Woolf's speaker has a good deal to say about "truth" in this essay . There is a great deal of value in reading this work because it lays opens Woolf's thinking about truth. Woolf believes that no one person is in a position to authoritatively state the truth: people can...
only state their own truths and how they came to their conclusions. This is why in her mature novels she gets inside as many heads as possible: the combinations of different people's perspectives is necessary to arrive at some semblance truth.
In this essay, Woolf is defending the assertion that women need a modest but secure income and room of their own—which is what a certain class of men have traditionally had easy access to—if they are going to be as successful as men in producing great writing. She is also attacking the many confident pronouncements men have made about women: such as that women don't produce great literature at the same rate as men because they are mentally inferior.
At any rate, when a subject is highly controversial—and any question about sex is that—one cannot hope to tell the truth. One can only show how one came to hold whatever opinion one does hold. One can only give one's audience the chance of drawing their own conclusions as they observe the limitations, the prejudices, the idiosyncrasies of the speaker. Fiction here is likely to contain more truth than fact.
In the statement above, Woolf refutes the idea that on a controversial—in other words, emotionally heated (not any issue, such as how many eggs are in a dozen)—issue, any one person can know the truth. People need to be humble, as her narrator is, and show how they arrived at their version of the truth. They need to be clear about who they are and what their agendas are, not just pronounce as if they are gods on high. They need to trust readers to draw their own conclusions. Truth emerges—or comes closer to emerging— when many people state how they came to their own conclusions about truth.
In going to the British Library and reading what famous men wrote about women, Woolf's speaker faces only an impossibly contradictory jumble. She realizes that men are angry at women and says that has made truth-telling impossible. Their works
had been written in the red light of emotion and not in the white light of truth.
To get to truth, Woolf says, people have to acknowledge their emotions honestly and then try to transcend them.