This thesis had such a profound impact upon me the first time I laid eyes on it. What can I possibly say about this remarkable piece of work without merely copying and pasting all of the paragraphs that I love and just marvelling at their brilliance?
Every woman should read this thesis, even if this is your first foray into feminist literary criticism… actually, especially if this is your first foray into feminist literary criticism. I first read A Room of One’s Own during a feminist literature class during my undergraduate degree, which turned out to be the perfect timing in my life. From that moment onwards, I developed a very protective attitude towards my education and discovered a newfound appreciation for the social and economic rights that I had always taken for granted as a modern day woman. I realised that I had every opportunity to write and say whatever I wanted – and for a couple of months I absolutely annoyed the hell out of everybody within a 50km radius with my frequent and fervent feminist rants. It was like I had seen a light and I was hungry for more. A Room of One’s Own is the perfect starting point for the novice feminist looking for an introduction to feminist literature. The narrator guides you by the hand through a history of the impoverished female creative, introducing a context and lens to view other texts.
In October 1928, Virginia Woolf was invited to speak about Women and Fiction at Cambridge University to the female colleges of Newnham and Girton. Woolf then expanded upon these lectures and published them in 1929.
The narrator ponders the contrasting educational experiences available to men and women at the fictional Oxbridge College – questioning the current status quo and the consequential impact this has on the creative opportunities available to women and their material ability to produce fiction. Beginning her observations at Oxbridge, then taking those same thoughts to the reading room in the British Library, the narrator explores whether the imagined sister of Shakespeare would be able to nurture her creative skills in the same way that her brother William could, taking into consideration the context of the social opportunities available to her in Elizabethan London. Let’s just say that Woolf surmised that things would not end well for Judith Shakespeare due to her inferior (or non-existent) education and a lack of wage unless she wished to marry, which would consequentially result in pregnancy and child-rearing, thus quashing her ability to develop her genius further.
The simple truth was, women needed to be able to support themselves if they were going to have the freedom to write, and they required an education equal to that of their male counterparts. Without money and access to good quality education, women were destined to remain eternally in second place.
I could go on to explain this thesis in depth, but I don’t want to merely summarise this magnificent work – the best I can do is point you in the right direction towards a bookshop to buy this literary gem yourself. You can pick up the Penguin Classics version for under $10, do it for Judith Shakespeare.