In what ways does Woolf, on the one hand, recognize and criticize class structures while, on the other hand, ignoring their impact in A Room of One’s Own?
Woolf tackles different issues of class structure in A Room of One’s Own. Woolf discusses topics such as the value of capital. Money, she believes, is a significant factor, especially for women. The fact that women are not as well-off financially as men contribute to their lack of a separate bed. Women’s imagination has been routinely stifled over the years due to their lack of influence. This has hampered their chances of making it big in all levels of art such as poetry among others. This is because materials things are relevant to intellectual freedom. Wolf bases her argument on the fact that “women must have money and other resources in order to engage in the work of art such as writing fiction” (Woolf 6). She describes various class structures created by the society especially the class differences in the educational experiences of women and men. Primarily, the book is more of an exhortation for women to take up the tradition and involve other women as well as their own daughters in various developmental projects, especially through literature and art.
In the first chapter, Woolf loathes the fact that even at the recognized institutions of higher learning, women are not allowed the same privileges as men. She uses metaphor to represent her points (Boshier 40). In the first chapter, while sitting on the banks of a river known as Oxbridge (a combination of Oxford and Cambridge), her narrator is approached by a guard who informs her that women are not allowed to walk on the glass. In this case, Woolf uses metaphorical Oxbridge to represent a university or a major institution of learning. When she is approached by the guard, she suggests that she has been “fishing” which is a metaphor to suggest that she has been trying to grasp some ideas. However, the guard directs her to the gravel path which is regarded as the proper place for women. In the process, she loses her “fish” which is basically a collection of ideas which she had managed to gather.
Instantly, a man’s figure rose to intercept me…His face expressed horror and indignation. Instinct rather than reason came to my help; he was a Beadle; I was a woman (Woolf 6). This was the turf; there was the path. Only the Fellows and Scholars are allowed here; the gravel is the place for me (Woolf 6).
Woolf’s argument purports that despite the passion and the talent exhibited by women, the existing class structures in place have discriminated women in the education system. Women are denied the opportunity and resources to make their intellectual ideas a reality. In another thought, Woolf describes the primary reason why women are poor. She gives an example of Mrs. Seton and her mother. If only her mother had been taught about the great art of making money, she would have left behind enough money to raise and educate her daughters.
Various scholars support Woolf’s argument. According to Ryscavage, there is still a major gap in income inequality in the modern American society (Ryscavage 45). The political empowerment of women takes various forms including political empowerment. Globally, women hold an average of 24% ministerial positions as well as a 27% of the total number of parliamentary seats (Zahidi 1). The United States is falling behind on the gender equality issues especially politically. It has only 1 in 5 members of Congress. Despite Woolf’s argument being backed by a lot of evidence in the modern social and political circles, her representation of the facts to support her argument is flawed. She represents remarks on famous women writers with a hope of exploring the various issues with in-depth. However, she does not note the positive side of successful women fiction writers in the society.
In another scene, Woolf recognizes the burden which women writers have endured because they are denied an opportunity to write even about themselves. After her visit to Oxbridge, Woolf is introduced to another class structure in terms of writers. In this context, Woolf realizes in her card dialogue that the number of men who have written about women exceeds the number of women who write about themselves (Woolf 33).
…here I consulted the letter M-one confined to male sex. Women do not write books about men… (Woolf 33)
In her quest to find out why women are poor compared to the men, Woolf comes across various arguments made by the male authors including small brain size, mental, moral and physical inferiority or weaker muscles among others. She even makes a sketch of one of the male authors through her imagination. She draws him as an angry looking character (Woolf 38). Therefore, according to her, the male authors who write negatively about women tend to be emotionally driven. Wolf wonders why any man would be angry while writing about women given that men hold all the power over women.
Here had I come with a notebook and pencil proposing to spend a morning reading, supposing that at the end of the morning I should have transferred the truth to my notebook…How shall I find the grains of truth embedded in all this mass of paper, I asked myself and in despair began running my eye up and down the long list of titles (Woolf 33).
Despite identifying and criticizing the existing class structure, Woolf overlooks some other existing class inequalities between men and women despite having identified them. In some instance, she seems to support it. In chapter two, Woolf suggests that men who depict women negatively in their work are not concerned with the truth. Rather, their primary aim is to keep women as inferior and remain superior. The illustration which she gives and seemingly overlooks the class structure between men and women is that women have always been a magnifying glass for men. This, according to Woolf is an important aspect of civilization because it makes men to appear bigger than they really are. She further states that this is an important duty for women failure to which, the civilized world would cease to exist. This serves as a motivation for the men to keep the women in a subservient position. Overlooking this class structure severly counters Woolf’s thesis.
In another argument, Woolf addresses the class structural differences among men who are educated and those who are not. She loathes the fact that men who had written these books about women neither had the right education or social class. She noted that the authors were neither biologists nor doctors but anyone and everyone. She terms them as “men who have no apparent qualification save that they are not even women (Woolf 37).” Her argument denotes an existing social gap between the elite and the lower class of people. The fact that she is addressing the issue of men authors in this context, it means that not only women but both genders are misrepresented economically. This counters her argument that women are the solely disadvantaged group in the society.
Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own provides a historical and sociological analysis of why there are few female writers. However, as much as she primarily based her argument on the socioeconomic conditions which they are exposed to, she also describes the differences which male and female writers use when approaching issues. First, male writing tends to be aggressive while the female writing is more or less angry and insecure in relation to their inferiority status in the society. This means that both genders are obscured in their approach to writing. Basically, the difference in writing by men and women has been brought about by the class structure in the modern society (Morahan 189). This implies that if the existing class structure offered the same economic opportunities to both men and women, writing would most likely be the same in both genders. Woolf’s argument is supported by Barrette who suggests that writing among women is different from men because it tends to use feminine keywords such as what, around, are, it, among others (Barrette 1).
Another class structure which Woolf addresses is the place of women in the social structure. According to her, women are considered to be second-class citizens whose opinion should only echo that of their male counterparts. To demonstrate the gender gap, Woolf creates Judith Shakespeare who is an imaginary character sister to William Shakespeare. Both are gifted writers, but they are accorded different opportunities. While William is encouraged to write, Judith is discriminated against by the society at large despite being encouraged by her family members. At a very young age, Judith is engaged, and her father beats her up after protesting against the marriage arrangement.
Woolf also describes other factors of the class structure such as poverty extensively. She outlines the class and poverty which have kept women from writing. Until the 18th century, social class and poverty were major factors which barred women from writing. The cycle of poverty has primarily been facilitated by their male counterparts. Women have always been poor since they are rarely allowed both the means and opportunities for self-support. The place of women has always been considered to be the kitchen, tending to their fathers and husbands.
For that visit to Oxbridge and the luncheon and the dinner had started a swarm of questions. Why did men drink wine and women water? Why was one sex so prosperous and the other poor? What effect has poverty on fiction? What conditions are necessary for the creation of works of art? (Woolf 31)
In a similar argument, Woolf also talks about the elite working-class women who are pre-occupied with making a living hence having no idle time to create. Woolf recognizes the importance of money and space which are both critical to breaking the class barriers preventing them from writing. She gives an example of herself whereby the five hundred pounds annual income she received from her aunt freed her from constant worries about survival and focused on writing (Black 113).
Barrette, Elizabeth. Do Women and Men Really Write Differently? May 2004. 28 May 2017
Black, Naomi. Virginia Woolf as Feminist. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2004.
Boshier, Rosa. How to Analyze the Works of Virginia Woolf. ABDO, 2012.
Morahan, Shirley. A Woman’s Place: Rhetoric and Readings for Composing Yourself and Your Prose. SUNY Press, 1981.
Ryscavage, Paul. Income Inequality in America: An Analysis of Trends. Routledge, 2015.
Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One’s Own. Broadview Press, 2001.
Zahidi, Saadia. America is falling behind other countries in gender equality. The next president must fix that. 27 October 2016. 28 May 2017.