2017年7月28日 星期五

Review: "A Room of One's Own" by Virginia Woolf

  A Room of One's Own is an extended essay based on a series of lectures on woman and fiction in 1928. Woolf wonders what it means to talk about women and fiction, and explores what circumstances that affects writings by women, and what conditions that allow or not allow women to become a writer. She argues that 'a woman must have money and a room of her own in order to write fiction.' Yet throughout history, they generally did not have these two things.

  In the essay, the narrator, Mary Seton lives in 1860 and is also interested in questions about women and fiction. She wanders around Oxbridge and found herself unwelcome there because she is a woman. She wishes to learn poetry but she cannot enter the library without a letter of introduction. She wonders why women are so poor despite their hard work, why her mother has to spend her life raising thirteen children but not writing or earning her own fortune. In order to find out the answers, she goes to the British Museum to read writings about women. Most writings about women were written by men, who attempted to prove the inferiority of women. Most of these writings are filled with anger, and she thinks that it is because they suspect women would seize their superiority, just like the rich suspects the poor. Women are inferior in the patriarchal society, which denies them the opportunities and freedom they deserve. Mary believes poverty makes one lives in bitterness and fear and lose their freedom and confidence to write.

   Even if some women can write despite these unfavorable circumstances, they cannot help but express their personal grievances, which are their lack of opportunities to explore the world and to express themselves freely. If they are known as female writers, they writings will not be considered important. Men and women are viewed as opposing fractions because of their different status in the patriarchal society. Some focus too much on presenting their manliness or developing their womanhood but ignore the fact that one has both masculine and feminine features. If a writer is too conscious of one's own gender, their creativity might be hindered. When women are given more freedom to earn money or to write what they want in the 1920s, Woolf hopes that they would transform the women's lives in the past. The women who aspired to become a writer but failed because of the unfavorable conditions of the past would succeed in the present.

  This essay is very persuasive because it does not attempt to express any bitterness and grievances as a person of an oppressed sex. It is filled with wonders and a pure impulse to find out the truth by reading and careful thinking. Questions after questions are asked, and there are climaxes when some are resolves and some underlying meanings of the narrator's readings are discovered. Lots of parallelisms are used to emphasize her point. It is quite powerful when a chain of similar sentences and clauses is telling you how fatal something is and emphasizing that she is not exaggerating: "it is fatal to be a man or a woman pure and simple; one must be woman-manly and man-womanly. It is fatal for a woman to lay the least stress on any grievance; to plead even with justice any cause; in any way to speak consciously as a woman. And fatal is no figure of speech; for anything written with that conscious bias is doomed to death."

  Although it was written in the 1920s, A Room of One's Own still brings us some inspirations nowadays. Woolf emphasizes the importance for a writer to express his/her experience in 'perfect fullness' instead of censoring his/her writings according to gender code. Feminism is not just about fighting for women's rights and privileges but for justice and equality, to make men and women cease to be opposing fractions but to work together towards goals that improve human lives, such as to prevent war, to end poverty. Yet in the 21st century, we still need to repeat again and again that feminism is not about man-hating, which is something said nearly 90 years old.

  Moreover, the argument that we need sufficient material condition for artistic creation to thrive is quite relatable to the present. To claim to be a writer or an artist in Hong Kong often is to imply that you are poor. Many of them cannot get the pay they deserve or the space for creation. Nowadays, regardless of gender, to have a room of one's own and the money to idle and wonder seem to be more and more difficult. 

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