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Blog: Virginia Woolf's 'A Room of One's Own'

Blog: Virginia Woolf's 'A Room of One's Own'.

Bo van Broekhoven, PhD student in History, reflects on how Virginia Woolf's essay 'A Room of One's Own', our book for January 2022, has influenced her experience of writing.


In A Room of One’s Own (1929), Virginia Woolf considers why historically, women seem not to have contributed as much to literature as men did, both with regards to the quantity and quality of their work. In a humoristic style that is surprisingly accessible still, almost a century later, Woolf expands on this question in a number of different ways. Many of the reflections come down to the obvious fact that, systematically deprived of material means and security, most women have not had the opportunity to sit down and write, that is, to engage in a process notoriously unpredictable with regards to its productivity.

There is much to be said about this, but what intrigued me most was Woolf’s continuation of this logic into the realm of mental ability and flexibility. Specifically, she puts forward the idea that being in a state of financial security directly impacts the quality of imagination and creativity. When the fear of scarcity is never absent from the back of your mind, when your shoulders constantly bear the pressure of having to perform, to produce in order to be guaranteed a livelihood in the future, you could not possibly have access to the same mental freedom as those who do not carry these burdens. What is more, when one adds to this the intellectual inferiority that women have been socialized to internalize, it becomes less of a question of why women did not achieve the same things men did, and more a question of how they ever managed to create great works at all. Women did not enjoy the luxury of an unlimited imagination, and much of their energy in literature was taken up by the attempt to disprove their unworthiness to contribute to it. The factors that Woolf mentioned seem to me to be important factors in all discriminatory dynamics.

A Room of One’s Own resonated strongly with me, invoking anger and sadness, but also a glimmer of power and determination. Woolf supplied me with a vocabulary with which to discuss the barriers that I encounter when writing, but struggle to articulate: most instances of being stuck in my writing process ultimately originate in fears surrounding material insecurity or fears of not being taken seriously, not being deemed intellectually capable. The simple realization that these fears are valid and are bound to impact my writing, has enabled me to hold space for them. Rather than beating myself up when my creativity becomes stifled, I now investigate the underlying sense of constraint in what I am allowed to express and the pressure to churn out a defined and somehow lucrative piece of work when I am not yet ready to do so. In this way, Woolf’s essay not only provided an engaging read, but also helped to apply a realistic yet compassionate lens to the writing process, thereby opening the door to a sense of greater intellectual freedom and creativity.