As expressed in A Room of One's Own, does Virginia Woolf think poems are superior to novels?

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teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In a Room of One's Own, Woolf doesn't believe poems are superior to novels but rather argues that, to reach their full potential and articulate what it is to be a woman, women need to make every genre their own and not allow men to dictate to them how they should write. In fact, Woolf sees the novel, because it is a newer form, as better adapted to women's writing than poetry. Speaking of Jane Austen, Woolf writes:

The novel alone was young enough to be soft in her hands—another reason, perhaps, why she wrote novels.

Woolf argues that women in past generations have done better with novels than poems, suggesting that it is easier for a woman to smooth over her "incandescent" anger in a novel (she particularly admires Jane Austen for her ability never to burst out in fury) and the circumstances of a woman's life made novel writing more natural. Women, lacking rooms of their own, were forced to write in communal spaces, such as sitting rooms, and novels suited that because "less concentration is required."

While not seeing poetry as superior to novels (Woolf herself wrote prose), she did understand that for women

it is the poetry that is still denied outlet.

Some women, she contends, who became novelists should have been poets, not because poetry is better than prose, but because that was their natural medium, only thwarted by the circumstances of a woman's life. 

Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Chapter Four of A Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf states an opinion that links societal pressure and expectation with the excellence of a woman writer's performance. Woolf's opinion is that poetry, and all art, requires that belief within the poet that the work will be taken seriously. Her contention is that during her era, society fostered the expectation that women writers, especially poets, would be disapproved of and not taken seriously. She also indicates that this societal pressure applies to women authoring novels but expresses that the abundance of women novelists in the eighteenth century had finally produced excellence in the writing of Jane Austen.

Woolf describes Austen as the first woman writer to be free in mind and spirit from the expectation and pressure of society's disapproval or ridicule. The conclusion thus seems to be that Woolf doesn't indicate a necessarily higher value for poetry, but she does indicate that freedom of mind for women writer's didn't come until the vast popularity of the woman written novel gave greater freedom to act and write. The assumption seems to be that if the great eighteenth century writing enthusiasm had been for poetry, then the nineteenth century would have yielded women poets of excellence.

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A Room of One's Own

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