A Room of One’s Own

I hate book clubs. My latest attempt was an aborted one at the Mechanic’s Institute, I felt sure that I could handle it because it was the launch of the Virginia Woolf book group, dedicated to reading her work over the next few months. Instead, it’s the cast of (older) characters you would expect—the old white man who knows everything and whom I had to correct occasionally after he loudly declared some false statement about VW, the old white woman who loves to hear herself speak and who doesn’t listen when others are speaking. There was a core group of four people who are all in another book group at the library dedicated to world literature, their voices amped up and overpowering those of us who weren’t accustomed to the over-talking and pontificating.

But all this is beside the point. For the above-mentioned book club, I re-read A Room of One’s Own, and I am delighted to have done so. My first write-up a few years ago covers a lot, but I did uncover one area in this read that I had overlooked before:

Woolf suggests several areas of scholarship that need to be completed, perhaps by some brilliant scholars at Newnham and Girton, including a rewrite of history to include all the information about women that has been suppressed, the life of the average Elizabethan woman (at what age did she marry, how many children did she have on average, what was her house like, did she have a room to herself, did she do the cooking, did she have a servant); a book on the discouragement of the mind of the artist; a history of men’s opposition to women’s emancipation (“more interesting perhaps than the story of that emancipation itself. An amusing book might be made of it if some young student at Girton or Newnham would collect examples and deduce a theory, but she would need thick gloves on her hands, and bars to protect her of solid gold.”); and the effect of men’s value of women’s chastity on their education (“That profoundly interesting subject, the value that men set upon women’s chastity and its effect upon their education, here suggests itself for discussion, and might produce an interesting book if any student at Girton or Newnham cared to go into the matter”).

Also the question of anger. In the book club, one man mentioned that he didn’t feel like it was an angry book at all. I referred to her restrained and reined in feelings that were necessary to get her message across, but there are definitely flashes of pure rage, especially in the section about Professor von X whose book was entitled The Mental, Moral, And Physical Inferiority of the Female Sex. As she reads the newspaper headlines on her lunch break, she says:

the most transient visitor to this planet, I though, who picked up this paper could not fail to be aware, even from this scattered testimony that England is under the rule of a patriarchy. Nobody in their senses could fail to detect the dominance of the professor…With the exception of the fog he seemed to control everything. Yet he was angry… it seemed absurd that a man with all this power should be angry. Or is anger somehow the familiar, the attendant sprite on power? Rich people, for example, are often angry because they suspect that the poor want to seize their wealth. The professors, or patriarchs, might be angry for that reason partly, but partly for one that lies a little less obviously on the surface. Possibly they were not “angry” at all… Possibly when the professor insisted a little too emphatically upon the inferiority of women, he was concerned not with their inferiority, but with his own superiority. That was what he was protecting rather hotheadedly and with too much emphasis, because it was a jewel to him of the rarest price.