I recently started reading Virginia Woolf. First Mrs. Dalloway, and now A Room of One’s Own. I know, I’m late to the party—and not even fashionably late. My copy of A Room of One’s Own is special. It’s from 1981, purchased used by my dad and it has his embossed stamp in it.
Side note: I received an embosser for Christmas and this will be my first stamp, beside my dad’s. I inherited this copy when he passed and I feel it looks very 70s/80s – which in turn reminds me of my late father, who looked like Sonny Bono.
I’ve written only one essay – apparently not very well. I want to do better so I need to read more essays. I’ve got two Ann Patchett essay books I will dive into shortly but thought I should start with a classic. I dusted myself and this book off and dug in.
It’s a page turner! It’s a page turner? Mrs. Woolf’s dips deeply into the library for her topic of Women and Fiction – reflecting on the history of female authors, which stops in 1929 when the book was published. So much has changed with the acceptance of women writing and working and having a room of one’s own. But not enough. We are still dismissed, we still don’t have a proper seat at the table, and we are still barely recognized for our contributions. Literature is one area where we have made strides – more women authors are leaving their mark – and from all over the world – Chile to Canada, Nigeria to Japan, US to UK.
I’m humbled by Virginia Woolf’s words. I’m not going to attempt the perspective she gave… But allow me to note that even with this “progress,” the Pulitzer has only been awarded to 31 women with Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence (read it! – not then, of course) being the first in 1921 and Louise Erdrich’s The Night Watchman (just got it) in 2021. 100 years—not solitude but not evenly split. The Man Booker isn’t any better: 34 men and 18 women, with the last winners (yes, two) Bernardine Evaristo (first Black woman) for her novel Girl, Woman, Other and Margaret Atwood for The Testaments in 2019 (need to pick up both of these).
My next venture shall be to read all female prize winners – at least from the last two decades – that I haven’t already read – starting with those on bookshelves (including The Night Watchman and the 2018 Man Booker winner Milkman by Anna Burns).
Back to Women and Fiction and A Room of One’s Own, not to spoil the ending, but Virginia Woolf’s conclusion was brilliant… here are a few sound bites:
“There runs through these comments and discussions the conviction—or is it the instinct?—that good books are desirable and that good writers, even if they show every variety of human depravity, are still good human beings. Thus when I am asking you to write more books I am urging you to do what will be for your good and for the good of the world at large….
“For my belief, is that if we live another century or so—I am talking of the common life which is the real life and of the little separate lives which we live as individuals—and have five hundred a year each of us and a room of our own; if we have the habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think; if we escape a little from the common sitting room and see human beings not always in relation to each other but in relation to reality;….
“But I maintain that she (Shakespeare’s sister) would come if we worked for her, and so to work, even in poverty and obscurity, is worth while.”Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
A Room of One’s Own deserves more than three paragraphs. Read it.
Virginia Woolf and these essays left me wanting to perch in my room or better yet, back porch, to read and write. Which is what I am going to do… now. Words that pay homage to strong women.