Last Updated on October 18, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 956
Jane Austen (1775–1817) is one of the novelists Woolf discusses in chapter 4. Austen's major novels are: Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, and Persuasion. Austen's greatness has always been acknowledged, and ever since university literary curricula began to include literature other than the ancient classics of Greece and Rome, Austen's writing has been taught. Austen grew up and lived in the milieu of which she writes, the newly-established rural, propertied, middle class of England.
A beadle, historically, had a specific function in the British university system, which was namely to ensure that the protocols of the colleges were upheld, especially by their students. Today, however, they exist at few universities, and where they do, their role is largely ceremonial. For example, they might appear in traditional garb during processions. However, in Woolf's day, beadles still performed their historical function. The beadle in Woolf's book tells the narrator to remove herself from the campus lawns where, since she is a woman and not a member of the college, she is not allowed to be.
Mary Beton is one of the many fictional personages in Woolf's book. She is the aunt who leaves the narrator an inheritance that allows her the independence and freedom to produce a book such as A Room of One's Own. However, Mary Beton's identity is complicated by an assertion made by Woolf: ‘‘Call me Mary Beton, Mary Seton, Mary Carmichael, or by any name you please.’’
Woolf creates a number of fictional characters and then suggests before they are fully introduced that these are names or personae that the reader can associate with the book's narrating voice. So, Mary Beton and these other Marys are both narrators and fictional personages. What Woolf accomplishes by this strategy is to turn herself into a collective entity. This is appropriate since this book pursues the collective project of women's rights.
Charlotte Brontë (1816–1855), author of Jane Eyre and Villette, amongst other novels, is, like Jane Austen, one of the greatest women writers of all time. Charlotte Brontë's most well-known book, Jane Eyre, is subject to some criticism from Woolf in chapter 4. While Woolf acknowledges the book's many strengths, she laments those moments when the novel seems to be interrupted by overt or dogmatic pleas for women's rights. While Woolf is obviously interested in women's rights, she does not feel that art should be overtly political. Woolf uses Brontë's book to demonstrate her point that until women have achieved full rights, they will be prone to mar their art.
Mary Carmichael, like Mary Beton and Mary Seton, is a fictional personage. She is the author of the (invented) novel that the narrator ponders and analyzes in chapter 5. It is through an analysis of the story and sentences of this imagined book that Woolf presents her theories about the differences between men's and women's art.
George Eliot (1819–1880), whose real name was Mary Ann (or Mary Anne) Evans, is alluded to twice. She was a leading novelist and intellectual of her time who, like many women before the twentieth century, resorted to a male pseudonym in publishing. By adopting a man's name, Eliot deflected critics' attention from her gender so that they would give her books the serious critical attention they deserved. Her most admired novels are The Mill on the Floss, Middlemarch, and Daniel Deronda. Like many Victorian novelists, Eliot is eminently concerned in her novels with moral and ethical questions, and with the individual's duties and responsibilities.
Upon reaching the women's college in chapter 1, the narrator thinks she catches sight of "J— H—— herself.’’ This is an allusion to Jane Ellen Harrison (1850–1928), a well-known classics scholar of Woolf's time. Harrison was one of the first women to graduate from Cambridge University's Newnham College, where she was a lecturer from 1898 to 1922.
Mary Seton is, like Mary Beton and Mary Carmichael, a persona whom the reader can assume to be a narrator of Woolf's text. She is also, like these other two Marys, a fictional personage within the book. In fact, Mary Seton is two fictional personages: In her first guise, she is a friend of the narrator in chapter 1, a woman with whom the narrator chats after a dinner at the women's college. But, in this same portion of chapter 1, Mary Seton is also the name given to the first Mary Seton's mother. As the mother of Mary Seton, she is a typical, traditional woman, who, unlike her daughter, did not attend college or work for women's rights.
To dramatize her notion that women bestowed with artistic genius must have gone mad or at least have been terribly thwarted in earlier centuries, Woolf creates a figure she calls Shakespeare's Sister (‘‘Judith’’). Woolf then imagines Judith's life. By inventing an equally talented sister for the great British playwright, a woman who could not and did not give voice to her art, Woolf vividly communicates the great waste and loss of talent that is women's history.
William Shakespeare (1564–1616), the great British poet and playwright, is a figure whose name is synonymous with literature and artistic genius. In A Room of One's Own, Woolf argues that Shakespeare was endowed with an androgynous (having both male and female traits) mind. Woolf holds that all great art is created by persons with androgynous minds because great art cannot be wholly masculine or feminine.
Professor von X.
Professor von X. is a composite male imagined by Woolf in chapter 2. He is an extreme male chauvinist, a male academic who spends much of his time discoursing on the hows and whys of women's inferiority. He is a ridiculous and an unpleasant character who, Woolf suggests, is driven to his misogyny by personal disappointment.