The Sedulous Farrago of a Woman’s Mind

However, the majority of women are neither harlots nor courtesans; nor do they sit clasping pug dogs to dusty velvet all through the summer afternoon. But what do they do then?  –Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own (88)

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The well-known first few lines of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, sum up her thesis neatly; she declares that a woman must have money and a room of her own in order to write. Having come into a bit of money, Woolf was in a position of some authority to make these statements.  At nearly one hundred years distance, it offers a still (depressingly) prescient message.

There was another ten-shilling note in my purse; I noticed it, because it is a fact that still takes my breath away – the power of my purse to breed ten-shilling notes automatically. (38)

Cash rules everything: that is as true for men as it is for women, however, we women simply have always been, and still are, the poorer half of society. I am, regrettably, neither an expert on having money, nor on having a room of one’s own. However, I wondered, as I read this rather brilliant little book, about that last point. Woolf spends a lot of time talking about the dearth of female literature, she adds odious quotes that would make most humans cringe, showing up the dumbest things a man is capable of saying on the subject of women and their intellectual capacities. She also clearly understands that the difference between men and women is potentially the all-important and wonderful thing.

It would be a thousand pities if women wrote like men, or lived like men, or looked like men, for if two sexes are quite inadequate, considering the vastness and variety of the world, how should we manage with one only? – (87)

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As women were slowly “allowed’ to write more than letters, and then to show their work publicly, one of the problems, according to Woolf  that presented, was the difficulty in writing about a world in which a person knows so little. Confined as these early female proto-writers were, their writing was limited. Much in the same way, she adds, that men knew, and therefore wrote, next to nothing (and nothing at all interesting) about the all-important female to female relationship- they simply had, historically, no idea what that entailed and so female characters were by and large relegated to the role of lover or femme fatale with some female relations thrown in. Imagine, she asks, if everything written by a man was stripped of its male to male friendships? I can’t even get past re-imagining  The Epic of Gilgamesh, so let’s not try…I do seem to recall a vitally important prostitute in that tale, yeah Virginia, point taken.

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But here I run into a slight problem. I get, theoretically, the whole room of one’s own thing, it sounds very nice. And yet, and yet…I believe this is one more of a piece. This is a man’s problem, not a woman’s. If a woman has money- which gives time; and confidence – which gives energy, a room is superfluous. Are we not the multi-tasking half of the sexes? It’s built in. Tend to children, roll the dough out, plan the dinner, read a book, jot down a brilliant thought, hang the clothes to dry, drive in circles taking kids to and from and back again to practices, friends, and libraries, and then sit down to write while answering homework questions and making plans for the week (you’ll notice it’s the having money part that would eliminate what many of us have to add in – doing all of the above for a minimum wage – a serious blow to both time and confidence). All this is done while the same writing-male sits in his room of his own. I’m not saying either is easy, or one easier, simply that a hermetic room of peace is not the key thing in a woman’s life. We don’t have time to be precious. Sorry, that came out wrong, what I meant to say is…it is possible…we have an innate capacity to hold a spoon in one hand and a pencil in another. We only needed to be respected for doing it- our way.

There are people whose charity embraces even the prune. (19)

All I’m saying is, don’t wait. The money problem is a definite problem, but if you are a woman, and you are waiting for a room of your own- it may be a long wait. You’re probably much more likely to get an hour snatched here and there with lots of workable minutes strung in between. As a client of mine, who gave me her delightfully underlined copy of A Room of One’s Own and was born years before it was even written,  always says- we must take what we can get. Although come to think of it, she had money and room, so…on second thought, I’m open to the experiment- someday!

My motives, let me admit, are partly selfish. Like most uneducated Englishwomen, I like reading – I like reading books in the bulk. (107)

Rhubarb Strawberry Pie

Rhubarb Strawberry Pie

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16 responses to “The Sedulous Farrago of a Woman’s Mind

  1. Lovely hands those of yours that skillfully, delicately work the pie dough… as lovely as your brilliant mind works and shares ideas, feelings and emotions, resulting in posts like this one: bright, intense, passionate, reflexive, portraying the woman inside, the woman outside, the woman in her completeness and plenitude.
    You resemble a lot the pies you bake with your own hands (or is it the other way round?!) So delicate, appealing, crispy, with a secret filling, surely tasty, surely plenty of “meaning”.

  2. I’m sure everything you touch turns into gold. ‘Cause you care. ‘Cause you love. ‘Cause (not only for being a woman) you’re really “multitaskingfähig”. But also, and above all, a loving, giving, sensitive living creature! An extraordinary, amazing woman!

    I guess you can already name “Jess” one of your best, tasty pies!!! (And baking pies is as art. Not only somethig for “maids” and “stupid women”!!!

    Love u always!

    C.

  3. Reblogged this on nós and commented:
    Hands, pies and brilliant ideas!!!

  4. Very inspiring…I sometimes crave a “computer of my own” in the same vein, but it is true that I get an amazing amount done when I sneak onto the computer before and after everyone else…..

  5. The having of money might be an unfair advantage for some, yet there is something of grit and bloodymindedness in women who write through their fragmentation. Sans doubt, a richness and a truth to perspective and insight that might well not be had otherwise. A room of one’s own, (which I now, finally do have) can actually be a vacuum.
    Yes Virginia, there is such thing as too much privilege.

  6. petrujviljoen

    Had to look up both sedulous and farrago: a zealous mixed fodder of a life. I would like to say, enough said.
    However, ”Are we not the multi-tasking half of the sexes? It’s built in.” and ”… have an innate capacity to hold a spoon in one hand and a pencil in another.” When I can bear to look at my own life … it’s nothing like this.
    With a spoon in one hand, the pencil would look out of place and if I had a pencil and had to pick up a spoon, I’d start drawing the spoon instead of scooping the ice cream. Or I’d take the camera and photograph the process of scooping and dishing and wonder what it all meant? And the ice cream would melt and the kids (thankfully don’t have any) would cry and I’d be cross at the kids’ crying and slurp up the melted ice cream and wonder if it would be a good self portrait. I don’t suppose there’s any point in wondering how I’d cope if I did have children. I’d probably squeeze in working time whenever I could. The times I had to go out to do menial work for a living, I’d take my stone and file with, or my piece of wood or steal time on the work computer to draw in photoshop and look at everything strangely until people stared.
    It’s not innate. Some women just had to learn how to juggle duties and obligations. Time some men do too. In fact Eva Hesse complained about having to wash the fucking dishes while her partner Tom, also an artist, sat on at the table after supper making sketches on backs of envelopes.
    That said: I remember reading about Kathe Kollwitz and how she coped with being an artist, an intellectual, a mother and a wife: ”Family life seemed to nourish and enrich Kollwitz’ art, and may have been partly responsible for her great skill at expressing personal interactions in universal terms.” Quoted from Voicing our Visions, edited by Mara R Witzling. P149. Apparently she made her strongest works during the 2nd World War: her husband died, her grandson was killed, she was fired from her job at the Prussian Academy and she had to flee the bombing of Berlin.
    I’ve never been good at housework. Have always disliked it. I am, however, trying to get some routine together for a good balance. And I do have a room of my own, several in fact, and can’t make up my mind which one I’d work best in today. In one is the computer, which I often drag to bed, the other houses the beads and the spare bed, the other the studio and the kitchen does house the glue and bleach but so far I’ve refrained from dragging the easel in there. Not enough light. And very little money of my own. It’s a problem.

    • No theory, thankfully, ever fits all. But it’s not about the dishes, or an affinity for housework, it just an evolutionary ability to have multiple focus- not that it’s always done well, absolute focus can be disastrous too, just that – it’s there. The female mind uses more of her brain and there is that much more to get lost in, or make something of.

  7. I don’t think it’s strictly a matter of actually being able to write, but what you manage to write about. and how deeply you can do so. People are constantly amazed at the stuff I stumble upon and sometimes write about but it is because I have the luxury of time to stare out a window, to think, to make connections wiht obscure things. That is a luxury that many male writers have and women are less llikely to.

  8. More pie writing, wonderful, wonderful.

    Virtually the first thing the vacationing narrator does in The Country of the Pointed Firs is rent an abandoned one-room schoolhouse in order to have a room of her own where she can write. Obviously, then, she also has some money. Just as Woolf said.

  9. Enjoyed reading this.Thank you

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