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Room of One's Own

A term paper on the book entitled A Room of One’s Own reveals that Virginia Woolf offers the reader a disturbing look at the plight of women, past and present.  She uses a hypothetical character, Judith Shakespeare, to explore our gendered legacy.  Some interesting facts regarding Woolf's work A Room of One's Own are:

  • Published October 24th, 1929
  • Written as an extended essay
  • Delivered at Newnham College and Girton College at Cambridge
  • Written for a conference on Women and Fiction


Having just returned from the British Museum library where she had conducted a futile search for information about women’s activities and products in earlier eras, Woolf ruminates about the dearth of female writers and other “key female players” to be found in the annals.  She is particularly interested in the lives of women in England during the Elizabethan period and finds it “a perennial puzzle” that “no woman wrote a word of that extraordinary literature when every other man, it seemed, was capable of song or sonnet”.  This enigmatic absence of female contributions leads her to seek information on the daily lives of women throughout England’s history.  In the process, she is inspired to create Judith – imagined sister of William Shakespeare.     

Room of One's Own

Woolf and Room of One's Own

Woolf draws the reader into an even more intimate experience with the creation of Judith Shakespeare.  Assuming that this hypothetical girl-child had the same potential as her famous brother, how would she have fared in the cultural milieu of her time?  Again, the picture is not a pretty one.  If she learned to read, it would have been by her own devices – she may have even been compelled to hide the accomplishment.  Any literary or other intellectual efforts would have necessarily been “sandwiched” between her considerable domestic responsibilities from an early age.  Woolf speculates that such great hunger for more than life had in store for the average female might have led Judith to reject the mate her parents had chosen.  But if she ran away to London, as her brother had done, she would not have had access to the same opportunities.  A young woman, alone in the big city, would probably not be allowed in the taverns for an inexpensive meal.  She could not roam the streets safely.  How would she survive?  Woolf predicts that Judith would not have survived, that instead she might have even committed suicide.

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