The Empty space


Aria Fani
by Aria Fani

A Room of One’s Own (1929), written by the English novelist Virginia Woolf, represents the story of women who were denied a chance to become writers. Woolf narrates the story of women who had the passion and desire to write, but were financially and psychologically unable to find a balance within their lives. A Room of One’s Own goes beyond sarcasm, irony and anger and truly reflects the unfair conditions of the time that impeded women from being successful writers. A Room of One’s Own has also been an inspiration to the Feminist Manifesto. “Less than forty years have passed since Virginia Woolf's A Room of One’s Own was adopted as a manifesto by early feminist critics who sought to establish a legitimate ‘place’ for women writers in a literary tradition which had historically excluded them on the basis that women were considered incapable of sustained, intellectual achievement” (Castricano, 5).

Within A Room of One’s Own, Woolf examines whether women were capable of producing work of the quality of men. Through inventing a fictional sister for Shakespeare, Woolf uncovers the physical and mental obstacles that women faced in order to become writers. Woolf gets her main views across by arguing that most women of the time lacked mobility, social independence, and psychological freedom. Many ideas within A Room of One’s Own have been influential within the structure of the Feminist Manifesto. “A migratory bird with broken wings”, is a metaphor that describes women’s mobility at the time. Woolf argues that women are truly capable of “flying”, had not they been injured by social barriers and obstacles. Virginia Woolf creates a fictional sister, Judith, for William Shakespeare to portray the limitations and confinements of being a woman who aspires to become a writer. Woolf draws a comparison between the male Shakespeare and the female one. Woolf realizes that women’s failure to create something of the quality of men is not the matter of talent or capability, but the matter of “incredibly unequal circumstances” and treatments that women do receive (Castricano, 12). “It would have been impossible, completely and entirely, for any woman to have written the plays of Shakespeare in the age of Shakespeare” (Woolf, 2117). Judith Shakespeare would have never been able to explore her environment through going to bars, talking to ordinary men, sleeping far away from home in search of inspiration for her writing. For William to freely pack his bags and journey toward the adventurous world would have been safe and easy. However, Judith would have been associated with a run-away prostitute at least, had she decided to become a wayfarer. Woolf describes the brutal and confining atmosphere of the world that had awaited women writers, “A woman at strife against herself, facing not only the world’s indifference but hostility” (Woolf, 2129). Through Judith Shakespeare’s imaginary world, Woolf engages her readers with the realities of women’s social position. Judith is as talented as William Shakespeare, but her talent and potential receive no recognition from the society. Judith’s passion and zest toward writing are “deemphasized” and “underestimated” by her family, while William receives encouragement for his talent and ability in writing (Woolf, 2125). Women’s lack of mobility becomes evident when Judith is forced into an unwanted marriage by her father.

Judith’s suicide emphasizes the fact that woman as talented as Shakespeare could have never achieved such success. Intellectual women are compelled to waste their liveliness and passion to fight for equality, while the society could benefit more from their potential and capacity to bring change and innovation into writing and literature. Feminist Manifesto’s idea about fragility of women is tied to Woolf’s argument about women’s lack of mobility in society. “Woman for her happiness must retain her deceptive fragility of appearance, combined with indomitable will, irreducible courage, and abundant health the outcome of sound nerves” (Loy, 2019). Women’s beauty and charm should not come in the way of their dreams and intellectual desires. In this respect, women should not become dependent upon their power to attract physically, but must rely on their capacity to think intellectually, independently, and objectively. “Women must destroy in themselves, the desire to be loved—the desire for comfortable protection instead of an intelligent curiosity and courage in meeting and resisting the pressure of life” (Loy, 2019). Fragility within one’s character will lead to the lack of mobility in her life, and that is exactly where Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own connects to the Feminist Manifesto. The title, A Room of One’s Own deeply engages the readers to Woolf’s argument that, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction; and that, as you will see, leaves the great problem of the true nature of woman and the true nature of fiction unsolved” (Woolf, 2142). Woolf argues that women should have the financial capability if they are to become writers. A room, something that men take for granted, provides women with the time and space to enjoy an “uninterrupted writing time” (Castricano, 8). Women’s talent and power in writing will suffer, should just a room remain elusive to them.

A Room of One’s Own goes beyond the effect of physical (material) conditions on women’s writing. “Woolf is concerned with more than just the room itself. She uses the room as a symbol for many larger issues, such as privacy, leisure time, and financial independence, each of which is an essential component of the countless inequalities between men and women” (Castricano, 8). Looking at the room’s potential to provide women with freedom, independence, and liberty; it could also be looked upon as a metaphor for social and cultural confinements. Woolf’s metaphor for the inner space draws attention to the ‘real’ conditions of women’s existence in terms of the relationship between financial independence, gender, race and class (Castricano, 9). Women have been confined in the sense that their talents have been underestimated by a society that has been reluctant to mentally invest in their potential. The “room” is no longer just about a physical space, but a notion that calls attention for “inner space” as well (Showalter, 40). The fact that “Female space is the alternative linguistic and imaginative place from which women can speak” demonstrates how the metaphor of Woolf's ‘room’ has acted as a phenomenological coordinate on a feminist cognitive map indicating not only the discursive dimensions of ‘women’s space’ but also of women’s subjectivity (Donovan, 37). “Thus, it seems that the discursive structural apparatus of Woolf's ‘room’ has enabled feminists to map and to theorize links between the material and psychological conditions of women's lives in spatial terms” (Castricano, 12). For long women’s artistic and intellectual spirit have suffered as a result of outdated ideological barriers that existed in the society. Every woman who had desired to become a writer struggled to find a balance between her aspirations and social duties. Without the knowledge of

birth control, woman would have risked losing their dreams of becoming a writer if they were to get married—the unequal conditions of marriage could have been suicidal to their goals! “Making a fortune and bearing thirteen children—no human being could stand it” (Woolf, 2102). Like Judith, many women were compelled to get married and tolerate any conditions; their fate was never in their hands. Motherhood kept women away from their dreams, leaving them with few options and with social expectations that were tied to women’s lives—women are supposed to stay home and raise their children. Woolf describes the confinements of motherhood,“First there are nine months before the baby is born, then the baby is born. Then there are three of four months spent in feeding the baby. After the baby is fed there are certainly five years spent in playing with the baby” (Woolf, 2103). Women’s lack of psychological freedom led to their lack of confidence and influenced their writing. “Life for both sexes—and I look at them, shouldering their way along the pavement—is arduous, difficult, a perpetual struggle. It calls for gigantic courage and strength. More than anything, perhaps, creatures of illusion that we are, it calls for confidence in oneself” (Woolf, 2132). Woolf believes that men have systematically subordinated women in order to reinforce their own confidence as the more capable sex. But whether or not men were to blame for that is not important. The vital point is “the importance of confidence in creating art” (Woolf, 2133). “The lack of confidence amongst women has led to the generally inferior quality of their art” (Castricano, 9).Woolf realizes that there is anger and lack of confidence within women’s writing—a reflection of their plight as “second-class citizens” (Woolf, 2125). The Feminist Manifesto also warns women of their lack of confidence (the way they search for their idols among men), “Leave off looking to men to find out what you are not–seek within yourselves to find out what you are” (Loy, 2118). Both A Room of One’s Own and the Feminist Manifesto have attempted to ruin the image of sexual superiority of men among women—to achieve a psychological freedom. In conclusion, A Room of One’s Own beautifully narrates the story of intellectual women who were not given a room in which they could unfold their talents and become writers. Instead they were imprisoned in a cell, full of social and cultural responsibilities and confinements. Woolf’s argument emphasizes the need for physical space (a room), material support (money), and community (friends, mentors, precursors) to make creativity possible. Judith Shakespeare takes Woolf’s argument to its peak by illustrating the theory that women’s creativity often led to madness or suicide, as a result of the unfair treatments they received from society. Judging how far the American nation has come in terms of gender equality depends more on “personal views” rather than straight facts and statistics. Looking at the future, “To obtain results you [women] must make sacrifices”, and that in my view is to raise awareness among others. “Every woman of superior intelligence should realize her race responsibilities, in producing children in adequate proportion to the unfit or degenerate members of her sex” (Loy, 2119). What I found similar in the Feminist Manifesto and A Room of One’s Own is that both are passing on a vital message that, “Women are the ones who have to carry out the main task, they are to blame and they are to praise should the equal rights movement fail or succeed.” Women are the ones who are capable of creating an unconfined room within their minds, a room of their own!

Sohrab Sepehri (1928-1980) is one of Iran's foremost contemporary poets. His poetry is the pure reflection of his observations on nature. Despite dying at a very young age, Sepehri had the opportunity to travel a lot. His astonishing vision within his poetry truly reflects his inspiring visits to Europe, China, India, and Japan. Sohrab’s love affair with the nature kept him almost always far away from home. At the same time, his talented sister, Paridokht had to deal with the limitations and confinements of being a woman in an old-fashioned and religious society. She was unable to leave the country without the permission of her father (or husband). For Paridokht even traveling domestically all alone would have been a huge risk. Paridokht remains an undiscovered talent and poet in Iran today. Sohrab’s poetry has been translated into more than seven languages worldwide. Paridokht’s nostalgic life reminds me of Judith Shakespeare—only a matter of real existence. The following piece was inspired by Judith Shakespeare, Paridokht Sepehri, and every woman who has struggled to live to her fullest potential.


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