Skip to main content

Feminism Without Noise- A Room of Her Own- A Review

"Surely since she was a woman, and a beautiful woman, and a woman in the prime of her life, she will soon give over this pretense of writing and thinking and begin at least to think of a gamekeeper (and as long as a woman thinks about a man, nobody objects to a woman thinking). And then she will write a short note (and as long as she writes short notes, nobody objects a woman writing either)" 

I had read the above passage in Virginia Woolf's Orlando, and was immediately hooked. Orlando was the first novel of Ms. Woolf I had ever read and much too late in life.  I had stayed away from her, fearing the feminist credentials of her, which are almost as famous as her writing is. However, Orlando was such an eye-opener. It is such a vast canvas over which the story is spread-out. She masterly tells the story, with a easy efficiency of a master who is totally in control of her craft. Orlando was of course followed by Mrs Dolloway and The Waves, all masterpieces in their own being. But the spread of the story and the nuanced, unafraid manner in which she wrote Orlando stands apart from any of her other work. No where will one find a patch of ink blot, not one slip of a pen- every word - smooth, sophisticated and nuanced. 

The gloom, the dark sadness of a world of early Nineteenth century slithers through the pages of Orlando. The days are not very bright, the sky is not azure, the sky is dark, as if the rains are about to pour over. But Woolf is never sad, never disappointed. She fights, but is never shrill. She is analytical. Looking at the today's world where the symbolism has become so all-encompassing that even elections are being fought on symbolic gender equality, it seems so soothing and fresh. She writes so cleverly in A Room of Her Own, with so much control over what she writes. She never allows her narrative to become propaganda. 

She describes her own world, in way only she could. 
A wind blew, from what quarter I know not, but it lifted the half-grown leaves so that there was a flash of silver grey in the air. It was the time between the lights when colors undergo their intensification and purples and golds burn in window panes like the beat of an excitable heart; when for some reason the beauty of the world revealed and yet soon to perish..

She floats, rises above the world, and we, the readers rise with her, levitating above the world, we look at the beauty of the world, till suddenly we are stopped in our way. She then writes, ever so softly, without us noticing where the seductive pen of the brilliant writer is taking us, about how men are caught up in their own self-image and how women are the mirrors in which they see themselves. Virginia Woolf, refers to her inheritance which enables her to write. She then takes us to the world when there were few occupations available to women. She explains that could be the reason why we don't have female writers in the history. She also refers to the male writers and quotes how in the list of greatest of English poets there are few who were not rich. She does not let it go off her hands for a moment, never let it fall into the rhetoric. She writes- It was absurd to blame any class or any sex, as a whole. Great bodies of people are never responsible for what they do. They are driven by instincts which are not within their control. 

She points out that if one went only by the writing of the men, and the role of women in them, one would believe that women had a very important role in the society. However, she points out that the fact that no women wrote those stories, proves, on the contrary, that women, in reality, were relegated to a role of insignificance in the society. She imagines a character named Judith, fictional sister of Shakespeare. Assume that her sister was as gifted as Shakespeare himself was. In a society, where no reading and writing opportunity was available to women, what would happen to her. Woolf writes:
She was as adventurous, as imaginative, as agog to see the world as he was. But she was not sent to school. She had no chance of learning grammar and logic, let alone of reading Horace and Virgil. She picked up a book now and then, one of her brother's perhaps, and read a few pages. But then her parents came in and told her to mend the stockings or mind the stew and not moon about with books and papers. 

Ms. Woolf traces the imaginary life of Judith and without melodrama ends it with a sadness that suddenly wraps itself about you that you almost lose your breath, when she writes- who shall measure the heat and violence of the poet's heart when caught and tangled in a woman's body? She says - That woman, then, who was born with a gift of poetry in the sixteenth century, was an unhappy woman, a woman at strife with herself. It is not only about being a woman. She aptly mentions that writing in itself is not an easy profession. She writes..To write a work of genius is almost always a feat of prodigious difficulty. Everything is against the likelihood that it will come from the whole and entire. Generally material circumstances are against it. Dogs will bark; people will interrupt; money must be made. Further, accentuating all these difficulties and making them harder to bear is the world's notorious indifference. It does not ask people to write poems and novels and histories; it does not need them. It does not care whether Flaubert finds the right word or whether Carlyle scrupulously verifies this or that fact. Naturally, it will not pay for what it does not want. ...A curse, a cry of agony, rises from those books of analysis and confession. 'Mighty poets in their misery dead- that is the burden of their song. 
Such is the general state of the affairs, and it turns even worse for women writers. She writes- The indifference of the world which Keats and Flaubert and other men of genius have found so hard to bear was in her case not indifference but hostility. The world did not say to her as it said to them, Write if you chose; it makes no difference to me. The world said with a guffaw, Write? What's the good of your writing? Women writers were not only not encouraged they were considered incompetent. She draws a parallel to the view the world had towards a woman preacher, as she quotes Dr. Johnson- "Sir, a woman's composing is like a dog's walking on hind leg. It is not done well, but you are surprised to find it done at all." The affection with which she mentions Jane Austen should be a benchmark for all women writers. She writes- Here was a woman about the year 1800, writing without hate, without bitterness, without fear, without protest, without preaching. That is how Shakespeare wrote, I thought...when people compare Shakespeare and Jane Austen, they may mean that the minds of both had consumed all impediments; and for that reason we do not know Jane Austen and we do not know Shakespeare..

This book should be read by all the people who love reading and writing and see how far we have traversed from the time when women seldom wrote, and were seldom appreciated for writing when they did. This review is to open a window to this great book by a great writer, and as a tribute to women writers who have arrived in more ways than one, whether she is a JK Rowling, or Marta Moran Bishop, or Chitra B Divakaruni or Radhika Mukherjee. 


Beautifully written post. It brought tears to my eyes and it humbled me in the last paragraph. Thank you for the lovely post and for the honor.

Popular posts from this blog

बुद्धिजीवियों की बारात

बुद्धिजीवियों की बारात
शरद जी रिटायर हो चुके थे। आधार का भय आधारहीन मान कर आधार बनवा चुके थे, और पेंशन प्राप्त कर के भोपाल मे जीवनयापन कर रहे थे। एक बार बिहार जा कर शरद जी नरभसा चुके थे, पुन: नरभसाने का कोई इरादा था नहीं, सो मामाजी के राज में स्वयं को सीमित कर के रखे हुए थे। इस्लाम आज कल ख़तरे मे नही आता था, संभवत: इमर्जेंसी के बाद से, इस्लाम सबल हो चुका था, और कल निपचती जींस और लोकतंत्र के ख़तरे मे रहने का दौर चल रहा था। न्यू मार्केट के कॉफ़ी हाऊस मे चंद बुद्धिजीवी लोकतंत्र पर आए संकट पर चर्चा कर लेते थे, जोशी जी वहाँ भी नहीं जाते थे। एक दफे वहाँ के मलियाली वेटर्स को जोशी जी के हिंदी लेखक होने का पता चल गया और उन्होंने जोशीजी को यिंदी यिम्पोजीशन के विरोध मे कॉफ़ी देने से मना कर दिया था। कहाँ शरदजी सरस्वती से ब्रह्मप्रदेश तक लिखना चाहते थे और कहाँ उन्हे बड़े तालाब के उत्तर भाग का लेखक घोषित कर दिया गया था। इस से क्षुब्ध जोशी जी अपने बग़ीचे मे टमाटर उगा रहे थे। जानने वाले कहते हैं कि इसके पीछे उनकी मँशा महान किसान नेता बन कर उभरने की थी, किंतु उन्हे पता चला कि आधुनिक किसान नेता किसानों को …

Know the Naxals- A brief look at the History

There have been many debates of late on the television, in the wake of the arrests of those who are now increasingly mentioned as the Urban Naxals. I am both shocked and amused at the same time to look at the audacity of the sympathizers of Naxal terrorism, in all their starched Saris and handloom Kurtas, when they hide behind the same constitution, that the want to overthrow. They are shrill, sophisticated, eloquent and deriding. They hate the common folks, and their disdain for those who work, create and make a living, peeps through their elitist smiles. They are mostly ideologues (yes, that is some work for sustenance in the modern scheme of things), academics and well, ostensibly, writers and poets. The fact remains that when communism is the scheme of things, Naxal notices mentioning Jan Adaalats in the villages of Chattisgarh too become work of art, and corpses hanging from the electricity poles, become equivalent of art work on the roof of Sistine chapel.
The other day, Ms. Arun…

A Husband's Views On Karvachauth

Today is the day of Indian, or should I say, Hindu festival of Karvachauth, much popularized by Bollywood. Initially a festival of Northern India, now it is widely celebrated. The festival is primarily of a day of fasting, observed by married women, praying for the long life of their husbands. As is the practice, the festival is marked by severe criticism every year by over-jealous atheists, fanatic feminists and bigoted secularist, who claim that the festival is patriarchal, regressive and anti-woman. If one considers those rants to be true, one would believe that there is huge amount of physical and emotional trauma that womenfolk are subjected to, in order to get them around to fast on the day.  However, if one were to visit any of the markets in Delhi, the scenario is quite contrary. You will find happy, joyous women on the streets of Delhi, excitedly visiting beauty parlors, with their husbands dragged themselves behind them, holding the kids as wife gets Mehandi to her hands- do…