Study Guide

A Room of One's Own Power

By Virginia Woolf


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.