Study Guide

A Room of One's Own Visions of London

By Virginia Woolf

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?