A Room of One's Own Summary

Virginia Woolf has dedicated lots of her work to the feminism and female empowerment, but “A Room of One’s Own” is the most prominent of such writings. Using the fictional characters and conversations to present her idea, like in classical Greek texts, Virginia Woolf urges the readers to think about gender inequality, economic and social reasons for it, and, what is more important, the reasons why the very fact of this inequality was never described normally. The whole essay is a metaphorical advice for female writers to have a decent income and the room of their own if they really want to write. Though at first their work wouldn’t be able to compete with male ones (due to their lack of experience), the author still encourages women to try and at least give a good role model to their daughters, who will probably go further on their way to perfection. To illustrate why it’s so important, Woolf presents to the readers several days from life of a fictional character, a female writer named Mary Belton (or Mary Seton or Mary Carmichael - the author says it doesn’t really matter). We don’t know how much of the Belton’s misfortunes are the author’s own memories and how much they are made up to serve as an illustration, but the overall picture looks quite plausible for that time.

The essay starts from Mary Belton sitting on the grass on the territory of Oxbridge (a fictional male-only university, the mix of Oxford and Cambridge that still had female-exclusive policy that time). She is thinking about different possibilities that men and women have when it comes to education and, as a result, a drastic gap in their financial status. Soon she gets the practical proof at her thoughts with every step she takes. At first she is reminded that she is not allowed to sit on the grass, because it is only for “Fellows and Scholars” and a woman can’t be neither fellow nor scholar. Mary goes away and tries to get to the university library to read some materials about the women in history and their cases of dealing with such problems, but again she is not allowed to enter in without being accompanied by a man. Then she wants to go to the church in Oxbridge but again meets the sexual discrimination and goes away without entering the building. The only good thing for her so far is the possibility to have a good lunch in rich Oxbridge and finally have some conversation when the men aren’t hungry anymore and are less strict to her.

Later Mary Belton returns to the all-female college of Fernham where she belongs to have dinner there also, but the food is mediocre, to say politely. During the dinner she meets her friend, Mary Seton, and they discuss that male colleges and universities are funded by the rich men and offer plenty of possibilities to the people enrolling them, while it’s still so hard to fundraise female colleges, they can’t even allow a decent dinner for the students, not to say provide them with the best teachers and study materials.

The next day she goes to the British Library (finally she finds a library where she can go freely) and searches for the history of female writers and women in general, in all other parts of life. She also wants to learn why female colleges are so difficult to open and fund and if there any economical reason for such a difference between sexes. Mary indeed finds a lot of books, but when she starts to read them she finds out that all of them are written by men and quite angry man. Almost every book is misogynistic and none of them provides her with logical explanation, using general constructs that seem to be unprovable but are portrayed as axioms.

Upset, Mary returns home and starts to look through her own bookshelf. She is sure that she chose her books with a good reason and there should be something related to women and the inequality she constantly faces. But no books still write about women anything more than a few sentences. Running out of options Mary tries to use her imagination to think about the female fiction writers in history, who can be compared with the most prominent male ones. She thinks about the sister of William Shakespeare, Judith Shakespeare, who has the talent equal to her brother’s. But when Mary applies the knowledge of history to the image she made, the faith of Judith becomes extremely bleak. Even being a genius doesn’t save her from getting married too early and possibly forcefully. Judith wouldn’t be allowed to write and, of course, present her plays. Mary comes to the conclusion that Shakespeare’s sister would end her life as a permanently pregnant and extremely depressed woman who would possibly commit suicide without writing a single word in her life.

To distract herself Mary Belton takes from her shelf a book of Mary Carmichael, another female fiction writer who was lucky enough to be published. It is a novel called Life’s Adventure. It is really interesting to read, because the author touches the areas of life never described (or at least not properly described) before by men: for example she shows the readers the faithful and strong female friendship. But Mary Belton finds that the book, despite the undeniable talent of the writer, is still flawed. She concludes that women, both personally and historically, need more time to start writing masterpieces.

Mary spends the third day looking through the window and thinking about the ways to fix the inequality she encountered. Suddenly she notices a couple who get together into the same car. This suddenly gives her the idea that every person has some male and some female traits, some are dominant, some are recessive but still both are present, like the two passengers in the car. So she decides that writing should be gender-neutral and the writer should combine the best of both his sides to create a really remarkable work.

From now on Virginia Woolf again speaks for herself, abandoning Mary Belton’s identity. She concludes that to write a woman needs a steady income of at least five hundred pounds a year and a room of her own where she can think in silence and work uninterrupted. She also asks the female readers to break through the enchanted circle of learned dependency end, even if they feel they are not capable to do that themselves, empower their daughters, so, maybe sometimes, they, or their daughters, will become truly genius writers.