Having read again, last night when the moon was vibrant, our dear Virginia Woolf’s book-length essay, A Room of One’s Own, I have regained the strength absorbed upon first comprehending her advice to women, specifically women who desire to be writers. As Virginia, living alone in her London flat shortly after women won the right to vote, took book after book from her personal library in her journey to find meaning in the subject of women and fiction, last night I took a paperback copy of Room from my shelf and opened the pages. I sat in my comfortable lounger in a small apartment where I live alone, childless and with an adequate income. I have made it – a room, a home of my own, and money that is mine –
I thought, settling in for a few hours to reflect upon why Virginia’s mantra has been with me so deeply all these years. I didn’t get where I am because, as it was with Virginia, an aunt left me a handsome income that freed me from working for someone else to earn a living. Although Virginia did work with publishers and editors and publicists, no doubt, the aim was to enhance her prose. She wrote bravely. She shared her talents wisely. As I read last night, I felt her voice closer to my thoughts, my perspective now having carried her book-length essay around with me from city-to-city and job-to-job and relationship-to-relationship, plodding along and venturing forward all at once. I am not alone in needing to keep my copy of Room always at hand. Virginia’s six-chapter essay would become part of our collective female background, a reference point for how far we have come in the little time we’ve had to express our minds freely. As freely as possible, I must add, because we have a long way to go. But to the question Virginia’s mighty intellect could initially seize upon, in her stream-of-consciousness kind of way, on the subject of today’s female writers, she might ask: Are you incandescent?
I had forgotten this part of Room; I had forgotten that Virginia clearly states what it is we must do next, after acquiring our own rooms and money. Last night’s reading refreshed my soul and gave me direction, and that is why I find it compelling to share with my colleagues, my friends and people I don’t even know. Besides an income of five hundred a year “each of us,” the author wrote in 1928, “and rooms of our own,” dear Virginia hoped these essentials would lead more females to “have the habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think.”
“Good writers,” wrote Virginia, “even if they show every variety of human depravity, are still good human beings.” She asked us to write “for the good of the world.” And more. To express one’s work completely, the mind must be, and here she brought up the word “incandescent” to describe this state of being. “All desire to protest, to preach, to proclaim an injury, to pay off a score, to make the world the witness of some hardship or grievance” must be “fired out” of us and “consumed.” In this state, for a writer, words can flow freely and unimpeded. Incandescent. This is where one aspires after acquiring the room and the income of one’s own. And during the journey, too.
Above all, Virginia did write “it is much more important to be oneself than anything else.”
So let’s try our best, and keep at it.