A Bringer of New Things

Musings on personal growth, books, motherhood, writing, and more.

Great Insight from A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf


I recently read A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf, and I highly recommend it, especially because it has one of my favorite qualities in a book—it’s short! (My copy is 112 pages.) It’s a nonfiction piece, an extended essay that I’d categorize as persuasive, yet it is written with plenty of creative flair—as well as powerfully sharp insights about writing, gender issues, history, and life in general.

Several of those insights have influenced my thinking already. For example, look at this passage from chapter four:

“One might say…that the woman who wrote those pages [Charlotte Brontë] had more genius in her than Jane Austen; but if one reads them over and marks [notices] that jerk in them, that indignation, one sees that she will never get her genius expressed whole and entire…She will write in a rage where should write calmly. She will write foolishly where she should write wisely. She will write of herself where she should write of her characters. She is at war with her lot.”

How true! A writer with some big resentment toward life will produce inferior art to the one who does not. A chip on the shoulder, a bone to pick, a high horse to speak from—these attitudes spoil art.

This insight was a piece of my path toward seeing the error I confessed to you on Monday. While my blog isn’t a work of fiction, I extended the general principle here to say that bitterness prohibits good, pure writing.

That’s not to say, I think, that a writer can never have opinions or express a message through art, because obviously many great writers do just that. It’s a general state of contentment that is needed in order for one to create writing that is not egocentric.

Yet, as Virginia Woolf so effectively communicates, this attitude isn’t always available, when writers (like women in past centuries) truly do not have an amenable lot in life. I’m grateful for the privileges I enjoy today…and I continue to work and wait for the ones I wish to have (specifically, the goal of eventually earning my living through writing, so I can have more time and energy to create good writing). “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction”—that’s Virginia Woolf’s thesis in this book.


One comment on “Great Insight from A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

  1. Witness
    October 19, 2013

    Virginia’s observation that women could not write well until they had time, privacy, and money of their own can be applied to other disenfranchised people as well. Americans who are not Caucasian, people with disabilities, people persecuted or shunned because their sexuality isn’t orthodox, people without a good education, and people who must spend all their energy earning enough to live on (Virginia touches briefly on those last two) are easy examples from our past and present.

    One part of the tragedy is that we as a society almost never hear from demographics facing immense challenges. People who are busy fighting to survive, even if only in a figurative sense, generally don’t have time and energy to learn to write well, nor to communicate in any way, or even to think, about issues deeper or broader than matters of survival — nor, even, just to show up much in society. How often do you encounter a blind or deaf person in public? Or a cross-dresser? Or a person confined to a wheelchair with cerebral palsy? Invisibility encroaches upon people for whom life’s challenges are overwhelming.

    Meanwhile, humans have a tendency to make uncharitable assumptions about the reasons for other people’s failures to conform, or to perform according to mindlessly imposed standards. Why doesn’t that man spend his time looking for a job, rather than hold a piece of cardboard at a street corner? Why doesn’t that woman make an effort with her appearance? But these aren’t real questions; we aren’t really seeking answers (if we were, we’d actually ask the person in question), because we’ve already made up our minds.

    It’s not a new convention. Seneca did it two thousand years ago. Having made clear his distaste for people who rise in the evening and sleep during the day, he says this: “The reason why some people live in this sort of way is not that they think that night in itself has any special attraction, but that they get no pleasure out of anything that is usual” (Letter CXXII, translated by Robin Campbell). Night owls are willfully perverse, he claims; there is no possibility in his mind that they can have any legitimate reason for keeping hours different from his own. I have the strong impression from all he says on the subject that he never bothered to ask any of those people why they lived in that way.

    Together, conditions precluding expression and the proclivity to assume the worst make for misunderstanding and intolerance. Voiceless people have no chance to defend themselves, to expose the real reasons for their failure to measure up.

    It’s almost enough to turn a person into a liberal.

    Thanks, as ever, my friend, for provoking me to think.


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