Sound Bites: Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”—Virginia Woolf

“The lamp in the spine does not light on beef and prunes,” she adds wryly, referring to the featured dish in an unsatisfying dinner served to her at the women’s college where she is staying as a guest. (There is a great deal more description of the prunes in an earlier passage, including the fantastic accusation that they “exuded a fluid such as might run in misers’ veins who have denied themselves wine and warmth for eighty years and yet not given to the poor.”) The sparse women’s college meal is contrasted with the meal served at a well-funded men’s college, which Woolf describes in lavish and appetizing detail. This juxtaposition, which appears early on in the extended essay “A Room of One’s Own,” is one of her illustrations of the difference in size and quality of the resources to which men and women of her time had access; if women had rich cream sauces and access to libraries at college, she implies, they might be better equipped to for writing and philosophizing.

This is not to say, of course, that incredible works can’t be made or written by the underfed and impoverished. Part of the text is dedicated to reconstructing how exactly Jane Austen managed to write novels without a room of her own, and it’s clear that Woolf means this example to illustrate what lengths a woman must go to distinguish herself in letters without the benefits that are accorded to men of average means.

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