I had hoped to be finished with A Room of One’s Own by now, and I was going to write about Woolf’s manifesto side by side with Alice Munro’s story “The Office.” But it’s well past dinner and I still have about thirty pages to go, and today hasn’t been the sort of day on which focus comes easily.
Strangely enough, the insistent voices that keep calling me away from Woolf are the same ones she warns against. If you haven’t read A Room of One’s Own, I’ll summarize it briefly by saying that while Woolf takes her reader off on a variety of tangents, most of them wonderful, the primary thesis of her book is a simple one: To succeed as artists, women must be financially independent and sovereign over their own workspaces. I’ll say more when I review the book for real, but for now – with yet another cat crisis on my hands, plus a pending car crisis – I’m just going to offer you a few quick passages: the ones that prompted me to write !!! in the margins.
On the strange disparity between the lives of women in history and the ways they’ve been portrayed by male authors in fiction and drama:
“A very queer, composite being thus emerges. Imaginatively she is of the highest importance; practically she is completely insignificant. She pervades poetry from cover to cover; she is all but absent from history. She dominates the lives of kings and conquerors in fiction; in face she was the slave of any boy whose parents forced a ring upon her finger. Some of the most inspired words, some of the most profound thoughts in literature fall from her lips: in real life she could hardly read, could scarcely spell, and was the property of her husband” (44).
On Woolf’s changing views of men:
“It was absurd to blame any class or sex, as a whole. Great bodies of people are never responsible for what they do. They are driven by instincts which are not within their control. They too, the patriarchs, the professors, had endless difficulties, terrible drawbacks, to contend with. Their education had been in some ways as faulty as my own. It had bred in them defects that great. True, they had money and power, but only at the costs of harboring in their breasts an eagle, a vulture, for ever tearing the liver out and plucking at the lungs – the instinct for possession, the rage for acquisition which drives them to desire other people’s fields and goods perpetually, to make frontiers and flags; battleships and poison gas; to offer up their own lives and their children’s lives. Walk through the Admiralty Arch… or any other avenue given to trophy and cannon, and reflect upon the kind of glory celebrated there. Or watch in the spring sunshine the stockbroker and the great barrister going indoors to make money and more money and more money when it is a fact that five hundred pounds a year will keep one alive in the sunshine” (38-9).
On Charlotte Bronte:
“One might say… laying [Jane Eyre] down beside Pride and Prejudice, that the woman who wrote those pages had more genius in her than Jane Austen; but if one reads them over and marks that jerk in them, that indignation, one sees that she will never get her genius expressed whole and entire. Her books will be deformed and twisted. She will write in a rage when she should write calmly. She will write foolishly when she should write wisely. She will write of herself where she should write of her characters. She is at war with her lot. How could she help but die young, cramped and thwarted?” (69-70)
More to come soon, friends. Have a good weekend!