Allusion to Milton in “A Room of One’s Own”

While reading “A Room of One’s Own” I was struck by an allusion Woolf makes to a John Milton poem. When Woolf is discussing the inheritance she gains from a dead relative she references a line from a John Milton poem, “On His Blindness”. She writes that she is becoming bitter at “the thought of that one gift which it was death to hide…” (Woolf 37).  Milton’s poem is about his concern he will soon be blind and unable to write. He states that his abilities will be wasted, “And that one talent which is death to hide / Lodged with me useless…” (Milton 3-4). Woolf also holds fears that the creativity and skills of many female writers have never come to fruition because of circumstances they cannot control. Although borrowing his line, Woolf changes it to include the word ‘gift’ as opposed to the word ‘talent’.  By making this small adjustment Woolf uses the word gift to mean the talents or abilities that a person can possess and to refer back to specifically to the gift she has received; the 500 pounds a year that her Aunt has given to her.

Things get more interesting because Milton himself was quoting a parable from the bible called “The Parable of Talents”. In the parable a master gives three of his servants ‘talents’ (the name of a type of currency) and goes travelling. After some time away the master returns to see what his servants have produced. The two servants that used the talents to gain more money are rewarded with praise while the servant who buried the talent is scolded and punished.

In his poem Milton alludes to The Parable of Talents but only uses ‘talent’ to mean ability. Woolf on the other hand has switched the allusion back so that it refers to both meanings–money and ability. In this way Woolf suggests that when ability is not used or kept locked up it is a waste of talent. (Women’s abilities are wasted talent). I think Woolf is using this to mean that to not use the money that her aunt has provided her would be useless, as well. If Woolf were to act like the third servant and simply tuck the money away and not use it to her benefit as a writer would be a tragedy in itself. As such Woolf is asserting that literary women with the monetary means to be independent have been called to reach act upon the talent and potential they possess.

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One thought on “Allusion to Milton in “A Room of One’s Own”

  1. I find it so interesting that she uses the terms gifts and talents to mean both money and ability. Truthfully, it is often that one cannot express or obtain one without the other. For instance, one with money but no ability can “buy talent”. Or one with ability and no money can make money off their ability. But it is often that if one has no money but has abilities, they cannot afford to express their abilities, for they have to make money before they have can have the leisure of expressing their abilities and in that way, many talented people’s abilities go to waste.

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