A Room of One's Own Characters
Jane Austen (1775-1817) is one of the novelists Woolf discusses in chapter four. 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 thenarrator 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 Car michael, 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 four. 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 five. 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 one, 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...
(The entire section is 981 words.)