Virginia Woolf's "A Room of One's Own" is a representation of twentieth-century feminist thought. It explores the history of women in literature through an unconventional and highly provocative investigation of the social and material conditions required for the writing of literature. These conditions -leisure time, privacy, and financial independence- are particularly relevant to understanding the situation of women in the literary tradition because women, historically, have been uniformly deprived of those basic prerequisites. .
The journey through Women and Fiction is a complicated one in part, because the subject is open to various meanings. Woolf distinguishes several of them. "Women and Fiction" could mean: "Women and what they are like", "Women and the Fiction they create.", and "Women and the fiction that is written about them." Throughout the text, it should be noted that Woolf will often consider these themes, as she says, "inextricably mixed together." She will do so especially through the lens of fictional personal experience, most memorably with the description of two imaginary meals, one at a women's college, the other at a men's.
At the women's college, she says, "Dinner was not good.'" It consisted of plain soup, beef, cabbages, and potatoes, followed by prunes and custard. "The water jug was liberally passed around." The situation at the men's college was quite different. Here there was .
sole and partridges "with all their retinue of sauces and salads," "meanwhile the glasses had flushed yellow and flushed crimson; had been emptied; had been filled." Good food and drink, Woolf suggests, appropriately accompany rational discourse and they are emblematic of the material conditions that support education. The difference between the two meals, this is to say, symbolizes the difference between the educational opportunities that have existed for men and for women. And these differences have a notable effect on the capacity to produce fiction, since later on Woolf will note that a formal education is almost always the possession of great writers - but for most of history women were excluded from most formal education.