By Susan David Bernstein
Roomscape examines the Reading Room of the British Museum as a space of imaginative and historically generative potential in relation to the emergence of modern women writers in Victorian and early twentieth-century London.
Drawing on archival materials around this national library reading room, Roomscape is the first study that integrates documentary, theoretical, historical, and literary sources to examine the significance of this public interior space for women writers and their treatment of reading and writing spaces in literary texts. This book challenges an assessment of the Reading Room of the British Museum as a bastion of class and gender privilege, an image firmly established by Virginia Woolf's 1929 A Room of One's Own and the legions of feminist scholarship that upholds this spatial conceit.
Susan David Bernstein argues not only that the British Museum Reading Room facilitated various practices of women's literary traditions, she also questions the overdetermined value of privacy and autonomy in constructions of female authorship, a principle generated from Woolf's feminist manifesto. Rather than viewing reading and writing as solitary, individual events, Roomscape considers the meaning of exteriority and the public and social and gendered dimensions of literary production.
“In a work of pioneering archival recovery and dazzling theoretical innovation, Susan David Bernstein discovers a space where British women writers from George Eliot to Virginia Woolf found solace, intimacies, and communities crucial to their professional identities and intellectual development. Bernstein’s groundbreaking feminist study produces startling new discoveries. No one will regard Virginia Woolf the same way. Roomscape is a tour de force of interdisciplinary cultural history of the highest order.”—Priya Joshi, Temple University