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"Women and Fiction" is considered one of the major works in feminist criticism. Woolf deploys several methodologies- historical and sociological analysis, fictional hypothesis, and philosophy, notably--to answer her initial question of why there have been so few female writers. She ties their minority status largely to socio-economic factors, specifically their poverty and lack of privacy. Her mantra throughout the essay is that a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write creatively.

Woolf considers the law and customs of the past largely responsible for the silence of women as writers. Woolf believes that it is the custom and law that prevented women from writing. In the 15th century, women enjoyed hardly any freedom; she was subject to beating and other mental tortures if they denied marrying the man 'of their parent's choice; after the marriage in a the-then male-dominated society, her husband used to be her lord and master. Woolf categorically states that the spiritual atmosphere was not at all favourable for the production of works of art - the atmosphere was spiritually suffocating for women and less encouraging for writing. 

Woolf also points out that producing a work of art requires many things like tremendous mental effort, a favourable atmosphere, high mental support and above all time. In the past women had hardly any time to write and the-then taw and customs robbed them of the opportunity of producing works of art. Woolf writes in the essay- "Law and custom were of course largely responsible for these strange intermissions of silence and speech. When a woman was liable, as she was in the fifteenth century, to be beaten and flung about the room if she did not marry the man of her parent's choice,  the spiritual atmosphere was not favourable for the production of works of art. When she was married without her own consent to a man who thereupon became her lord and master, "so far at least as law and custom could make him", as she was in the time of the Stuarts, she likely had little time for writing and less encouragement".

Woolf believes that a person needs three important things to produce works of art - money, time and a room of his or her own. She maintains throughout the essay that money, and the privacy of a room of one's own, are necessary for freedom of thought. Without these advantages, women are slavishly dependent on men, and they write out of anger or fear. Only with the confidence derived from money and privacy can a writer filter out his or her own personality and concentrate objectively on reality itself. 

Woolf repeatedly insists upon the necessity of an inheritance that requires no obligations and of the privacy of one's own room for the promotion of creative genius. She gives a historical argument that lack of money and privacy have prevented women from writing with genius in the past. Without money, women are slavishly dependent on men; without privacy, constant interruptions block their creativity. Freedom of thought is hampered as women consume themselves with thoughts of gender. They write out of anger or insecurity, and such emotions make them think about themselves rather than about their subjects. Aphra Behn is the first female writer to earn her own money from writing. She paved the way for 19th-century novelists like Jane Austen who were able to write despite the lack of privacy in their family sitting rooms. Woolf believes that contemporary female writers still generally operate out of anger or insecurity, but that in the future, with money and privacy, their minds will be freed and their genius will blossom.

In the essay Woolf points out that money plays a big role in the production of art. She categorically states that the poetic attitude largely depends on material things. Her argument in the essay is that because women were deprived of money and leisure, they failed to concentrate on complex literary forms and this culminated in the death of many unknown geniuses belonging to the female sex. However, she is quite upbeat that with money and leisure at women's disposal, they will produce superior works of art - "The basis of the poetic attitude is of course largely founded upon material things. It depends upon leisure, a little money, and the chance that money and leisure give to observe impersonally and dispassionately With money and leisure at their service, women will naturally occupy themselves more than has hitherto been possible with the craft of letters. They will make a fuller and more subtle use of the instrument of writing. Their technique will become bolder and richer" 

Woolf is using her topic "Women and Fiction" as a facade to offer a reason for the barriers placed upon women. in the essay, the writer makes a sociological analysis of the condition of women in a patriarchal society in the past. She shows that the suffocating environment dominated by male chauvinism and a society predominantly prejudiced against women by its law and customs played dominating roles in averting women from writing. What is Woolf's argument in the essay is that it is not that women did not possess a creative genius for producing works of art, rather it is the male-dominated society and the hostile surroundings that impeded and obstructed women's genius to flourish as great writers.


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