A Room of One's Own Day
annually on January 25th
English author Virginia Woolf was born on today's date in 1882. An intellectual and a feminist, Woolf was popular in her own time, her works had a resurgence during the feminist movement of the 1970s, and she is still influential today. Today's holiday is named for her 1929 book-length essay A Room of One's Own. The day is for celebrating having your own room or place, as well as other forms of security, which help facilitate the freedom to create, write, and follow intellectual pursuits.
Virginia Woolf was born Adeline Virginia Stephen to Sir Leslie and Julia Prinsep Stephen. Her father was a historian and author, while her mother was a model for painters who was also a nurse who wrote a book about her profession; both parents were well-connected. Virginia's upbringing was a life of privilege. She grew up in a large family with her siblings and half-siblings in a house in Kensington, London, and spent the summers of her youth going to Talland House in the beach town of St Ives.
Her gravitation towards writing started early. As a child, she created a newspaper about her family called Hyde Park Gate News. Her mother died when she was thirteen, and foreshadowing things to come, she had her first mental breakdown. Another breakdown happened again when her father died nine years later. Mental anguish would come and go throughout her life.
It was also right after her father's death that she started writing professionally, when she began contributing to The Times Literary Supplement in 1905. At this time she also moved to the Bloomsbury part of London and began socializing with the Bloomsbury Group, a group of intellectuals and artists that included economist John Maynard Keynes and future husband, essayist Leonard Woolf. The two were married on August 10, 1912.
Virginia Woolf published her first novel, The Voyage Out, in 1915. She used multiple experimental techniques in it, exploring dream states and using free association prose. Night and Day came in 1919, and the modernist novel Jacob's Room was published in 1922. This was also the year Woolf met Vita Sackville-West, who became both her friend as well as lover for a time, and inspired her 1928 novel, Orlando, which was both critically praised and commercially popular.
A Room of One's Own, the namesake of today's holiday, was published in 1929. Woolf based the long essay on lectures she had given the year before at two women's colleges—Newnham and Girton at Cambridge University. It was a groundbreaking piece of feminist writing that looked at the role of women in literature, at a time when not many women writers had been accepted into the mostly boys club. In it, she argued that in order to have intellectual freedom, one must have economic freedom and educational opportunities. She wrote, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction."
To illustrate her point of how women had been held back from pursuing their passions, particularly in writing and the arts, by being disadvantaged financially and in educational opportunities, she included Judith Shakespeare, a fictional sister of William Shakespeare who wasn't allowed to follow her passions as her brother was. In the essay, Woolf wrote about women authors who had overcome prejudice and reached success, such as Jane Austen, George Eliot, and the Brontë sisters. She encouraged women to write and discussed lesbianism, gender, and androgyny.
She used six different character voices in The Waves, published in 1931. The last novel that was put out before she died was The Years, which was released in 1937. She explored similar themes to A Room of One's Own in another long essay, Three Guineas, published in 1938, and also tackled the subjects of fascism and war. But, her depression never fully subsided throughout her life and came roaring back as World War II also roared. The Woolf's London home was destroyed in 1940 by the Blitz, the German bombing of London, although they lived in their country home, Monk's House, at the time. On March 28, 1941, Virginia Woolf put stones into her coat pockets and jumped into the River Ouse, taking her own life. Her body was found three weeks later, and her ashes were strewn at Monk's House.
Although Virginia Woolf's life was tragically cut short, she left a body of work with an incalculable influence. In particular, her works that asserted a feminist perspective, such as A Room of One's Own, continue to inspire today. On today's holiday, her birthday, we celebrate her legacy and her belief that everyone should have a "room of their own," so they can think, write, and speak freely.
How to Observe
The day can be interpreted, and thus celebrated, in a few different ways. The holiday may be taken literally. You could celebrate your own room—or any space of your own—by spending your day in it. Paint, decorate, read, meditate, pray, sleep, or eat in it. Close yourself off from anyone who would disturb you. Perhaps the best thing to do in your room is to write, as Virginia Woolf argued that one must have their own space in order to write successfully. The day could also be looked at more broadly, by celebrating the ability to be free to pursue creative and intellectual endeavors. Celebrating this way could be done anywhere, by working on writing or any art.
You could spend the day in tribute to Virginia Woolf. Read A Room of One's Own or one of her many other books. If you happen to be in England, you could visit her childhood home at 22 Hyde Park Gate; her childhood summer home, Talland House; or Monk's House, where she lived with her husband Leonard beginning in 1919, which is now a museum. Woolf's legacy could also be honored by reading other important women authors, many of whom were inspired by her.