An Ode to Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own”

The Poor Poet

Virginia Woolf had written about women needing space and the means to think and create. This means the time and resources, in order not to have to work – nor be obliged to be a housewife, and be able to have the time needed to create.

For a man, it is different, he is, in many ways, born with the world laid down before his feet.

Of course, I must take into account Virginia Woolf’s positionality, a white woman during the early 20th century. The intersectionality of this gendered realisation largely neglects race and class, however, the point holds true nonetheless. A black woman will find it harder to have the time and space to create than her male counterpart, while an upper-class woman would similarly have more societal obligations and roles dictated by society that are not forgiving to her own needs and wants, than her male counterpart.

“The poor poet has not in these days, nor has had for two hundred years, a dog’s chance… a poor child in England has little more hope than had the son of an Athenian slave to be emancipated into that intellectual freedom of which great writings are born.”

“A Room of One’s Own” by Virginia Woolf

I now have my own space. A charming, unique little flat with its own feel, I realised living in one’s own place – to curate a relationship with it, is to care for it, and it, in turn, will take care of you. I can’t help think longingly about the day I have my real own place, a place under my own name, not paying rent to anyone else, where I can design the walls, the bedrooms, the structures, the stairs.

Why is it so much easier to prioritise the everyday chores, the societal obligations – to see this and that person, to pick this and that up, to run this and that errand – rather than the things the heart wants, the yearning to create? Although, the yearning for love, acceptance, companionship are also things the heart wants.

I suppose life is a long journey to find the balance, or perhaps it is an everlasting dance between the two. To create, to leave one’s impact, to be the best one can be – in whatever it is one deems important, and then the other. Yet for others it seems people are content with the latter, without the aspect of creating. There is no real need to create, they are satisfied with supporting themselves and their family, being a good person, having a stable life not having to worry about resources, and a stable job.

Then there are the rest of us, the creator-yearners, perhaps, I should name us.

The struggles of the creator-yearners are seldom understood and are inevitably rare in their individuality. 

I have to water myself, my own needs, my own yearnings, my need to create, and to prioritise them, because society won’t.

I hope this little flat will give to me what I want to give to it – what it needs. When I moved in, the pipes were leaking, only a screw was sticking out of where the doorknob should have been, lightbulbs were missing, the kitchen had parts caked in dust and soot, dust covering entire parts of the place – it hadn’t been cared for.

“Intellectual freedom depends upon material things. Poetry depends upon intellectual freedom. And women have always been poor, not for two hundred years merely, but from the beginning of time. Women have had less intellectual freedom than the sons of Athenian slaves. Women, then, have not had a dog’s chance of writing poetry.”

“A Room of One’s Own” by Virginia Woolf

I am privileged to have these material things needed, but one must take care of them.

To have this, as such a young age, is undoubtedly a privilege, a privilege that many women lack. Once this room of one’s own is attained, there is no excuse, there is nothing standing in the way.

Instead, there is the fear, that my very need and want to create, my very yearning, will be my demise. Just as Sisyphus carried that meaningless rock up that hill, day after day, meaninglessly, he gave meaning to his life, but what if I am unable to carry my rock up every day, as it seems meaningless, more often than not? In the end, I may crumble from this pressure, this self-driven pressure and expectation to truly be someone.

And yet, in the face of the Strangeness of the Universe,

“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

“A Room of One’s Own” by Virginia Woolf

I don’t want to be Woolf’s imagined Shakespeare’s sister – Woolf’s genius literary device of a metaphorical woman, imagined, as Shakespeare’s sister – who was equally as talented as William Shakespeare himself, but, alas, will amount to nothing, forgotten in the dust of history,

“…it would have been impossible, completely and entirely, for any woman to have written the plays of Shakespeare in the age of Shakespeare. Let me imagine, since facts are so hard to come by, what would have happened had Shakespeare had a wonderfully gifted sister, called Judith, let us say. […] She was as adventurous, as imaginative, as agog to see the world as he was. But she was not sent to school. She had no chance of learning grammar and logic, let alone of reading Horace and Virgil. She picked up a book now and then, one of her brother’s perhaps, and read a few pages. But then her parents came in and told her to mend the stockings or mind the stew and not moon about with books and papers.”

“A Room of One’s Own” by Virginia Woolf

Judith, never stood a chance.

“For genius like Shakespeare’s is not born among labouring, uneducated, servile people. It was not born in England among the Saxons and the Britons. It is not born today among the working classes. How, then, could it have been born among women whose work began, according to Professor Trevelyan, almost before they were out of the nursery, who were forced to it by their parents and held to it by all the power of law and custom?”

“A Room of One’s Own” by Virginia Woolf

Woolf wrote this in 1929, almost 100 years ago. Although certain things have changed, technology has progressed, the geo-political nature of international relations has shifted, pandemics have come and gone, climate change has worsened, yet the very difference of societal obligations and its treatment of women still remain, in its core essence.

Since we are little girls, we are held more tightly and bound more strictly to societal’s expectations as a daughter, as a sister, and later on, as a wife, as a mother; our own personal desires held to a lesser degree of importance than those of men.

To be a woman, in a man’s world, is a hardship unique to women throughout the centuries. To have a room of one’s own, is a privilege indeed, one that those of us lucky to have must make good use of.

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