– Virginia Woolf recounts two stories at Oxbridge on pages 8 and 9. She has asked the audience to call her “Mary Beton, Mary Seton, Mary Carmichael or by any name you please”.
(i) Lost in thought … “I found myself walking in extreme rapidity across a grass plot. Instantly a man’s figure intercepted me … his face expressed horror and indignation … he was a Beadle, I was a woman. This was the turf, there was a path. Only Fellows and Scholars are allowed here, the gravel is the place for me”.
(ii) “I was actually at the door which leads to the library itself. I must have opened it, for instantly there issued, like a guardian angel barring the way with a flutter of black gown instead of white wings, a deprecating, silvery, kindly gentleman, who regretted in a low voice as he waved me back that ladies are only admitted to the library if accompanied by a Fellow of the College or furnished with a letter of introduction. That a famous library has been cursed by a woman is a matter of complete indifference to a famous library”.
– Cambridge University was founded in 1209.
– Women were admitted in 1923 … over 7 centuries
– Oxford University was founded about 1096.
– Women were admitted in 1921 … over 8 centuries
– The book is based on two papers Virginia Woolf read at two women’s constituent colleges of the University of Cambridge. The thesis of the book is that “a woman must have money and room of her own if she is to write”. It was published in 1928, a few years after women were allowed into both universities.
– The back cover of the book published by Penguin in 2004 proudly proclaims it is part of 20 Great Ideas. 19 in the list are men.
It amazes me how even back then how a woman thought just like we do today.
I'm sorry, but I thought this might be one of her actual "works," not an essay about women and writing and her feelings about women and life and whatnot. I might enjoy this more after I've read some of her fiction. As it is, I've never read her, and hope KCLS has some in large print.
Glad I finally got to read this classic, especially contrasted against the rich tapestry that women writers weave today. In many ways, Woolf's impassioned fight for women's right to an income of her own/financial stability and cherished private space to reflect and create has come true; she wrote these lyrical essays back in 1928 (she's very humorous as she describes her encounters with the university beadles). In some ways, it's still an ongoing fight (fair pay, better gender balance at home with partners, equal representation in politics and the workplace, freedom from violence, etc.) but at least these issues are out in the open and easier to resolve (or "shrink", as the following passage illustrates: "Women have served all these centuries as looking-glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size....if she begins to tell the truth, the figure in the looking glass shrinks.")
What an incredibly interesting woman of her time. It was a privilege and a pleasure to be privy to her inner thoughts. She is so beautifully expressive that it made me quite emotional in places.
The prose, the talk of feminism, women and art; I loved.
A brilliant classic, poignantly profound and relevant for its time, while also being way ahead of its time. This timely and timeless talk turned essay, offered to women at Cambridge, by Virginia Woolf, nearly a century ago is still quite a timely testament for today's girls and women, and any caring creative human being who wishes to retain and express their heart and mind, in spite of their limit of income, time and other worldly resources. Enjoy!
semi-autobiographical; historical slice of life; extended essay
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