I just finished reading Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own.”
I know, you’re shocked. How could I create a blog named tangentially after this writer’s seminal essay on women and writing and art and power–and NOT have read it until now? That’s simple. I’m lazy. Also, somehow in my thirty four years on this planet I’ve amassed a wealth of random knowledge about lots of topics. I took several English literature courses in college, but didn’t get around to reading this one. Sophocles’ Antigone, yes. Dante’s Inferno, yes. Anything by Virginia Woolf, no.
Yet somehow I was able to recall this book existed, and even what it’s kind of about, when my husband could not.
Nevermind the reasons, I was drawn to reading A Room and finally read it. And I was floored. Because it was like I was sitting next to Virginia (would I call her Ginny?) having coffee in my local shop downtown, bitching about life and work and “how do you juggle it all?”, when she just opened her mouth and said these words straight to my face:
“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.
Now I’ve been thinking about all this women and writing stuff lately. I’ve been wondering with an open-mouthed expression just how I could make this thing work. In Woolf’s essay, she predicts criticism of her focus on materialism. She says how many will feel she’s putting too much emphasis on having money and means to write. This is her rebuttal:
“That is it. Intellectual freedom depends on material things. Poetry depends upon intellectual freedom. And woman have always been poor, not for two hundred years merely, but from the beginning of time. Women have had less intellectual freedom than the sons of Athenian slaves. Women, then, have not had a dog’s chance of writing poetry.”
This, written in 1929. I can certainly get into the intellectual poorness of women throughout history, and their lack of freedom to travel and experience life fully. But there are other quotes from Ginny that hit closer to home for me:
“… one can measure the opposition that was in the air to a woman writing when one finds that even a woman with a great turn for writing has brought herself to believe that to write a book was to be ridiculous, even to show oneself distracted.”
“The world did not say to her as it said to them [male writers], Write if you choose; it makes no difference to me. The world said with a guffaw, Write? What’s the good of your writing?
Yes indeed, what’s the good of writing? Surely today, us being so modern and all, women are no longer as intellectually poor or lacking in life experiences as they were in Ginny’s day. Well, maybe most women. Women in developed countries? Women in New York City? Anyway, I’m sure somewhere, some women are smarter and doing more than their male counterparts. In fact, I’m pretty certain they’re likely to be doing it all.
Full disclosure: I think I really could have a “great turn for writing” if I worked hard enough at it. But what about everything else? My husband, my sons, my house, my grocery shopping? My laundry, my cooking, my cleaning, my preschool volunteering, my daytime job? Yeah, writing a book does seem kind of ridiculous in the face of all that. And I am already distracted enough. I guffaw at myself, behind my own back. And then people tell me to write if I choose, but make sure to inform me that it will be very hard. Would these people say the same to a male friend with a “great turn”? Are they warning me off? It’ll be too much to handle, too many distractions…
I have some money. I don’t have a room of my own. I have a bedroom I share with my husband, a house I share with my family. Can serious writing and the Golf Channel exist in the same ‘zone’?