I wouldn't have gotten much out of this book if I hadn't gone to graduate school -- not because the book is difficult or obtuse, but for the entirely personal reason that graduate school in the Midwest was my first real encounter with the persistence of the sexist views Woolf describes. Growing up in San Francisco, I had almost no experience with sexism. No one ever told me or my friends that women were not as good at anything, that we shouldn't write, have whatever jobs we wanted, be independent. Of course I realized that this was a modern attitude, but I assumed it was a fairly well-established one. Moving to Indiana and meeting educated men and women who sincerely believed that women did not belong in the public sphere and should be home having babies and obeying husbands was a huge shock to me. In the 21st century, people still believe that women are created inferior by God/biology/evolution/social necessity -- how? why?
I still have some of the same problems with this book that I had when it was assigned in high school: that she writes from an elitist position, that she places too much emphasis on material comfort, that she believes in essential differences between the sexes (aside from the obvious biological ones). However, her insights regarding male anger and her idea of women as mirrors are brilliant, and I'm sure her ideas here were revelatory in their time. And as always, both her writing itself and her comments on writing generally are wonderful. The book is thoughtful and carefully structured. I didn't enjoy this as much as I did her fiction, but no one ever said essays were meant to be fun.