Virginia Woolf believed a woman needed “money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” While she got the money bit right – one has to eat – I’d give up the room of my own for a cook or someone who’ll take responsibility for changing the empty toilet roll.
Woolf’s essay was about a lot more than the literal meaning of this quote. She was examining the position of women in her society and how this affected them as writers. She was concerned about the lack of social and financial freedom women writers had in comparison to their male counterparts.
We have come a long way since those days as far as women’s access to education – Woolf could only dream of doing my post-graduate degree – and building a history of women’s writing – the Stella Prize comes to mind.
But as I settle down into my time in Menerbes I start to appreciate that maybe one of the freedoms we women writers desperately need is the freedom from being responsible for the minutiae of day-to-day living.
Woolfe didn’t say much about that. Maybe her mind was on more worthy things. But she and Leonard had no children and they had a daily housekeeper and cook. I think that might explain why she’s mum on that subject.
Which brings me back to my three weeks in France. For the first time in my life I have no demands being made on me. I don’t even cook, although we have an oven here that would comfortably roast a sucking pig.
Tip for writers: never go on a writing retreat without someone who loves being in the kitchen. Woolf does discuss that in A Room of One’s Own,
“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, [write well] if one has not dined well.”
My stomach and I heartily stand by my bracketed inclusion.
Travel is one of the few times in our lives women can be legitimately selfish. We are just not physically available for the claims our normal lives would make on us if we were at home. And that includes the things we want to do – help with the care of a dear friend who is recovering from a medical emergency. Or what we feel we should do – fix the leaking tap in the bathroom. Or what we dread doing – critiquing as a favour the 250,000 word vampire novel by your friend’s nephew’s babysitter.
I know many women writers who struggle to satisfactorily balance writing time with the curve balls every-day life throws at them. It’s still women who carry the bulk of that day-to-day stuff.
In Menerbes the responsibility for a fully-functioning life does not fall on my shoulders. I don’t have to organise anyone or anything, or take the responsibility of making sure things happen when they should. I don’t have to remember the birthday, buy the present, take it to the party so Little Susie can give it to the birthday girl.
I’m living the life of one of Woolf’s untouchable male fiction writers, albeit one who is very conscious of the privilege. I’m channelling Igor Stravinsky: lunch is when there is a break in my writing, and no one talks to me unless I speak first.
What is a room of one’s own compared to splashing around in the pleasure of unfettered selfishness?
Well, for another two weeks anyway.