A Room of One's Own


Woolf's famous demand on behalf of the hypothetical female author, narratively enframed by the Four Mary's, is articulated in the line:

"Give her a room of her own and five hundred a year, let her speak her mind and leave out half that she now puts in, and she will write a better book one of these days."[17]

Inflation-adjusting £500 in 1929 to the present (2013), gives about £25,000 (about US$43,000) (using inflation of the cost of goods) or about £75,000 (about US$130,000) (using inflation of people's earnings).[18] Converting £500 in 1929 to 1913 yields £230 to £310, which is below the group that George Orwell describes in The Road to Wigan Pier (published in 1937, but describing pre-War life in this passage) as the lower end of the upper-middle class:

"To belong to this class when you were at the £400 a year level was a queer business, for it meant that your gentility was almost purely theoretical. You lived, so to speak, at two levels simultaneously. Theoretically you knew all about servants and how to tip them, although in practice you had one, at most, two resident servants. Theoretically you knew how to wear your clothes and how to order a dinner, although in practice you could never afford to go to a decent tailor or a decent restaurant. Theoretically you knew how to shoot and ride, although in practice you had no horses to ride and not an inch of ground to shoot over."

The £500 was just enough to live on without employment but without any extravagance. This (minimal) independent wealth introduces a socio-political element into Woolf's argument which speaks not only to gender dynamics but to divisions in social class. This element of Woolf's argument has been addressed in a number of scholarly and literary attacks.

Alice Walker, to the subject of much criticism, demeaned Woolf's essay for its exclusion of women of color, and women writers who do not have any means for obtaining the independence of a room of their own. In In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose, Walker writes: "Virginia Woolf, in her book A Room of One's Own, wrote that in order for a woman to write fiction she must have two things, certainly: a room of her own (with key and lock) and enough money to support herself. What then are we to make of Phillis Wheatley, a slave, who owned not even herself? This sickly, frail, Black girl who required a servant of her own at times—her health was so precarious—and who, had she been white, would have been easily considered the intellectual superior of all the women and most of the men in the society of her day."[19]

Walker recognises that Wheatley is in a position far different from the narrator of Woolf's essay, in that she does not own herself, much less "a room of her own". Wheatley and other women writers exist outside of this room, outside of this space Woolf sets asides for women writers. Though she calls attention to the limits of Woolf's essay, Walker, in uniting womanist prose (women's writing) with the physical and metaphorical space of "our mothers' gardens", pays homage to Woolf's similar endeavour of seeking space, "room", for women writers.

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