Study Guide

Virginia Woolf in A Room of One's Own

By Virginia Woolf

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Virginia Woolf

Wait, isn't she the author? Yep. But at the beginning and end of the essay, she speaks in her own voice, as herself. That makes her a character, too. So... onto her character analysis.

If you've check out the Shmoop Woolf learning guide, you know that there are some pretty big similarities between Woolf, Mary Beton, and even Judith Shakespeare. Like Mary, Woolf had an inheritance of 500 pounds a year. And like Mary she had to work some awful odd jobs before then to make ends meet. And like Judith Shakespeare, Woolf committed suicide.

So how much of this story is truth, and how much is fiction?

Believe It Or Not 

When she wrote A Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf was a well-known author and a committed feminist. She also had a tidy little inheritance of—wait for it—500 pounds per year (from her aunt, of course). Together, she and her husband, Leonard, ran The Hogarth Press, which published her own writing as well as works from writers they admired. (You might agree with these folks that the press was Woolf's "room of her own," since she didn't need anyone's approval of what she wrote.)

Woolf wrote her essay after delivering two talks at the women's colleges Newnham and Girton. Her goal? To show people that sexism wasn't over. Sure, women could vote and own property by 1928, but that didn't mean they had the same opportunities as men.

This was personal for Woolf. Sure, she was a successful writer, but she had to study at home, while her brothers got a fancy education at Cambridge. (Talk about a missed opportunity.) She remembered this injustice her whole life.

We're All In This Together 

Still, Woolf wasn't just throwing herself a pity part. In order to show that this is a situation for all women, and not just her, Woolf created a fictional narrator. (More about this in a few paragraphs).

Thanks to that fictional narrator, the Virginia Woolf in A Room of One's Own doesn't have to do all that much. She tells us that she thinks women need money and a room of their own in order to write fiction, and then by the third page she's ceded the floor to Mary Beton, her fictional narrator. At the end of the book she speaks in her own voice again long enough to address a few possible criticisms of the book and encourage the young women in the audience to get writing.

So why didn't Woolf just write in her own voice? Why go through the rigamarole of creating a separate fictional character who happens to be a lot like her?

In a letter to her friend Ethel Smyth a few years after writing A Room of One's Own, Woolf explains that if she just wrote about her own experience, people would have said, "'she has an axe to grind,' and no one would have taken me seriously" (source).

In other words, she has to make things up—i.e., write fiction—in order to speak the truth. How's that for irony?

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