E336: Twentieth-Century British Literature
Virginia Woolf Study Questions
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"A Room of One's Own"
1. Why is it significant that Woolf's essay is partly fictional? Why doesn't she write completely in non-fictional mode about the limitations real women face in writing literary works?
2. Consider Woolf's audience. What was the original occasion of "A Room of One's Own"? What kind of audience is she addressing, and to what extent does Woolf do in her essay what she advises other women to do?
3. How does Woolf characterize "Oxbridge" (i.e. Oxford and Cambridge) on 2154-57 as a material place and in terms of its traditions and conventions? What are the connections between Oxbridge and British life and instutitions beyond the universities?
4. What effects does Oxbridge have on Woolf's semi-autobiographical character Mary Beton? How does Oxbridge limit her and impinge upon her consciousness?
5. From 2158-60, Woolf analyzes the change in relations between men and women since WWI. How do the Tennyson and Christina Rossetti verses she quotes help her make the points she does? What is it about gender relations that she says has changed since the Great War?
6. From 2162-64, what does Woolf point out about the difference between male educational institutions and women's colleges? What effects does the difference generate?
7. What is Woolf's closing reflection in this first chapter? What does she accomplish by "casting into the hedge" the day's thoughts and occurrences?
8. From 2165-68, what problem does the proliferation of male-authored books and views about women pose? Why have so many books been written, and what underlies the pose of "disinterested" (i.e. objective, scientific, dispassionate) male objectivity? What "conclusion" do all the men, according to Woolf, arrive at?
9. From 2169-72, what underlies Professor von X's hostile treatment of women? How does his hostility amount to more than simple anger? According to Woolf, what individual and societal needs has male writing about women served?
10. On 2173, Woolf's speaker mentions a departed aunt's legacy. What effect does this newly revealed information have on your understanding of "Mary Beton's" situation? What impact does Woolf say the legacy has made?
11. On 2175-76, why is the significance accorded to women by male fiction a kind of sham or dodge with regard to real-life women? How can women address this problem in recovering women's history?
12. From 2177-78, Woolf imagines the career of of Shakespeare's fictional sister, Judith. What happens to Judith, and why? How does Judith's fate show that "genius" is not above history and material circumstance?
13. On 2183, why, according to Woolf, is Shakespeare so little known as a person? What was granted to him that would not have been granted to a sister with equal potential?
14. From 2183-85, what criticisms does Woolf make of Lady Winchelsea's poetry?
15. From 2188-92, how does Woolf trace the history of women's writing from the eighteenth century onwards? Why was the novel the main genre for female writers in that period?
16. From 2190-93, what contrast between Jane Austen / Emily Bronte and Charlotte Bronte does Woolf make? What limitations did Austin and Emily Bronte reject that Charlotte Bronte was unable to reject?
17. From 2194-95, Woolf discusses the "newness" of the novel, its suitability for women writers. To what extent does Woolf index her argument here to notions about the supposed differences between men and women?
18. From 2195-2203, Woolf invents "Mary Carmichael," a novelist. What criticisms does Woolf make of this fictional author? What is nonetheless promising, and even startling, about her work?
19. From 2205-06, what, according to Woolf, did Coleridge mean by his term "androgyny"? Why is Shakespeare an excellent example of this quality?
20. From 2207-10, why is it "fatal" to write solely as a man or as a woman? Why, according to Woolf, is the modern (post-WWI) way of constantly theorizing about gender and gender relations misguided?
21. What exhortation does Woolf offer women in her audience from 2210-14? What does she suggest that women should do to make progress? Is Woolf offering this advice to "women in general," or is her advice offered to a more limited group than that? Explain.
Edition: The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 7th. ed., Vol. 2C only. New York: Norton, 1999. ISBN: 0393975703.