A Room of My Own

We are finishing the last part of our basement, which consists of three bedrooms and a hallway.  I have already staked my claim for one of those bedrooms.  It is the smallest room with the lowest ceiling, but the window faces west, and in the afternoons it is sunny, bright, and warm.  The closet, door, and baseboards are currently being painted (by my generous and hardworking mother-in-law), but I can already imagine what it will look like once the carpet is installed.  There will be bookshelves (of course), a large desk, a filing cabinet, a wall of my framed publications, and a small couch or chair in some shade of lavender.  I had the Azure Sofa from Crate and Barrel in mind, but apparently it’s no longer available.  Curses!  Isn’t it beautiful?

The walls may also be a shade of lavender, depending on how much energy I have for painting it myself.  I also imagined a French door, pure white with sparklingly clean window panes.  However, this dream has not come to fruition.  Apparently, that would have cost too much!  (And it’s likely those sparkly window panes would be covered in nose, mouth, and fingerprints about 2.5 feet high).  However, once the space is done, it will be where I do my writing, and probably grading, but hopefully my time in this room will mostly consist of writing.

I’ve been planning to have this room of my own for a few months now.  The idea came from my goal to start writing and publishing.  I’ve been working on this my whole life, but I began submitting manuscripts in earnest some six months ago.  So far, my quest has been successful with six publications in print or pending.  While on this journey to become a “writer,” I discovered that the office space we have now is adequate but far from perfect.  The desk is small, cluttered (I guess that’s my fault), and easily accessible to my toddler.  It is surrounded by couches, and the chair is too low and too hard.  The computer is old and in need of a replacement.  All of this will come in time and with carefully saved money, but first I need my space.

The idea of having a room of one’s own came from British author Virginia Woolf, one of the leading feminists of the 1920s and 30s.  She espoused the main ideals of the movement for women’s autonomy in A Room of One’s Own (1929).  Woolf wrote, “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction” (231).  This metaphorically extends to all women, for they must have their own property, education, and money in order to have freedom. This idea definitely extends to me; if I am to be a successful writer I need a room of my own.

Woolf addressed such independence against the backdrop of marriage.  As she imagined Judith Shakespeare, she admitted, that a women of that time “could hardly read, could scarcely spell, and was the property of her husband” (249).  Limiting a woman’s status to nothing more than a wife contributed to her silence throughout literary history.  Woolf believed this should be rectified and suggested that women need their own resources.

A second feature of Woolf’s argument is that women were not given equal opportunities in education.  Woolf described the poor state of education for women.  While men feasted at the imaginary Oxbridge, women sipped clear broth for dinner.  One of her most famous lines tells us: “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.  The lamp in the spine does not light on beef and prunes” (238).  The consequences of a poor education include dependence on a husband or family and the inability to earn money.  Woolf wrote: “[T]o earn money was impossible for them, and . . . had it been possible, the law denied them the right to possess what money they earned” (240).  Woolf acknowledged that women had no earning power because of a poor education but took the issue a step further by pointing out that even if it were possible, a woman would not be allowed ownership of her earnings.  Woolf’s ideas illustrate the difficult situation women found themselves in during the early twentieth century.

Woolf also acknowledged maternity as a feminist issue, arguing that freedom of an equal marriage or an education is hampered by the ties a woman has to her children:

“First there are nine months before the baby is born.  Then the baby is born.  Then there are three or four months spent in feeding the baby.  After the baby is fed there are certainly five years spent in playing with the baby.  You cannot, it seems, let children run about the streets”  (239).

Children dominate a woman’s time, and if she has more than one―Woolf mentioned a woman who had thirteen―then her entire life is spent caring for the children, making an ideal marriage or an education superfluous (239).

Woolf questioned norms and identified the sites of sociopolitical conflict for women.  The issues of marriage, education, and maternity are still what women face today.  These issues are certainly more pleasant that they once were, and we have Woolf to thank for starting that conversation and Betty Friedan who wrote The Feminine Mystique in 1963 to thank for furthering that conversation and revolutionizing it.  I suppose there is more work to be done, however, as a major newspaper in our area recently published my sister Afton’s dream headline for 2012: “New data show men earn 70 cents for every dollar women earn.”  Maybe if more women had rooms of their own, this dream would come true.

Do you have a room of your own?  What is it like?  What do you do there?

Woolf, Virginia.  “A Room of One’s Own.”  The Broadview Anthology of British Literature Volume 6: The Twentieth Century and Beyond.  Ed. Joseph Black.  Toronto: Broadview P, 2006.  231-79.  Print.


19 thoughts on “A Room of My Own

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  1. Nice piece. Although I don’t think it’s fair to credit Virginia Woolf with starting the conversation that shaped feminism. Mary Wollstonecraft and Sojourner Truth come to mind…

    1. I guess it was just a turn of phrase to say she “started the conversation.” I meant second wave feminism, for which she is not credited because of her historical position in modernist times. However, if we want to get specific, feminism may have started in 1405 in France, where Christine de Pizan wrote The Book of the City of Ladies, a collection of martyr stories promoting women’s strength. In England, Mary Astell and Mary Wollstonecraft wrote landmark essays in 1694 and 1792, respectively. In the United States, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony fought for suffrage in the 1800s. Women sure have been fighting for equality for a long time! The term “feminism” was first used in the 1880s in France as feminisme.

  2. I love this one. I was just talking to a friend about having financial independence from our husbands. Unfortunately, it is not as possible to be independent in this beautiful economy we are living in. Everything we make goes into one pot and in the end we are always left wanting more. I guess that works for all of us.

    I love how you use Woolf’s words to explain what issues you/we are dealing with on a daily basis. It reminds me of a time with that great post-modern professor.

    I wonder if women are more valuable in this time than in Woolf’s time. Or if it is the same level of value. Maybe it is our “responsibility” as mothers to bear and raise the children, but at what cost? Do we have to lose ourselves in the process?

    Love the Blog!

  3. YES to “a room of one’s own”! And, might I add, to some “time of one’s own.” I have a Writing Room in our home, which I frequent less often than I would like. Sometimes I have a hard time settling into work there (poetry, mostly), even with the door closed, if other family members are home as well. There is something about the necessity of not just physical, but mental/psychic space, too — the creative vitality of solitude — that is important, for me at least.

    Woolf’s book was a revelation when I was a teenager, and its essential wisdom continues to resonate.

    Just discovered your blog– great things, here! I look forward to reading more.

    All the best,
    Emily Hancock
    St Brigid Press

    1. Thanks, Emily! It is nice to meet you. I agree that time is essential. I have been feeling like I don’t have enough of that lately, but I may have overextended myself as well. I need to work on limits. 🙂

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