Woolf calls her fictional narrator Mary Beton (though this name is inconsistent and is shared by the narrator's aunt), and delivers her lecture on "Women and Fiction" through her. As Woolf's alter ego, the narrator shares her distinctive voice; witty and incisive, much of the essay's power lies in her ability to form elegant metaphors for her abstract ideas. The narrator is also astutely introspective without dominating the essay with her own personality; while she grows incensed at the sexist treatment she receives at Oxbridge or at the misogynist opinions of male critics, she quickly calms down and rationally explains the ideas at play behind these conventions. Allowing her detachment from anger, as she points out, is her sizable inheritance of 500 pounds per year (which Woolf also had). She maintains throughout the essay that money, and the privacy of a room of one's own, are necessary for freedom of thought. Without these advantages, women are slavishly dependent on men, and they write out of anger or fear. Only with the confidence derived from money and privacy can a writer filter out his or her own personality and concentrate objectively on reality itself; with this "androgynous" mind, not hampered by thoughts on gender, true genius shines through. Woolf herself has accomplished this goal somewhat with her choice of a non-existent narrator; though the narrator is much like herself, Woolf eliminates her already few personal grievances by partially eliminating herself.
The fictional sister of William Shakespeare, the narrator imagines Judith's life of unrealized genius: though just as brilliant as her brother, Judith is unable to fulfill her potential in her patriarchal Elizabethan society and eventually commits suicide. She is an example of why there were no women of genius in Elizabethan times; even if a woman managed to rise above her uneducated, poor, servile state--something the narrator hardly doubts possible--society would never allow her the opportunity to utilize her mind in the same way as a man.
The fictional author of the imaginary novel Life's Adventure, the narrator views Carmichael as representative of the contemporary descendants of historic female writers. She finds her subject matter--that of a friendship between two women who share a laboratory--revolutionary, as women have always been viewed in literature merely as lovers of men. Though Mary does not write with much anger against men, the narrator still believes she is just an above-average writer who is not a genius. However, this much is expected from someone with so little to work from, and the narrator believes that in a hundred years or so, with money and a room of her own, Mary Carmichael and her like will blossom and depict men and women in ways not yet seen in literature.
The narrator's aunt (whose name Woolf attributes to the narrator), Mary Beton bequeathed the narrator 500 pounds a year upon her death. This inheritance allows the narrator to maintain her independence and protect her freedom of thought.
A friend of the narrator's at the women's college, Fernham, Mary Seton's mother had thirteen children. She and the narrator discuss the history of women and money.
The Manx cat
The narrator sees a Manx cat on the lawn at Oxbridge. It reminds her of the pre-war days in England, when people seemed to speak with more music in their voices. The cat, missing a tail, may be a symbol of castration.
The man who stops the narrator on the lawn at Oxbridge and informs her that only men are allowed to cross it.
An elderly man who denies the narrator entrance to the library.
A Room of One’s Own Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for A Room of One’s Own is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
She maintains throughout the essay that money, and the privacy of a room of one's own, are necessary for freedom of thought. Without these advantages, women are slavishly dependent on men, and they write out of anger or fear. I believe that the...
Fiction in books? We see more evidence of institutionalized sexism; all the books in the library about women are by men, and frequently men with a chip on their shoulder. The narrator quickly identifies...