Study Guide

A Room of One's Own Freedom and Confinement

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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.

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