Words fail me as I seek to express what I think of Virginia Woolf. Or to sum up in a few measly paragraphs, a book that may just have shattered into a million pieces all my illusions about the art of writing and reshaped my whole perspective.
Have you ever imagined a disembodied voice whispering into your ears, the wisdom of the ages as you flipped through the pages of a book? how often have you conjured up the vision of the writer talking to you, teaching you, humoring you and coaxing you to open your mind to newer things as you read a book?
Have you felt a book stop being just a book somewhere and instead appear as a beacon of enlightenment that shines down the light of knowledge upon your darkened, ignorant soul?
This is how profoundly A Room of One's Own
I will adopt this book as my writing Bible. I will read this every time I feel dejected, sad or terribly lost. And I will read this again and again, until I can ascertain that the message, the very spirit of this fine piece of writing has been assimilated into the core of my being.
Okay now that I've gotten the stream of incoherent gushing out of the way, let me try and bestow on this review some semblance of real meaning.
It will be irreverent of me to call A Room of One's Own
a mere essay or something that grew out of a lecture given at Girton College, Cambridge.
This is the essence of Virginia Woolf herself, captured at the peak of her glory, all within 111 pages. This is Woolf reaching out from within the confines of this book and handing out to you the precious fruits of years of her hard work - her thoughts, her research, her observations, her inferences, her views.
So what if it is about the subject of women? and writing?
Aren't women one half of the human race? The so-called better half at that. What is so wrong about getting to know about the history of their evolution as thinkers, as composers, as sentient beings with the power of expression but without the power to assert themselves?
So you better read it. Yes you, the silently scoffing and judging member of the 'stronger' sex. Yes you too. Because it does not only talk about women writers but life itself and the art of writing.
The blurb and the countless reviews famously identify this book as one of the greatest feminist polemics of the last century. I beg to differ. It will be unfair to tag it with the label of a polemic - a word with a highly negative connotation. Because Virginia Woolf's aim, instead, was to dispel all forms of negativity from the vocation of writing. Sure, she gives us the feminist side of things - but her voice is not full of seething rage or resentment but balanced, logical, sardonic and even humorous at times.
This is Woolf's homage to the spirit of those unsung heroines of the distant past who may have written poems, songs and ballads but were forced to adopt anonymity simply because it was unacceptable for a woman to write. Those imaginative souls who may have wanted desperately to write but could not because society thrust gender specific roles of the mother and wife on them and did not even bother educating them.
What if Shakespeare had an equally talented sister but who could never be another Shakespeare herself because she would have been mocked at had she expressed a desire to write plays or poetry?
Woolf asks us to spare a moment and reflect on the sad fate of these martyrs, history has not bothered to record.
"When, however, one reads of a witch being ducked, of a woman possessed by devils, of a wise woman selling herbs, or even of a very remarkable man who had a mother, then I think we are on the track of a lost novelist, a suppressed poet, of some mute and inglorious Jane Austen, some Emily Brontë who dashed her brains out on the moor or mopped and mowed about the highways crazed with the torture that her gift had put her to. Indeed, I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without singing them, was often a woman."
She makes it clear to us that Jane Austen was a clever, clever writer because she never tried to adopt the style of a man's writing or his sentence construction. She created her own.
And with a rather limited range of experiences in the real world at her command, she could neither have written about bloody wars nor about politics - spheres women still hadn't earned the right to enter. Instead she wrote what she saw and witnessed in the sitting chambers of the houses of the gentry.
(This rekindles my interest in Jane Austen which had started to wane over the past few years.)
She also repeatedly stresses on how a woman needs a room of her own and money to be able to write. A room of her own because she needs a breathing space where she could revel in the knowledge of her identity as a person, as a woman, as a thinker over her identity as a dutiful daughter or wife or mother.
Although I disagree with her assertion of having money as a necessary criterion for aiming to become a writer, I think financial independence could have been a metaphor for empowerment of women or a reference to freedom from having to rely on someone else, especially a man, and to be able to decide the course of your own life.
Woolf ends her essay by exhorting both men and women to take up their pens and write, laying emphasis on the necessity of stepping outside the limits of narrow gender identities and be the writer with an androgynous mind instead - the one capable of uniting the spirit of both the man and woman and letting it reflect in one's craft.
And it is at this point, I felt truly thankful for her 500 pounds a year and a room of her own.
Since that may have, after all, allowed this marvelous, deeply enlightening piece of writing to come into existence in the first place.