Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own (1928/1929)

        A great many web sites already exist to provide information regarding Virginia Woolf.  For reasons which would be interesting to explore, she is one of the best-represented canonical English writers on the web.  Until we get more content directly related to our own investigation, you might want to poke around on the links page of Clemson University's web site for the Sixth Annual Virginia Woolf Conference (June 13-16, 1996).  Penny Cordish and Mary Marchand presented a paper at that conference:  Penelope Cordish and Mary V. Marchand, Goucher College, "Wharton, Woolf and 'the Perfect Hostess.'"   Unlike the Virginia Woolf Web Ring, which you also might want to surf for fun, at the Clemson site, scholarly content seems to have been a priority. 

        At the moment (10:55 AM, EST, 1/14/00, for Woolf was interested in time), the site that most affected me was this collection of photos taken at Monk's House, where Woolf lived and wrote when she left Bloomsbury.  If you go there, you'll see just how seriously she took the concept of "a room of one's own," even though she was mistress of her own house and (by all reports) her marriage to Leonard Woolf was entirely harmonious.

        After looking at those photos, I became inspired to return to my own Woolf research and have cobbled together a paper containing some speculations about her creative process leading to "Judith Shakespeare"'s creation.  I can provide a copy of the Victorian novel it refers to (William Temple Black, Judith Shakespeare: A Romance, 1884/1893) if you are curious.  The paper, itself, is unfinished and may need substantial revision, mainly because I suspect at least some or all of its observations may have published during the 10 years I let this moulder away.

        Below I have listed some other issues you might want to follow and some supporting information to speed your understanding of Woolf's family background and culture.  Most importantly, I want to correct the impression I may have given that VW was never "taught" Latin or Greek.  She persuaded her father to pay for tutoring, first at Kings College, Cambridge, where her brother Thoby was enrolled as a student, and later with private tutors.  However, she never was formally "matriculated" at Cambridge, so the trips to be taught there would have given her just the kind of experience of being an outsider which she uses to introduce "A Room of One's Own" (e.g., pp. 3-10).   It is still true that her brothers, Thoby and Adrian, both went up to Cambridge as everyone expected Sir Leslie Stephen's male children to do, and the daughters were expected mainly to marry well and bear heirs, though their minds were not neglected as potential aids in that process.

Education and Cultural Foundations:

    "AROOO" makes excellent use of the foundation of Girton College, Cambridge (1861) to explore what it means to women that their education beyond grammar school was ignored until that date, and even then only a small number of students could be educated there.  At the time Woolf wrote (1928), only five colleges accepted women at Cambridge and Oxford, as opposed to 39 for men (21 at Oxford, 18 at Cambridge).  Goucher College's foundation in 1885 was part of the same movement to rectify the lack of higher education for women.  For more specific information on the foundation of the two great English universities and their colleges, click here.

Woolf, Her Father, and Shakespeare:

    Without advancing my own thesis that Woolf's "Judith Shakespeare" responds to a popular Victorian novel by that name, it is enough to say her attitude toward Shakespeare was related both to her profession and to her family.  Like any young English writer after around 1800, she was brought up on the "Shakespeare myth," which claimed for the playwright a kind of supernatural gift for writing.  Whatever his greatness as a poet, Woolf also had reasons to associate Shakespeare's authority in writing with her father's.  Sir Leslie Stephen had written a chapter on Shakespeare in Studies of  a Biographer (1907) and was a very close friend of Sir Sidney Lee, author of the then standard biography of Shakespeare to which she tells her readers not to go for news of her "Judith."   Sir Leslie's output was prodigious, including books on Samuel Johnson (1878), Alexander Pope (1880), Jonathan Swift (1882), George Eliot (1902) and Thomas Hobbes (1904).  His lasting achievement, however, was his editing of the Dictionary of National Biography, first completed near the end of his life and in its updated form still the authoritative resource for biographical information on anyone important in English culture.  For some biographical information about Woolf's struggle for independence against her father's demands for care and attention, as well as her competitive attitude toward Shakespeare's poetic gifts, click here.

Women's Suffrage and Women's Authority:

    Like the United States, England denied women the right to vote until the "Women's Suffrage" movement of the late 19th century combined with post-World-War-I demands for governmental reform to make it possible to pass key legislation enabling women to vote.  Woolf specifically refers to her recently achieved right to vote, but says the 500-pound-per-year legacy is far more important to her (37).  Think about the significance of voting representation in government for women as it reflects the culture's most fundamental assumptions about women's judgment.  One of Woolf's blindnesses as a social analyst, perhaps due to her family's upper-middle-class status, was a disdain for political processes and a suspicion of democratic politics.  Nevertheless, this essay and the talks at Cambridge upon which it was based occur during a period when women's right to vote was a hotly debated topic.  For more specific dates and information regarding the restrictions upon women's right to vote in England and the United States, click here.