Study Guide

A Room of One's Own Contrasting Regions: Oxbridge and Fernham

By Virginia Woolf

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.

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