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Room of One's Own, A

Three Guineas

women history writing essay

a feminist essay about women's education, exclusion, and writing, by V. Woolf, published in 1929 and based on two lectures on ‘Women and Fiction’ given in October 1928 to Newnham and Girton Colleges, Cambridge. Woolf describes the educational, social, and financial disadvantages and prejudices against which women have struggled throughout history. The history of women's writing is a slowly accumulating inheritance emerging from poverty, discouragement, and exclusion. But, once ‘a room of one's own and £500 a year’ (a shorthand for education, independence, a career, and an income) have been acquired, women should not discard the obscure history of their literary ‘mothers’. Their ‘alien and critical stance’ should be preserved. What civilization needs is the writing of ‘outsiders’, which can be indifferent to sexual grievance, free from personal bias, and interested instead in the relation of individual to ‘the world of reality’. She pays tribute to women writers of the past (including Aphra Behn, Jane Austen, and the Brontës). She projects a future in which increasing equality would enable women to write about friendships with each other and to be poets as well as novelists. In the last chapter she discusses the concept of ‘androgyny’. This famous utopian ideal, borrowed from Coleridge, does not apply to a mind which has discarded its femaleness or dissolved it into a kind of sexual melting-pot, but a mind which retains its difference while discarding anger or egotism. The tone of the essay is diplomatically urbane and witty, with its own anger concealed under amusing anecdotes. The argument of a society of ‘outsiders’ was resumed more aggressively in Three Guineas (1938). See also feminist criticism.

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