Monday, June 18, 2012

A Room of One's Own

"Ah. You were reading that feminist book this morning!" my Beloved interrupted my thoughts. 
And it's true. I was. I finally read A Room of One's Own, by Virginia Woolf, which I have been meaning to read for a very long time. Now, as I have less time than ever before to write (o the glory days of high school!) I've finally sat down and done it. With a beloved daughter nursing through most of it.

And... it was fascinating.

A Room of One's Own is an early feminist book about why there were so few female writers pre 1928 (when Woolf was writing). No female Shakespeares or Donnes, no female Miltons or Wordsworths.

This has obviously changed, there are now a lot of female writers.

(And no Shakespeares, female or male. Let's just admit he was one of a kind. Sigh. But wouldn't a cyber-tech style Shakespeare be awesome)

But it was fascinating to read Woolfs reflections on the dearth of female writers through the ages. And I smiled ruefully when I took her point that the main female writers of the 19th century, Austen, Bronte et all were all ... childless...

Woolf's premise was that to write, (and by that she meant write well) you need an income of 500 pounds a year and a room of your own. Something females (and indeed most males...!) in the past were unlikely to get.

A quick google tells me that as of 2001 500 pounds in 1928 would be equivalent to about 200,000 pounds today. That's 400, 000 Australian dollars. With that you truly could devote your life to writing! Cleaners, cooks, nannies and yourself in your own (locked) and book-lined study contemplating the mysteries of the world and the perfect sentence. With occasional jaunts around the world for 'experience'.

My beloved Papa scoffed when I told him I was desirous of reading A Room of One's Own

He said Woolf was just another an upper-class snob. (Read in-bred and leeching the life-blood from the working-class.) 

And yes, sharing his background, knowing that when Woolf was demanding a room of her own and a substantial fortune,  most of our folk were working 14 hour days, 6 days a week on hands and knees down coal mines. I know she was writing for a teeny tiny minority.  

Woolf did however, mention Robert Burns as a shining example of someone from the working class producing brilliance -not only male and working class, but Scottish! Woolf admitted it was as hard for the working class male as it was for a female to produce literature. 

And if it was hard for a working class man that would make it near impossible for a working class women. Okay, I can't name a pre 1920s working-class female writer. Let's split the difference and call it impossible. (But please let me know if I'm wrong! I'd love to know I'm wrong!)

Time is necessary to writing, and time it seems, dedicated, private, thinking time, is a product you need to buy.

In the minority world, class has changed. Time has changed. Money has changed.

But to write, you still need dedicated, private time.

And it always has a price. It's still a luxury good.

My time will come. My beloved is studying hard to eventually supply me with 500 pounds a year and a room of my own. I get happy shivers just thinking about it. I can't say I'll produce great literature. But I hope I will produce thoughtful and creative literature. And I hope I remember those who are still waiting for a room of their own. Although to be honest, my  (our - ahum) money will go on schools, libraries and healthcare (particularly maternity care) in the majority world.

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