500 Pounds & A Room of One’s Own

January 19th, 2008 § 0 comments

I can’t believe, for several reasons, that I have never before read A Room of One’s own, it seems to have slipped through the cracks of feminism, and I suppose it was placed lower on my list of Woolf books than others because it was about “Shakespeare’s sister”-this gross misreading seems to appear on the back of many different publishers descriptions of the book. Woolf was asked to write/lecture on “women and fiction” and this books is the culmination of her efforts. It is Woolf at her best in many ways, at least for me. If one reads her early work she seems not quite herself, her early style follows that of the female writers who came before, she is conscience of being both a woman and a women in a linear history of female novelists. Her later work is angry, depressed, and resentful, these books disturb and anger me when I read them, partly because of her situation in time/life, and partly because I know, as do most, how she died. Her later works read as desperations against or toward something, against life perhaps and toward death. A Room of One’s Own is probably the first book of hers that left me completely satisfied, it is almost as though she has proved her own argument through her life of writing. If one is busy being angry at one’s situation and position, if one writes against those that oppress and control, than one’s craft is compromised. The story she subtly tells in the book, that a great many white, wealthy men contribute to, is the familiar one most women know, one that is at the same time angering, pathetic, and sad; men fought so hard for their superiority, it is painful to imagine why. As she says, “the history of men’s opposition to women’s emancipation is more interesting perhaps than the story of that emancipation itself.” Her conclusions to the multitude of problems she evokes are simple, for women they need money and a place to work, they must not write as “women” but simply as people, and they must not write in anger against their life and situation, but rather as a writer with something to write. Her explanation is much more eloquent and interesting, but that seemed the gist.

What is interesting outside of the book is the fact that these simple necessities are still something that must be fought for, and her impassioned take on the world is as hard for us as it proved for her and a good many others throughout history. At school the solution to a space to work is a “studio”, but they do not think much about what it means to have a space where one can work. Institutions seem to place studios in convenient locations for spying, as a way to see who is doing what and when. The moment I touch my loom I know “people” in other rooms will come to see what I am doing, Susan jumps at the sound of weaving in my room and, glasses in hand, comes for inspection. Therefore, instead of sitting down to work, mind upon what I am doing, the first pick means visitors and questions. Others I know talk of the convenience and problems of having their studio at home, interruptions can be both welcoming and aggravating. People at school seem to think that “the home” is not a good place to work, being comfortable does not produce good work, and they favor the blank cube. Robert Smithson points out, in an essay against museums and institutions that I love, this is not a proper place to work either. My ideal studio space would be something like the room of requirements, it becomes what I need every day that I need it, only when needed, and and it does not appear for anyone else in the same way.

This book feels like the future of feminism to me, it relieves us of the passion and hatred we have inherited from ‘second/third-wave’ writing and thinking, from films like The Question of Silence, a hatred that I never felt and always was judged for not feeling. As Woolf points out, “the Professors” are angry too, “…he was concerned not with their inferiority, but his own superiority”. It is such an easy trap, anger and defensiveness, one I have known in the past, I can think of projects that fall into her category of “self-expression” rather than art. She argues that the bitterness of many early female writers hampered their craft, lessing their words and talent. I suppose I end where I started, amazed that I have never read this book before, that it is not used, its attitude seems more contemporary then much of the feminist writing I know. And I am sure, that many of the opposite sex have not read it either, which is also a shame, for it is in a large part for them as well as for us, it is possibly the fairest and most generous view of their behavior they are likely to read that still contains some truth. I can see in my mind the shrugs and smirks, and I wonder still how little things have changed. Emilie was reading an article the other day about women in the hard sciences, how much more likely they are to be published if their name is androgynous. The George Eliot’s and the George Sand’s live on.

“…do not dream of influencing people…think instead of things themselves”.

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