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A Room of One's Own

by Virginia Woolf

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Monk's House, Rodmell, Virginia's Woolf's house in Sussex

PREFACE BY CLARA JONES
192pp
ISBN 9781910263242

We take such pleasure in our collection of (now) 135 books, as a group rather than a mere stream of disparate titles, that it had become increasingly absurd not to include one of the great documents of twentieth-century feminist history amongst them. It is true that many of our readers will already have read A Room of One's Own, indeed we hope that this is the case. But we also hope that many of them will want to own the Persephone edition and to reread it; and that they will want to give it to someone who has not yet read it. Virginia Woolf herself, wondering what people would make of the book, assumed they would say (patronisingly) ‘Mrs Woolf is so accomplished a writer, that all she says makes easy reading… this very feminine logic… a book to be put in the hands of girls.’

Well, this has been so for ninety years, and if a Persephone reader knows a girl who has not read it, then they should remedy this error at once. For A Room of One's Own is not only one of the key texts of feminism, it also makes easy reading (and was possibly written in the very beautiful room – in Virginia Woolf’s cottage in the country – seen on this page). As the academic, and former Persephone employee, Clara Jones, points out in her Persephone Preface, the fact that it is a book to be put in the hands of girls has proved one of its greatest strengths: ‘It is fitting that an essay so preoccupied with what women pass down and what women inherit should have been one of the founding texts of feminine literary criticism, inspiring generations of women readers, writers and critics.’

Famously, the central premise of the essay is that ‘a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.’ Not only is this central to A Room, it is also central to the history of twentieth-century women’s writing. For, it is true, something that comes up time after time when women’s fiction is being discussed is that it is so middle-class. But there was a reason for this: a woman needed to buy time to write, and this was something that – unfortunately – only the better-off could do.

In the end, A Room is a political book. Clara Jones concludes: ‘The poetry and pragmatism of Woolf’s central claim about the room and the money have taken on renewed urgency today. The ubiquity of debt for a generation of young people who pay large university tuition fees, are charged prohibitive rents and paid low wages, combined with the fact that all but the luckiest (or best connected) with literary ambitions will begin their apprenticeship by working for free, make Woolf’s trinity of space, privacy and financial security as worth striving for as ever.’

 

Endpaper

'Stripe', a 1930 textile design by Vanessa Bell © Warner Textile Archive

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