I read it as a student 8 years ago, and well because I was going to be examined on this book, I didn’t like it 🙂 But I needed to revisit this book, as its message is relevant to our time. Woolf explores the difference between how women were portrayed in fiction, and how they actually lived in earlier centuries and explains the reason behind this difference: there were only male authors. Although many may consider this book as a feminist book, I believe it is not, but rather through it Woolf shows how fiction was impoverished when it was written only by men. Woolf further explains that the traditional notions about women influenced fiction even when female authors later wrote it.
When Woolf wrote that no female Shakespeare could be found in the 16th C because the world back then would not appreciate it her, I remembered Elif Shafak who echoed the same message in her “Black Milk.” ! This explains why some female authors later used male pen names to ensure their anonymity and to be taken seriously by the audience.
Woolf examines this topic of women in reality and fiction extensively. Eventually, she concludes that the nature of women will be truly presented in fiction when the writers who write about them have their “own room and source of money;” in other words, when they are both independent financially and socially. She further says that when writers transcend the narrow sexual roles, they could convey the fullness of the real world. Woolf exemplifies such transcendence in Coleridge who said that a great mind is androgynous. This book is a fascinating and thoughtful essay, and every woman should read it!