of the artist should be measured, as I have seen a dairy company measure the effect of ordinary milk and Grade A milk upon the body of the rat [...] Now what food do we feed women as artists upon? (3.12)

    What kind of food do we feed students upon? French fries and make-your-own waffles? (Oh, that was just us?) Woolf may be speaking metaphorically here about how discouragement affects the mind, but we need to remember that Woolf feels just as strongly about actual, literal food.

    Chapter 4

    [Woman's] sensibility had been educated for centuries by the influences of the common sitting room. People's feelings were impressed on her; personal relations were always before her eyes. Therefore, when the middle-class woman took to writing, she naturally wrote novels. (4.22)

    What conditions are necessary to write, say, Robocop? What might you write in a solitary room instead of the living room? And why is Woolf so down on interpersonal relations?

    The book has somehow to be adapted to the body, and at a venture one would say that women's books should be shorter, more concentrated, than those of men, and framed so that they do not need long hours of steady and uninterrupted work. For interruptions there will always be. (4.34)

    We're picking up a major theme of A Room of One's Own here: when we think about art, we have to think about the body that produces it. Artists—as any writer could tell you—aren't just brains in vats.

    For masterpieces are not single and solitary births; they are the outcome of many years of thinking in common, of thinking by the body of the people, so that the experience of the mass is behind the single voice. (4.21)

    Think of that the next time you sit down to write a paper. This is an important point in A Room of One's Own, that writers never write alone, but rather they stand on the shoulders of everyone who came before. This comes up especially at the very end of the book.

    Chapter 5
    Mary Beton

    For if Chloe likes Olivia and Mary Carmichael knows how to express it she will light a torch in that vast chamber where nobody has yet been. (5.8)

    Female friendship imagined as a scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark. (Without the Nazis, presumably.)

    Chapter 6
    Mary Beton

    Some collaboration has to take place in the mind between the woman and the man before the act of creation can be accomplished. [...] The whole of the mind must lie wide open [...] The writer, I thought, once his experience is over, must lie back and let his mind celebrate its nuptials in darkness. (6.9)

    This is the big moment when Mary discovers that her boys-versus-girls ideas weren't helpful. Is it important that we get this idea in the form of a metaphor? And does "lie wide open" really mean what we think it does?

    Virginia Woolf

    So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters. [...] But to sacrifice a hair of the head of your vision, a shade of its colour, in deference to some Headmaster with a silver pot in his hand [...] is the most abject treachery. (6.11)

    Treachery against whom, or what? Yourself? Women? Would you agree that women really have a obligation to their gender, or is it every woman for herself?

  • Wealth (and Poverty)

    Chapter 1
    Mary Beton

    Still the same flow of gold and silver went on; fellowships we founded; lectureships endowed [...] Hence the libraries and the laboratories; the observatories; the splendid equipment of costly and delicate instruments which now stands on glass shelves. (1.5)

    Yep, cash rules everything around me. Note how Woolf exhaustively lists the material aspects of a fine university. What about the human capital?

    What had our mothers been doing then that they had no wealth to leave us? Powdering their noses? Looking in at shop windows? [...] Mary's mother [...] may have been a wastrel in her spare time (she had thirteen children by a minister of the church), but if so her gay and dissipated life had left too few traces of it pleasures on her face. (1.28)

    Mary's mother must have been a very busy woman... or women's poverty must be explained some other way. This quotation might remind you of what Woolf has to say about women's writing—that it is passed down from woman to woman, just like money. The better women's writing, the better later writing will be.

    It is only in the last forty-eight years that Mrs. Seton has had a penny of her own. For all the centuries before that it would have been her husband's property [...] Every penny I earn, they may have said, will be taken from me and disposed of according to my husband's wisdom—perhaps to found a scholarship in Balliol or Kings. (1.28)

    Mrs. Seton is the mother of the fictional Mary Seton, Mary Beton's dinner companion. She comes to stand in for all the impoverished women of the past. And the rub? Any of Mrs. Seton's money could be taken by her husband and used to found, say, a university scholarship—just for boys.

    Chapter 2
    Mary Beton

    For that visit to Oxbridge and the luncheon and the dinner had started a swarm of questions. Why did men drink wine and women water? Why was one sex so prosperous and the other so poor? What effect has poverty on fiction? (2.1)

    Okay, first, Woolf is continuing her pattern of insisting on the very material basis of art. But we feel like we should point out that not every man is rich. Does Woolf consider that?

    No force in the world can take from me my five hundred pounds. Food, house, and clothing are mine for ever. Therefore not merely do effort and labor cease, but also hatred and bitterness. I need not hate any man; he cannot hurt me. I need not flatter any man; he has nothing to give me. (2.14)

    Mary's inheritance does way more than just make it so she doesn't have to work. She can think in a completely new way, too. So much for living for your art.

    The news of my legacy reached me one night about the same time that the act was passed that gave votes to women. A solicitor's letter fell into the post-box and when I opened it I found that she had left me five hundred pounds a year for ever. Of the two—the vote and the money—the money, I own, seemed infinitely more important. (2.14)

    This is a pretty big statement: financial independence is more valuable than being able to vote for one's own interests. In other words, Mary would rather have 500 pounds than the right to vote. Do you agree?

    That building, for example, do I like it or not? Is that in my opinion a good book or a bad? Indeed my aunt's legacy unveiled the sky to me, and substituted for the large and imposing figure of a gentleman, which Milton recommended for my perpetual adoration, a view of the open sky. (2.14)

    Here is where Woolf starts to show us how wealth might make aesthetic judgment possible. If you don't need anyone to give you money, then you don't have to pretend to share their opinions. Can art ever really be good if you have to do it for the money?

    Chapter 4

    It is [Aphra Behn]—shady and amorous as she was—who makes it not quite fantastic for me to say to you tonight: Earn five hundred a year by your wits. (4.21)

    In 1928, 500 pounds per year was enough to live comfortably. But here's the question: Mary Beton didn't earn her money. So, is it better to earn money "by your wits" or to have it fall out of the sky?

    Money dignifies what is frivolous if unpaid for. It might still be well to sneer at "blue stockings with an itch for scribbling," but it could not be denied that they could put money in their purses. (4.21)

    A "blue stocking" is an intellectual woman. So it's not just that having money makes it possible to think your own thoughts, but it works the other way around, too: do a good job putting your thoughts on paper and you'll end up with money.

    Chapter 6
    Virginia Woolf

    Intellectual freedom depends on material things. Poetry depends on intellectual freedom. And women have always been poor, not for two hundred years merely, but from the beginning of time. [...] Women, then, have not had a dog's chance of writing poetry. (6.14)

    If you were waiting for Woolf to state the point of the book in a nutshell, your wait is over. This is it. You can't have good poetry without good food.

  • Contrasting Regions: Oxbridge and Fernham

    Chapter 1

    Somebody [...] raced across the grass—would no one stop her? (25)

    Hello, sarcasm. Woof's question imitates the voice of the beadle at Oxbridge. This vision at Fernham is the reverse image of the narrator's experience when she walked on the beadle's "turf" (i.e., grass) at Oxbridge.

    Gate after gate seemed to close with gently finality behind me. Innumerable beadles were fitting innumerable keys into well-oiled locks; the treasure-house was being made secure for the night. (1.13)

    If you didn't know Woolf was talking about a university, you might think she was talking about Gringotts. Wonder if they have a guard-dragon?

    And thus by degrees was lit, halfway down the spine, which is the seat of the soul [...] the rich yellow flame of rational intercourse. (1.6)

    So that's where the soul is located—right in the middle of the spine. Oh, hey, that's the stomach! We're starting to see how important good food is to good thinking: without it, you can't have a reasonable discussion.

    Strolling through those colleges [...] past those ancient halls the roughness of the present seemed smoothed away; the body seemed contained in a miraculous glass cabinet through which no sound could penetrate, and the mind, freed from any contact with facts [...] was at liberty to settle down upon whatever meditation was in harmony with the moment. (1.4)

    Does this quotation remind you a little of the first image of the flowing river? Woolf is as obsessed with flow as a rapper.

    The lamp in the spine does not light on beef and prunes. (1.26)

    Woolf repeats this stuff about the "lamp in the spine" to make it crystal clear that it's hard to think well if your body isn't treated well. No mind-body separation here; they're totally connected.

    The partridges, many and various, came with all their retinue of sauces and salads [...] their potatoes, thin as coins but not so hard; their sprouts, foliated as rosebuds but more succulent. And no sooner had the roast than the silent serving-man [...] set before us [...] a confection which rose all sugar from the waves. To call it pudding and so relate it to rice and tapioca would be an insult. (1.6)

    And this is just part of it. Part of Woolf's strategy here is to make the description as long and sensuous as the meal was, so it's worth rereading the whole thing. Just don't do it hungry!

    (here I pushed into the garden, for, unwisely, the door was left open and no beadles seemed to be about) [...] The gardens of Fernham lay before me in the spring twilight, wild and open. (16)

    Oxbridge is all locked up while Fernham is open to everybody. Do you think Woolf is merely telling us about the different institutions' attitudes toward garden gates, or is there something metaphorical going on?

    An unending stream of gold and silver, I thought, must have flowed into this court perpetually to keep the stones coming and the masons working [...] still the flow of gold and silver went on; fellowships were founded; lectureships endowed. (1.5).

    Everything flows at Oxbridge: food, wine, water, conversation, and, of course, money. Check out "Symbols" for more about all this river imagery.

    That was all. The meal was over. Everybody scraped their chairs back [...] soon the hall was emptied of every sign of food. (1.26)

    Meanwhile at Oxbridge, everyone lounges around on comfortable couches smoking cigars after the meal. Notice how Woolf uses short, jarring sentences to give you an impression of how abruptly the meal ended? That's some real mastery, right there.

    Here was the soup. It was a plain gravy soup [...] Next came the beef with its attendant greens and potatoes—a homely trinity, suggesting the rumps of cattle in a muddy market, and sprouts curled and yellowed at the edge. (1.26)

    We don't have to hammer home the contrast with the Oxbridge meal, but we will anyway: food at Oxbridge is delicious and beautiful; food (and plates) at Fernham is unappetizing and gross. Let's all just order pizza, okay?

    Kings and nobles brought treasure in huge sacks and poured it under the earth. This scene was forever coming alive in my mind and placing itself by another of lean cows and a muddy market and withered greens. (1.26)

    Oxbridge: the "treasure house." Fernham: the farmer's market on a February afternoon. Okay, Woolf, we get it.

  • Freedom and Confinement

    Chapter 1
    Mary Beton

    I thought about the organ booming in the chapel and of the shut doors of the library; and I thought how unpleasant it is to be locked out; and I thought how it is worse perhaps to be locked in. (1.31)

    Free your minds, because freedom works in two ways here: it's the freedom to come inside a men's-only place like a library, but also the freedom to be out in the world.

    That collar I had spoken of, women and fiction, the need of coming to some conclusion on a subject that raises all sorts of prejudices and passions, bowed my head to the ground. (1.2)

    Woolf/Beton is really bummed that she has to have to try to write about something so divisive. It seems just the opposite of the free-flowing thought that Woolf thinks is so important. (Good thing she lived before Internet trolls.)

    Virginia Woolf

    I am going to develop in your presence as fully and freely as I can the train of thought that led me to think [that a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction]. (1.1)

    Woolf puts her money where her mouth is: she's not just going to tell us that it's important to try to think and write as freely as possible, she's going to show us, too.

    Gate after gate seemed to close with gentle finality behind me. Innumerable beadles were fitting innumerable keys into well-oiled locks; the treasure-house was being made secure for another night. (1.13)

    How come the beadles, keys, and locks are "innumerable"? They're not literally, of course—unless we think about beadles stretching all the way back in history. Now they're getting hard to count.

    Chapter 2

    I pushed into the garden, for, unwisely, the door was left open and no beadles seemed to be about [...] The gardens of Fernham lay before me in the spring twilight, wild and open. (1.25)

    Fernham's "wild and open" gardens seem sexy, somehow, don't they? Woolf spends all this time telling us how awful Fernham is, but here it seems really beautiful. Maybe there's something nice about being basically ignored and not taken seriously.

    Chapter 4
    Mary Beton

    One only has to think of those Elizabethan tombstones with all those children kneeling with clasped hands; and their early deaths; and to see their houses with their dark, cramped rooms, to realise that no woman could have written poetry then. (4.1)

    Freedom is also simply freedom to stretch and move in a spacious room. Would a dark, cramped room produce dark, cramped poetry? And why is dark, cramped poetry necessarily bad?

    If a woman wrote, she would have to write in the common sitting-room. (4.22)

    To be free to write exactly what she would like, a woman needs to the freedom to write alone. She needs to be free of people bothering, and free of interruptions. Hm. We've got a nice jail cell for you…

    Literature is open to everybody. I refuse to allow you, Beadle though you are, to turn me off the grass. Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind. (4.32)

    Woolf puts this powerful quotation in the mouth of a hypothetical woman, a "firebrand" who wrote in 1828 despite heavy criticism. Her point is that it would be a hard thing for a woman to say to herself. Yet taken alone, it sounds like a battle cry.

    Chapter 6

    One had a sense of physical well-being in the presence of this well-nourished, well-educated, free mind, which had never been thwarted or opposed, but had had full liberty from birth to stretch itself in whatever way it liked [...] But after reading a chapter or two a shadow seemed to lie across the page. It was a straight dark bar, a shadow shaped something like the letter "I." (6.4)

    Maybe freedom isn't the only thing you need to write well. This author, Mr. A, has everything Woolf says you need to do good work in spades. But something is still missing, and we think we know what it is: mental freedom. Guess it's not only women who are confined.

    Virginia Woolf

    If we live another century or so [...] and have five hundred a year each of us and rooms of our own; if we have the habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think; if we escape a little from the common sitting room [...] then [...] the dead poet who was Shakespeare's sister will put on the body which she has so often laid down. (6.23)

    Coming soon: A Room of One's Own Part II: Judith Shakespeare's Zombie Army.

  • Power

    Chapter 1
    Mary Beton

    Here I was actually at the door which leads into the library itself [...] Instantly there issued, like a guardian angel barring the way with a flutter of black gown instead of white wings, a deprecating, silvery, kindly gentleman, who regretted in a low voice as he waved me back that ladies are only admitted to the library of if accompanied by a Fellow of the College or furnished with a letter of introduction. (1.4)

    Isn't it interesting that the man who unfairly bars Mary from the library is "deprecating, silvery, kindly"? We'd expect him to be mean and ugly. How does this change your feelings about him?

    I found myself walking with extreme rapidity across a grass plot. Instantly a man's figure rose to intercept me [...] He was a Beadle, I was a woman. This was the turf; there was the path. Only the Fellows and Scholars are allowed here; the gravel is the place for me. (1.3)

    Doesn't the word "Beadle" sound a little like "beetle"? Do you think this is an accident? And, well, even if it is—why do men need to have such silly-sounding and -acting people to protect their authority?

    Chapter 2

    There was another ten-shilling note in my purse; I noticed it, because it is a fact that still takes my breath away—the power of my purse to breed ten-shilling notes automatically. (2.13)

    Mary's purse sounds like Garfield's magic lasagna pan. Note that though her purse is the thing with the power in this sentence, you might say we're really talking about the power of the narrator's inheritance.

    The most transient visitor to this planet, I thought, who picked up this paper could not fail to be aware, even from this scattered testimony, that England is under the rule of a patriarchy. Nobody in their senses could fail to detect the dominance of the professor. He was the power and the money and the influence. (2.12)

    By professor, Woof means "Professor X," the composite character she created as the author of all the angry books about women. His role is getting larger: now he's every representative of England's patriarchy. Wonder when he has time to teach?

    rue, [the patriarchs] had money and power, but only at the cost of harbouring in their breasts an eagle, a vulture, for over tearing the liver out and plucking at the lungs—the instinct for possession. (2.14)

    Mo' money (and power), mo' problems. Hm. We'll still take it.

    [I] began drawing cart-wheels and circles over [my drawing of] the angry professor's face till he looked like a burning bush or a comet—anyhow, an apparition without human semblance or significance. The professor was nothing now but a faggot burning on the Hampstead Heath. (2.11)

    Mary asserts her power over the professor with her pen. It's like writing, but without words! P.S.: here, a "faggot" is a bundle of sticks burned for fuel.

    One does not like to be told that one is naturally the inferior of a little man—I looked at the student next to me—who breathes hard, wears a ready-made tie, and has not shaved this fortnight. (2.11)

    We don't think we'd want to get on Woolf's bad side! More to the point: isn't Woolf being a little, oh, snobby? Showing her upper-class roots? Doesn't she seem to think she automatically deserves power over someone just because of the way she looks?

    Mary Beton

    Merely to read the titles [of books by men about women] suggested innumerable schoolmasters, innumerable clergymen mounting their platforms and pulpits [...] Women do not write books about men. (2.2)

    We see who has power by looking at who is writing about whom. Does that mean that women can get more power in the world just by writing about men? And would anyone listen?

    Women have served all these centuries as looking-glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size. Without that power probably the earth would still be swamp and jungle. (2.12)

    Okay, this is definitely power. But what kind of power is it? Would you want this power? We might rather just be ourselves.

    Hence the enormous importance to a patriarch who has to conquer, who has to rule, of feeling that great numbers of people, half the human race indeed, are by nature inferior to himself. It must be one of the chief sources of his power. (2.12)

    If these great important men need women, what will happen when we stop thinking that women are inferior? Will men have to adapt? Or will society just fall apart. Well, it depends on whom you asked.

  • Warfare

    Chapter 1

    Was that what men hummed at luncheon parties before the war? And the women? [...] Was that what women hummed at luncheon parties before the war? (1.9)

    We left out the poetry Woolf quotes here, by the way. Do you hum poetry at luncheon parties? No? Blame World War I.

    If things had been a little different from what they were, one would not have seen, presumably, a cat without a tail [...] something seemed lacking, something seemed different. (1.7)

    A cat without a tail as an image for the world after World War I. Quite a choice. Does Woolf ever manage to tell us what the "something" might be that's different after the war? And does it twitch right before it pounces?

    Mary Beton

    When the guns fired in August 1914, did the faces of men and women show so plain in each other's eyes that romance was killed? (1.22)

    Is romance an illusion? Can truth kill it? Is Woolf saying that we need romance in order to write well? And is part of "romance" the idea that men and women are fundamentally different?

    Chapter 2

    Without that power [to magnify men] probably the earth would still be swamp and jungle. The glories of all our wars would be unknown. (2.12)

    Is Woolf being sarcastic here about the "glories of all our wars"? It seems to take both men and women to make a civilization and wage war.

    Walk through the Admiralty Arch (I had reached that monument), or any other avenue given up to trophies and cannon, and reflect upon the kind of glory celebrated there. (2.14)

    Why do we have monuments to wars, anyway? London is pretty important in A Room of One's Own, so it's interesting that it's filled with monuments to violent men and the wars waged by them.

    Chapter 4

    This is an important book, the critic assumes, because it deals with war. This is an insignificant book because it deals with the feelings of women in a drawing-room. A scene in a battlefield is more important than a scene in a shop. (4.31)

    Woolf thinks that people value books about war more than books about people sitting around talking. Is this still true? (Hint: check out this list of all the movies that have won an Oscar for best picture.)

    At the same time, on the other side of Europe, there was a young man living freely with this gipsy or with that great lady; going to the wars; picking up unhindered and uncensored all that varied experience of human life which served him so splendidly when he came to write his books. (4.28)

    Here, war is just another kind of experience. We're seeing that writers don't just need their own rooms to work in—they've got to get out of them once in a while, too. So if women are barred from huge chunks of human experience, how can they ever write well?

    Chapter 5

    If one asked what her life has meant to her, she would say that she remembered the streets lit for the battle of Balaclava [...] And if one asked her [...] but what were you doing on the fifth of April 1868 [...], she would look vague and remember nothing. For all the dinners are cooked [...] Nothing remains of it all. All has vanished. No biography or history has a word to say about it. (5.13)

    Warfare is documented; dinners are not. Woolf wants a kind of literature that documents things like dinners and fleeting feelings. But would anyone want to read it?

    Chapter 6

    There seemed to be some obstacle, some impediment of Mr. A's mind which blocked the fountain of creative energy and shored it within narrow limits. And remembering the lunch party at Oxbridge, and the cigarette ash and the Manx cat and Tennyson and Christina Rossetti all in a bunch, it seemed possible that the impediment lay there. (6.4)

    To the list of all the horrors of war we can add: bad novels.

    Virginia Woolf

    Thanks, curiously enough, to two wars, the Crimean which let Florence Nightingale out of her drawing-room, and the European war which opened the doors to the average woman some sixty years later, these evils are in the way to be bettered. (6.14)

    This complicates Woolf's discussion of war a little, since war also opens doors for women. But it's super-frustrating that terrible violence is also one of the only ways for women to get more power in the world.

  • Women and Femininity

    Chapter 2
    Mary Beton

    Sex and its nature might well attract doctors and biologists, but what was surprising and difficult of explanation was the fact that sex—woman, that is to say—also attracts agreeable essayists, light-fingered novelists, young men who have taken the M.A. degree; men who have taken no degree; men who have no apparent qualification save that they are not women. (2.2)

    Everyone's a critic, right? But Woolf raises a good point: how come women aren't qualified to write about women, if men seem to think they have every right to talk about them?

    Chapter 3
    Mary Beton

    When, however, one reads of a witch being ducked, of a woman possessed by devils, of a wise woman selling herbs, or even of a very remarkable man who had a mother, then I think we are on the track of a lost novelist, of a suppressed poet. (3.8)

    This is a funny way to think of history: Woolf isn't looking for evidence that women writers were there, but instead showing us where they could have been. It makes a good story—but we wouldn't try it in history class.

    Indeed, if woman had no existence save in the fiction written by men, one would imagine her a person of the utmost importance [...] But this is woman in fiction. In fact, as Professor Trevelyan points out, she was locked up, beaten, and flung about the room. (3.3)

    Yeah, we can't exactly picture Cleopatra doing the household mending. Woolf's starting to get at the difference between women as objects that men are writing about and how they might have felt themselves, as subjects.

    Let us suppose that a father from the highest motives did not wish his daughter to leave home and become a writer, painter or scholar. "See what Mr. Oscar Browning says," he would say; and there was not only Mr. Oscar Browning [...] there was an enormous body of masculine opinion to the effect that nothing could be expected of women intellectually. (3.13)

    This is about the exact opposite of telling your daughter that she can be anything she wants to be. What's worse, Woolf says, is that "body of masculine opinion" is exactly that—opinion. No facts involved.

    Chapter 4
    Mary Beton

    Only Jane Austen did it and Emily Brontë. It is another feather, perhaps the finest, in their caps. They wrote as women write, not as men write. Of all the thousand women who wrote novels then, they alone entirely ignored the perpetual admonitions of the eternal pedagogue—write this, think that. (4.32)

    Pot, meet kettle. Is Woolf being an "eternal pedagogue" too, or does she stop short of telling people what to write and think?

    Chapter 5

    There is no mark on the wall to measure the precise height of women. There are no yard measures, neatly divided into the fractions of an inch, that one can lay against the qualities of a good mother or the devotion of a daughter or the fidelity of a sister, or the capacity of a housekeeper. (5.9)

    You can't measure a housewife—although maybe by now the nice folks who make the SAT have figured out a way to do this. So, here's a thought: should we even want women's lives to be more measurable?

    Mary Beton

    It would be a thousand pities if women wrote like men, or lived like men, or looked like men, for if two sexes are quite inadequate, considering the vastness and variety of the world, how should we manage with one only? (5.11)

    Here's something radical: it sounds like Woolf is inviting us to imagine what sexes other than male and female might be like. A third sex? Or even five?

    All of these infinitely obscure lives remain to be recorded, I said, [...] and went on in thought through the streets of London feeling in imagination the pressure of dumbness, the accumulation of unrecorded life, whether from the women at the street corners with their arms akimbo [...] or from the violet-sellers and match-sellers and old crones stationed under doorways. (5.14)

    Woolf can't seem to stop herself from hinting at all of the "unrecorded li[ves]" of women out there. Woolf does a lot of listing in A Room of One's Own. Does she always do it for the same reason?

    Chapter 6
    Virginia Woolf

    How can I further encourage you to go about the business of life? Young women, I would say [...] you are, in my opinion, disgracefully ignorant. You have never made a discovery of any sort of importance. [...] The plays of Shakespeare are not by you, and you have never introduced a barbarous race to the blessings of civilisation. What is your excuse? (6.20)

    We can always count on Woolf to finish things on an uplifting note. Not. Why do you think she offers this discouraging kind of encouragement (besides as a joke)? Is she being sarcastic, or is there a hint of seriousness here?

    Mary Beton

    If one is a woman one is often surprised by a sudden splitting off of consciousness, say in walking down Whitehall, when from being the natural inheritor of that civilisation, she becomes, on the contrary, alien and critical. (6.3)

    So, being a member of civilization and being a woman is not always the same thing. We get that. It's hard to feel like a member of your own nation and culture when you're considered inferior.

  • Visions of London

    Chapter 2

    London was like a workshop. London was like a machine. We were all being shot backwards and forwards on this plain foundation to make some pattern. The British Museum was another department of the factory. (2.2)

    But is there a shift bell? This gives us an absurd vision of all the visitors to the British Museum wearing overalls and carrying tools. Aside from the LOLs, Woolf's image helps us think about how the small things we do every day contribute to making the whole culture.

    In my little street, however, domesticity prevailed. The house painter was descending his ladder; the nursemaid was wheeling the perambulator [...] (2.16)

    Why is Woolf listing all of the dull things going on her street? We think it's her little slice of "unrecorded life"—all the mundane things that don't usually make it into literature.

    Lamps were being lit and an indescribable change had come over London since the morning hour. It was as if the great machine after labouring all day had made with our help a few yards of something very exciting and beautiful—a fiery fabric flashing with red eyes. (2.15)

    A burning cloth with eyes? Run away! And then come back and check out the metaphor: a dark city lighting up, in which every lamp is a pair of eyes. Pretty cool.

    The leaves were still falling, but in London now, not in Oxbridge; and I must ask you to imagine a room, like many thousands, with a window looking across people's hats and vans and motor-cars to other windows. (2.1)

    This room of one's own has a window onto London. Given that the allegory of the room of one's own is so important, this window seems significant, even crucial. Hey, it's better than looking out into an airshaft.

    Chapter 3

    She made up a small parcel of her belongings, let herself down by a rope one summer's night and took the road to London. (3.7)

    Judith wants to see her name in lights! Or, er, illuminated by a lot of candles. But definitely on some big stage somewhere.

    Chapter 5

    I [...] went on thought through the streets of London feeling in imagination the pressure of dumbness, the accumulation of unrecorded life. (5.14)

    It seems overwhelming to walk through London imagining everything that hasn't been written down. How could anyone record so much? Don't all writers have to make judgment calls about what details to include?

    Chapter 6

    It [the "force" from the previous quotation] brought all three together at a point directly beneath my window; where the taxi stopped; and the girl and the young man stopped; and they got into the taxi; and then the cab glided off. (6.2)

    Is anything interesting actually happening in this scene? If you had Mary's vision and tried to explain it to a friend, what do you think they'd say to you? What does it say about Mary's imagination that she can turn this into a Profound Moment?

    The fascination of the London street is that no two people are ever alike [...] there were the business-like [...] there were the drifters. (6.1)

    Nearly every time Mary sees the London street, she lists all of the different things she sees. It's fun to read these lists, because we're reminded of all of the possible stories out there. The world really opens up when you start thinking that even women and street-sweepers have stories to tell.

    It was tempting, after all this reading, to see what London was doing on the morning of the twenty-sixth of October, 1928. And what was London doing? Nobody, it seemed was reading Antony and Cleopatra. (6.1)

    Nope. Everyone in London was too preoccupied with Titus Andronicus... London is too busy to be thinking about the things that Woolf is interested in. But Woolf doesn't seem to mind. Why not? Because people are just going to be people?

    At this moment, as so often happens in London, there was a complete lull and suspension of traffic [...] A single leaf detached itself from the plane tree [...] Somehow it was like a signal falling, a signal pointing to a force in things which one had overlooked. (6.2)

    It's funny that Mary's vision happens in London, since you'd think that there would be more quiet moments and leaves falling in the countryside. Why doesn't Mary have her vision there? Does she need all the business to make her appreciate the quiet?