"While we are reading, we are all Don Quixote." ~ Mason Cooley

Monday, December 3, 2012

A Room of One's Own

I have room of my own, a wonderful room.  Though small in square footage, it has 14 ft. ceilings and a bay of windows that look out to distant foothills that turn copper at the break of dawn.  There is a wall of book cases, home to the books that have helped shape my opinions and world view and many I have yet to read. Curios and collections gathered over decades could tell a tale or two.  On the walls, artwork that reflects my aesthetic tastes and the most recent addition, my own graphite drawing, the first which I am satisfied (no, proud) enough to display.  Tucked away in niches, whimsical creatures - gnomes and angels, fanciful women, and a balancing toy Santa who makes me smile so easily that he has earned a dedicated year-round home.

Scattered about are bowls of pens and colored pencils, baskets filled with notebooks, journals and magazines.  Candles and candy jars, pillows and afghans.  And being the holidays, rope lights, a tiny flocked tree, a bouquet of ornaments.  In short, this is a room where I come to contemplate, create, and celebrate.

In one corner is my favorite chair, teal leather with an ottoman, where, nestled among pillows, an afghan across my lap, I retired this afternoon to nurse a bruised and inflamed knee, and for some inexplicable reason to reread A Room of One's Own, the book that initiated the creation of my own space some 30 years ago.

Virginia Woolf died the year I was born, she was only 59 years old. This little gem of only 118 pages, now a classic in many Women's Studies programs and lit courses, was first published in l929.  The essay is based on lectures she gave at Cambridge on the subject of women and fiction, expanded for this book.

Not only can I not explain why I picked it up this afternoon, I can't recall why I originally bought it.  I suspect the title aroused my curiosity.  I certainly did not aspire to becoming a writer.  I do recall being taken with her eloquent style, the beautiful descriptions, the clarity of her logic, the persuasiveness of her arguments.  Setting out to consider why there were so few female authors of prose or poetry, faced with conflicting historical reasons (many asserting women lacked the character, imagination or ability), Woolf came to the conclusion that to create, particularly to write enduring literature, one must have a fixed income and a "room of one's own" - both historically the principal privilege of men.

At that first reading, I had the fixed income, but not a room of my own, not a dedicated space for reflection and creative pursuits, had never had one, never considered it, even during the years when I was single.  Obviously, reading it again in this room has been a personal affirmation, a celebration. But it has also been affirming on a deeper level.  For even as I read, I could look up and see several books on my shelves with the names of female authors.  I could recall hours of pleasure and inspiration this past year thanks to Julia Cameron, P. D. James, Candace Millard, Marilyn Robinson, Donna Leon and Annie Dillard, to name a few. Couldn't help but wonder what Woolf would make of Hilary Mantel winning England's prestigious Book Award for 2012, the first person to win the award twice.

But lest this all makes A Room of One's Own seem irrelevant, one only has to take note that many women still do not have adequate fixed incomes, let alone rooms of their own.  That a young girl could be brutally attacked for simply wanting to be educated.  That there are those, even in this country, who would reverse the progress that women have made.

A Room of Own's One remains relevant, inspiring, and beautifully written.