A Room of One’s Own—Virginia Woolf
Susan Gubar, in her introduction to Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, states, “The treatise’s stark central claim [is] that every woman needs a room of her own and five hundred pounds a year” (Gubar xxxv). Indeed, Woolf near the beginning of A Room provides us with her thesis: “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction” (Woolf Room 4). And while both of these women present similarly simple statements, the impetus behind them is quite complex, for Woolf’s thesis may cause us to summon an important allusion from among the many, that being an allusion to her essay/lecture, “Professions for Women,” which we read last week.
In “Professions for Women,” Woolf talks about how she, in order to become a writer, had to kill the Angel in the House, that old poetic Victorian creation of the woman as the spine of the home, the sacrificial saint of the hearth, which completes the myth that women have no desires beyond serving the opposite sex, sympathizing with his every need (Woolf “Professions”). Essentially, she could not share a room with this supposed angel; she needed a room of her own.
While the connections between the two works can be made with ease, what initially struck me while reading A Room of One’s Own, was not how these two pieces are tied together; instead, what primarily triggered a reaction from me as the reader involved in the conversation of Woolf’s work was a particular passage:
“On the further bank the willows wept in perpetual lamentation, their hair about their shoulders. The river reflected whatever it chose of sky and bridge and burning tree, and when the undergraduate had oared his boat through the reflections they closed again, completely, as if he had never been” (Woolf Room 5).
Here, in this passage, the willows embodied femininity—the weeping, the long hair. [Mary Magdalene washed Jesus’s feet with her hair; she also wept at His tomb.] There is something quietly feminine in this, something pure, something very Angel in the House. The water acts as a mirror reflecting these traditional elements of femininity (and reflections have the possibility to be infinite, so that it appears that traditional notions of women may never cease). The water reflecting the natural world is undisturbed—all viewed through a woman’s eyes—that is, until the echoes are run through by the young male student. The significance of the male student here does not seem light or arbitrary, for what is destroyed is the picture of femininity. Nothing, not even replications of femininity, can remain unbroken. The male student (and we can see all the beadles in him) plows through the placidity of what he possibly intuits is the lesser/inferior sex. But most importantly, after his wake settles, the reflections once again emerge: in due time, even the best of attempts cannot eradicate the woman from the world.
Gubar, Susan. Introduction. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf. Orlando, FL: Harcourt, Inc. 2005. Print.
Woolf, Virginia. “Professions for Women.”
--. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf. Orlando, FL: Harcourt, Inc. 2005. Print.