A Room of One's Own-Virginia Woolf

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...Be that as it may, I could not help thinking, as I looked at the works
of Shakespeare on the shelf, that the bishop was right at least in this;
it would have been impossible, completely and entirely, for any woman to
have written the plays of Shakespeare in the age of Shakespeare. Let me
imagine, since facts are so hard to come by, what would have happened
had Shakespeare had a wonderfully gifted sister, called Judith, let us
say. Shakespeare himself went, very probably,--his mother was an
heiress--to the grammar school, where he may have learnt Latin--Ovid,
Virgil and Horace--and the elements of grammar and logic. He was, it is
well known, a wild boy who poached rabbits, perhaps shot a deer, and
had, rather sooner than he should have done, to marry a woman in the
neighbourhood, who bore him a child rather quicker than was right. That
escapade sent him to seek his fortune in London. He had, it seemed, a
taste for the theatre; he began by holding horses at the stage door.
Very soon he got work in the theatre, became a successful actor, and
lived at the hub of the universe, meeting everybody, knowing everybody,
practising his art on the boards, exercising his wits in the streets,
and even getting access to the palace of the queen. Meanwhile his
extraordinarily gifted sister, let us suppose, remained at home. She was
as adventurous, as imaginative, as agog to see the world as he was. But
she was not sent to school. She had no chance of learning grammar and
logic, let alone of reading Horace and Virgil. She picked up a book now
and then, one of her brother's perhaps, and read a few pages. But then
her parents came in and told her to mend the stockings or mind the stew
and not moon about with books and papers. They would have spoken sharply
but kindly, for they were substantial people who knew the conditions of
life for a woman and loved their daughter--indeed, more likely than not
she was the apple of her father's eye. Perhaps she scribbled some pages
up in an apple loft on the sly but was careful to hide them or set fire
to them. Soon, however, before she was out of her teens, she was to be
betrothed to the son of a neighbouring wool-stapler. She cried out that
marriage was hateful to her, and for that she was severely beaten by her
father. Then he ceased to scold her. He begged her instead not to hurt
him, not to shame him in this matter of her marriage. He would give her a
chain of beads or a fine petticoat, he said; and there were tears in his
eyes. How could she disobey him? How could she break his heart? The force
of her own gift alone drove her to it. She made up a small parcel of her
belongings, let herself down by a rope one summer's night and took the
road to London. She was not seventeen. The birds that sang in the hedge
were not more musical than she was. She had the quickest fancy, a gift
like her brother's, for the tune of words. Like him, she had a taste for
the theatre. She stood at the stage door; she wanted to act, she said.
Men laughed in her face. The manager--a fat, looselipped man--guffawed.
He bellowed something about poodles dancing and women acting--no woman,
he said, could possibly be an actress. He hinted--you can imagine what.
She could get no training in her craft. Could she even seek her dinner
in a tavern or roam the streets at midnight? Yet her genius was for
fiction and lusted to feed abundantly upon the lives of men and women
and the study of their ways. At last--for she was very young, oddly like
Shakespeare the poet in her face, with the same grey eyes and rounded
brows--at last Nick Greene the actor-manager took pity on her; she found
herself with child by that gentleman and so--who shall measure the heat
and violence of the poet's heart when caught and tangled in a woman's
body?--killed herself one winter's night and lies buried at some
cross-roads where the omnibuses now stop outside the Elephant and

That, more or less, is how the story would run, I think, if a woman in
Shakespeare's day had had Shakespeare's genius. But for my part, I agree
with the deceased bishop, if such he was--it is unthinkable that any
woman in Shakespeare's day should have had Shakespeare's genius. For
genius like Shakespeare's is not born among labouring, uneducated,
servile people. It was not born in England among the Saxons and the
Britons. It is not born to-day among the working classes. How, then,
could it have been born among women whose work began, according to
Professor Trevelyan, almost before they were out of the nursery, who
were forced to it by their parents and held to it by all the power of
law and custom? Yet genius of a sort must have existed among women as it
must have existed among the working classes. Now and again an Emily
Brontë or a Robert Burns blazes out and proves its presence. But
certainly it never got itself on to paper. When, however, one reads of
a witch being ducked, of a woman possessed by devils, of a wise woman
selling herbs, or even of a very remarkable man who had a mother, then I
think we are on the track of a lost novelist, a suppressed poet, of some
mute and inglorious Jane Austen, some Emily Brontë who dashed her brains
out on the moor or mopped and mowed about the highways crazed with the
torture that her gift had put her to. Indeed, I would venture to guess
that Anon, who wrote so many poems without singing them, was often a
woman. It was a woman Edward Fitzgerald, I think, suggested who made the
ballads and the folk-songs, crooning them to her children, beguiling her
spinning with them, or the length of the winter's night.

I told you in the course of this paper that Shakespeare had a sister;
but do not look for her in Sir Sidney Lee's life of the poet. She died
young--alas, she never wrote a word. She lies buried where the omnibuses
now stop, opposite the Elephant and Castle. Now my belief is that this
poet who never wrote a word and was buried at the cross-roads still
lives. She lives in you and in me, and in many other women who are not
here to-night, for they are washing up the dishes and putting the
children to bed. But she lives; for great poets do not die; they are
continuing presences; they need only the opportunity to walk among us in
the flesh. This opportunity, as I think, it is now coming within your
power to give her. For my belief is that if we live another century or
so--I am talking of the common life which is the real life and not of
the little separate lives which we live as individuals--and have five
hundred a year each of us and rooms of our own; if we have the habit of
freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think; if we escape a
little from the common sitting-room and see human beings not always in
their relation to each other but in relation to reality; and the sky,
too, and the trees or whatever it may be in themselves; if we look past
Milton's bogey, for no human being should shut out the view; if we face
the fact, for it is a fact, that there is no arm to cling to, but that
we go alone and that our relation is to the world of reality and not
only to the world of men and women, then the opportunity will come and
the dead poet who was Shakespeare's sister will put on the body which
she has so often laid down. Drawing her life from the lives of the
unknown who were her forerunners, as her brother did before her, she
will be born. As for her coming without that preparation, without that
effort on our part, without that determination that when she is born
again she shall find it possible to live and write her poetry, that we
cannot expect, for that would he impossible. But I maintain that she
would come if we worked for her, and that so to work, even in poverty
and obscurity, is worth while.


  1. Seriously? Who DISAGREES with this? Seriously, put a name to it, don't be a coward.

  2. DD,

    I wager they didnt bother even reading what little I quoted. Cuz you know, Virginia Woolf trying to inspire young woman to future greatness is obviously TRANSPHOBIC!


  3. I had the same reaction -- WTF???? Do some people just check disagree for the hell of it?

    Also WTF is up with the disagrees on the email from one of your readers. The woman's glad that she, personally, did not transition, and someone disagrees with that? SRSLY? Bonkers.

  4. You might want to check out "Women of Ideas", by Dale Spender. There were women in Shakespeare's time who wrote plays and were quite successful. They were only quickly forgotten when they past away. One of these women was Aphra Behn and according to Spender she was in her time more popular than Shakespeare.

  5. Feminist at Sea,

    I havent heard of Dale Spender, but I'm quite versed in Aphra Behn. Thanks for the info!


  6. These compulsive disagreers make me sick. But actually, if they were deliberate, they'd make me even sicker. So you either lack enough of a brain to be bothered to actually read, or you don't want women to succeed anywhere. I despise you in any case, just so that you know.

  7. Dale Spender also writes about Verginia Woolf, who is remembered (if she is remembered at all) as 'that neurotic writer who drowned herself'. In her own time she was seen as an important philosopher, whose new works were eagerly awaited by the intellectual community.
    Whole Spender title: 'Women of ideas, and what men have done to them'. Very enlightening.

  8. Dale Spender---must reading!!!
    I think it may be out of print.
    Women often get rearranged by the patriarchy. Virginia Woolf was put into the novelist slot, but she was a philosopher. Mary Daly was slotted as a theologian, but she called herself a radical feminist philosopher. So the male agenda is about keeping women OUT of philosophy, because that would give women the tools to overthrow the whole intellectual system of men. I checked the LIKE box BTW.

  9. Thank you for posting this, Dirt. Reading it today, right now, had a truly profound impact on my mental state and energy and thus, my life.

    I'm truly sorry that misogynist asswipes are trying to fuck with your life and frighten you into silence.

  10. I'm ashamed to admit I haven't yet read A Room Of One's Own but it's on my must-read list. Incredibly powerful excerpt! How could anyone even dare to hit the disagree button?


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