Tuesday, September 22, 2009
A Room of One's Own
Over the past few months, I've heard myself say countless times that the choice of our house was not too hard. Only one house in our price range had room for me to have an office. Now, if we had absolutely had to live in a place where I didn't have a room of my own, I'm sure I could have made it work somehow (most likely as a combo with the guest bedroom). But I admit that I had a fair amount of trepidation when considering buying a house where I would not have a room of my own. Having an office is a way of my saying, I actually do intend to write my dissertation.
Perhaps because I've heard myself say this over and over again, I have had this phrase "room of one's own" in my head. I think I was assigned Virginia Woolf's extended essay with this title when I was an undergraduate. Recently, I took the time to re-read it (online). Now that I've gone through graduate school and am a professional reader, it didn't take too long, and I understood it much better than when I was 19 years old. Woolf's argument in this essay is that "a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction" (Ch 1). Woolf points out that most women have not had money and have not had a room of their own, and this is one important reason why women have not been able to write as much, nor as many masterpieces as men. Woolf suggests that a sister of Shakespeare, with comparable talent, would never have been able to become a Shakespeare because of the limitations placed on her as a woman.
Rereading this essay was actually quite enjoyable for me. I found it insightful, and in some ways affirming of many of my own arguments for why I am a theologian mom. I agree that the written word has taken a particular direction because it has been primarily carried on by men. To her example of history, I add theology as writing that has often been missing the contributions of women. It has not been missing these women because they were not capable, but because they did not have the opportunity - the money and a room of their own.
Regarding why a female ancestor, mother of 13, could not endow a college, Woolf writes, "For, to endow a college would necessitate the suppression of families altogether. Making a fortune and bearing thirteen children—no human being could stand it. Consider the facts, we said. 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" (Ch 2). I sighed as I read over these lines, thinking of how my children have diverted my time and attention. Yet I do not regret our acceptance of children early in our marriage, even if there are certainly five years spent in playing with the baby.
But while I enjoyed rereading A Room Of One's Own, there's one thing I'd like to mention here, related to Woolf's discussion of Jane Austen, George Eliot, Emily Bronte and Charlotte Bronte. First, Woolf notes that the four women novelists were all childless. In her mind, this partially explains why they were able to complete novels. Woolf seems to indicate that being childless is a novelty, and of course, she is correct that most women around the world and throughout history have become mothers. But what she leaves out, of course, is the tradition of childless women, many of whom did write, and many more of whom probably should have. I'm referring to those spiritual mothers who lived in convents. Thanks be to God, we do have some of their writings, Teresa of Avila's Interior Castle, for example.
This struck me as particularly interesting because of Woolf's emphasis on tradition. Toward the end of her essay, she considers a modern female author and the way this author has taken up where Austen and other women writers left off: "For books continue each other, in spite of our habit of judging them separately. And I must also consider her—this unknown woman—as the descendant of all those other women whose circumstances I have been glancing at and see what she inherits of their characteristics and restrictions" (Ch 5).
If you look at the sidebar on my blog, you'll see a list of "Theologian Moms," all of whom are saints. One of the qualifications for being on this list is that the saint has actually to have been a mother, in the physical, not spiritual sense. But as I read Woolf, I wondered if I am a descendant of these women or of other female theologians. Do I owe my opportunity to be a Theologian Mom to female religious, saintly mothers, or... Virginia Woolf? I know one female professor who always emphasizes that we women wouldn't be in the classroom if it weren't for the earlier generations, who blazed the trail. But I'd like to think that my writing of theology is also related to those generations of holy women who worked and prayed and wrote if they got the time. These women were not simply "oppressed" by the Church in their convents. They were given financial security and a room of their own (or at least, a common study room?).
Thinking about this has led me to appreciate my situation here. I have a room of my own and a computer of my own. My office has a nice view, and I've got more books than I've had time to read. God has been good to this theologian mom, but I also thank all those other women writers that have gone before me.