"A Room of One's Own" by Virginia Woolf, Chapter 4

Based on lectures that Woolf delivered at Cambridge, this essay argues that women need financial independence and private spaces in order to create literature.

Here are links to our lists for the essay: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6
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definitions & notes only words
  1. eschew
    avoid and stay away from deliberately
    Men, of course, are not snobs, I continued, carefully eschewing 'the arrant feminism' of Miss Rebecca West; but they appreciate with sympathy for the most part the efforts of a countess to write verse.
  2. faction
    a dissenting clique
    And if someone would soar above the rest,
    With warmer fancy, and ambition pressed,
    So strong the opposing faction still appears,
    The hopes to thrive can ne'er outweigh the fears.
  3. impediment
    something immaterial that interferes with action or progress
    Clearly her mind has by no means 'consumed all impediments and become incandescent'.
  4. presumptuous
    going beyond what is appropriate, permitted, or courteous
    Alas! a woman that attempts the pen,
    Such a presumptuous creature is esteemed,
    The fault can by no virtue be redeemed.
  5. inimitable
    matchless
    Nor will in fading silks compose,
    Faintly the inimitable rose.
  6. adulation
    exaggerated flattery or praise
    But how could she have helped herself? I asked, imagining the sneers and the laughter, the adulation of the toadies, the scepticism of the professional poet.
  7. toady
    a person who tries to please someone to gain an advantage
    But how could she have helped herself? I asked, imagining the sneers and the laughter, the adulation of the toadies, the scepticism of the professional poet.
  8. scruples
    motivation deriving from ethical or moral principles
    She must have shut herself up in a room in the country to write, and been torn asunder by bitterness and scruples perhaps, though her husband was of the kindest, and their married life perfection.
  9. censure
    rebuke formally
    The employment, which was thus censured, was, as far as one can see, the harmless one of rambling about the fields and dreaming...
  10. diffuse
    lacking conciseness
    But she became diffuse, Mr. Murry says. Her gift is all grown about with weeds and bound with briars.
  11. congeal
    solidify, thicken, or come together
    It poured itself out, higgledy-piggledy, in torrents of rhyme and prose, poetry and philosophy which stand congealed in quartos and folios that nobody ever reads.
  12. coarseness
    the quality of lacking taste and refinement
    Sir Egerton Brydges complained of her coarseness—'as flowing from a female of high rank brought up in the Courts'.
  13. fritter
    spend frivolously and unwisely
    What a waste that the woman who wrote 'the best bred women are those whose minds are civilest' should have frittered her time away scribbling nonsense and plunging ever deeper into obscurity and folly till the people crowded round her coach when she issued out.
  14. wench
    a young woman
    The heat of the day is spent in reading or working and about sixe or seven a Clock, I walke out into a Common that lyes hard by the house where a great many young wenches keep Sheep and Cow's and sitt in the shades singing of Ballads...
  15. plebeian
    of or associated with the great masses of people
    Mrs. Behn was a middle-class woman with all the plebeian virtues of humour, vitality and courage; a woman forced by the death of her husband and some unfortunate adventures of her own to make her living by her wits.
  16. frontispiece
    an illustration facing the title page of a book
    Lady Dudley, sitting in diamonds among the midges of a Scottish moor, might serve for frontispiece.
  17. despotism
    dominance through threat of punishment and violence
    That whimsical despotism was in the nineteenth century too.
  18. incongruous
    lacking in harmony or compatibility or appropriateness
    Save for the possibly relevant fact that not one of them had a child, four more incongruous characters could not have met together in a room—so much so that it is tempting to invent a meeting and a dialogue between them.
  19. capacious
    large in the amount that can be contained
    Emily Brontë should have written poetic plays; the overflow of George Eliot's capacious mind should have spread itself when the creative impulse was spent upon history or biography.
  20. ferment
    work up into agitation or excitement
    Nobody knows how many rebellions ferment in the masses of life which people earth.
  21. tribulation
    an annoying or frustrating or catastrophic event
    One of them, it is true, George Eliot, escaped after much tribulation, but only to a secluded villa in St. John's Wood.
  22. edifying
    enlightening or uplifting so as to encourage improvement
    Had Tolstoi lived at the Priory in seclusion with a married lady 'cut off from what is called the world', however edifying the moral lesson, he could scarcely, I thought, have written WAR AND PEACE.
  23. farrago
    a motley assortment of things
    Or, This is a farrago of absurdity. I could never feel anything of the sort myself.
  24. stagnate
    exist in a changeless situation
    She remembered that she had been starved of her proper due of experience—she had been made to stagnate in a parsonage mending stockings when she wanted to wander free over the world.
  25. deference
    a disposition or tendency to yield to the will of others
    The whole structure, therefore, of the early nineteenth-century novel was raised, if one was a woman, by a mind which was slightly pulled from the straight, and made to alter its clear vision in deference to external authority.
  26. conciliation
    the act of placating and overcoming distrust and animosity
    One has only to skim those old forgotten novels and listen to the tone of voice in which they are written to divine that the writer was meeting criticism; she was saying this by way of aggression, or that by way of conciliation.
  27. docile
    easily handled or managed
    She met that criticism as her temperament dictated, with docility and diffidence, or with anger and emphasis.
  28. diffidence
    lack of self-assurance
    She met that criticism as her temperament dictated, with docility and diffidence, or with anger and emphasis.
  29. pedagogue
    someone who educates young people
    Of all the thousand women who wrote novels then, they alone entirely ignored the perpetual admonitions of the eternal pedagogue—write this, think that.
  30. avuncular
    resembling an uncle in kindness or indulgence
    They alone were deaf to that persistent voice, now grumbling, now patronizing, now domineering, now grieved, now shocked, now angry, now avuncular, that voice which cannot let women alone, but must be at them, like some too-conscientious governess, adjuring them, like Sir Egerton Brydges, to be refined...
  31. governess
    a woman who cares for and instructs a child in a household
    They alone were deaf to that persistent voice, now grumbling, now patronizing, now domineering, now grieved, now shocked, now angry, now avuncular, that voice which cannot let women alone, but must be at them, like some too-conscientious governess, adjuring them, like Sir Egerton Brydges, to be refined...
  32. adjure
    command solemnly
    They alone were deaf to that persistent voice, now grumbling, now patronizing, now domineering, now grieved, now shocked, now angry, now avuncular, that voice which cannot let women alone, but must be at them, like some too-conscientious governess, adjuring them, like Sir Egerton Brydges, to be refined...
  33. admonish
    counsel in terms of someone's behavior
    ... admonishing them, if they would be good and win, as I suppose, some shiny prize, to keep within certain limits which the gentleman in question thinks suitable—'...female novelists should only aspire to excellence by courageously acknowledging the limitations of their sex'.
  34. stalwart
    possessing or displaying courage
    It would have needed a very stalwart young woman in 1828 to disregard all those snubs and chidings and promises of prizes.
  35. firebrand
    someone who deliberately foments trouble
    One must have been something of a firebrand to say to oneself, Oh, but they can't buy literature too.
  36. rhetoric
    study of the technique for using language effectively
    [She] has a metaphysical purpose, and that is a dangerous obsession, especially with a woman, for women rarely possess men's healthy love of rhetoric.
  37. materialistic
    marked by a desire for wealth and possessions
    It is a strange lack in the sex which is in other things more primitive and more materialistic.
  38. sedulous
    marked by care and persistent effort
    The ape is too distant to be sedulous.
  39. slovenly
    negligent of neatness especially in dress and person
    All the great novelists like Thackeray and Dickens and Balzac have written a natural prose, swift but not slovenly, expressive but not precious, taking their own tint without ceasing to be common property.
  40. broach
    bring up a topic for discussion
    I do not want, and I am sure that you do not want me, to broach that very dismal subject, the future of fiction, so that I will only pause here one moment to draw your attention to the great part which must be played in that future so far as women are concerned by physical conditions.

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