A Room of One’s Own: Applying “Virginia Woolf and the Public Sphere” and “Locating Woolf”

How many times can we revisit Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own?! Every time I revisit the text I discover something new and inspiring or frustrating and confusing, bringing me back to the text yet again. I was asked to use this blog entry to focus on Melba Cuddy-Keane’s article “Virginia Woolf and the Public Sphere” and “Locating Woolf” by Anna Snaith and Michael H. Whitworth, but I’d like it to circle back to the larger context of my experiences in London and how they enrich my understanding of how Woolf’s piece matters in contemporary society.

“Virginia Woolf and the Public Sphere” was a crucial piece for me to read; this is my second time studying A Room of One’s Own and both times I’ve studied it as a “central canonical text” to my feminist studies. Cuddy-Keane brings to light the gap between contemporary readers and Woolf’s works continues to grow, and the thread of spatiality is continued throughout. One of the questions Cuddy-Keane poses, “what lack of knowledge, what prejudice even,…might set up a barrier between the student’s and Woolf’s work?” Cuddy-Keane takes us through how she teaches A Room to her students, where they are the ones that are lead to understand the text in their own manner.

I found it interesting how challenging it is for both students and scholars to figure out what the equivalent of £500 would be in today’s world. Cuddy-Keane also has students figure out how Woolf spent her money during her lifetime to attempt to shed some light on the amount in A Room. Ultimately, at the end of the task it becomes apparent that the exact monetary amount Woolf gave wasn’t as important as the freedom and opportunity it provided the woman writer with. The point of the exercises shows us that trying to completely rewrite the text in the contemporary setting is too complicated and strays away from Woolf’s purpose. This helps my reading (and continued revisiting of the text, I can assure you) by explaining that Woolf understood that certain aspects of the essay would be lost. Applying “Woolf’s approach…her focus of reading as an active process, her way of presenting dynamic accounts of her reading rather than settled explanations of literary works” to A Room, we must then actively read and engage with the text instead of getting bogged down by the minute details that do not really further our understanding.
Briefly, Snaith and Whitworth focus on Woolf and relation to space,  and consider “the question of women’s relation to the city, particularly public spaces.” Cuddy-Keane asked her students to consider “what young writers today might buy today if they had that amount of money,” and in many cases this includes how they occupy and exist in public spaces. Taking a little creative liberty, I’ll use some of my experience in London to try to connect the two. Riding around all of London in the Tube brings to light just how much one has to experience in the city. Museums on every street, theatres showing both the latest show and the classic production, and countless places with dense historical significance. But think of the monetary cost of these intellectually enriching endeavors. How can one truly absorb these inspirational, important places without adequate funds?

Take a Tube pass for instance. My visitor’s pass for zones 1 and 2 was included when I paid to study abroad, so I looked up how much the pass actually costs. For adults 16 and over, $48.50 buys you a week of unlimited travel within zones 1 and 2 for a week. I haven’t done enough research to hypothesize how much it would cost one to have some sort of freedom on the Tube when actually living in London, but it’s clear that there is a cost. This is one possibility among thousands that a young woman writer like myself can come up with to answer Cuddy-Keane’s question. I budgeted myself $1000 for my two weeks in London, and felt that getting a chance to take part in certain parts of the English culture, such as seeing a show at the Globe Theatre or going for afternoon tea, was an integral part of being inspired to write. Cuddy-Keane concludes her piece with invaluable insight on Woolf’s message in A Room, and that is “Woolf’s dream for young women:…that they not be answerable to someone else about the way they spend their money, not agonize about small purchases because they don’t trust their own judgement, not be subject to the economic authority of father or husband.” We can merely speculate on what exactly Woolf would want us to spend our money on, but must remember that the crucial point is that we have the personal autonomy and opportunity to choose for ourselves: then and only then will we be able to write.

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