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)
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)
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.
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)