Whatever you know of Virginia Woolf’s life and works, you probably don’t associate her with styling. Surprise, surprise: the woman knew the effects on the mind and body of a well-styled room long before Better Homes and Gardens, Martha Stewart, or HGTV filled our lives.
In my third year of college I spent twelve rather grueling weeks studying, obsessing, and making sense out of Virginia Woolf’s writing. It was quite the journey. Out of her stream of consciousness, abstract imagery, and at times rather depressing prose, two things stuck in my mind:
1.) Maintain a room of one’s own:
In her famous lecture turned essay, Virginia Woolf wrote in A Room of One’s Own that one of the most essential things to the success of an artist, and, more specifically, a female artist, was to have a space all to oneself. At the time, Woolf wrote this to point out one of the crucial reasons she believed that women had been unable to write effectively. The nineteenth century woman who “never (had) an half hour…that they can call their own,” did not possess the means to acquire a room, or time, to herself unless “her parents were exceptionally rich or very noble.” At the mercy of her husband or some male support, the average woman, if she desired to write, had to “write in the common sitting room” where of course, “dogs will bark; people will interrupt; money must be made; health will break down.” Woolf felt that, unlike the man who might wander off to an office and shut himself away to work for hours, the women of nineteenth century homes had no such place to work, create, or imagine in.
Women no longer have such restrictions. We make our own money, own our own homes, and follow our own ambitions. Yet, with no limits to our “duties” or desires, women seem to need a room of their own for entirely different, but no less important, reasons. The modern woman is fulfilling roles the nineteenth century woman never dreamed of. By fulfilling these roles though, there is little time to escape into a place where the mind can focus on self, what is important, and what needs to be culled out of a life packed to the brim of to-do’s.
So, take Woolf’s advice: steal a workplace for yourself.
Convert a closet:
Tidy a desk just for you:
Or create an inspiration board:
Maintain a room, a corner, a space all your own where, regardless of whether you are an artist or not, you can put life on pause lest your mind become “heaped…with bitterness and resentment” from the everyday.
2.) Whatever you do, do it like a woman.
In her criticism of a female novelist during the nineteenth century, Woolf noted that the novelist’s writing voice was muddled by her belief that she ought either to admit that “she was ‘only a woman,’” or protest “that she was ‘as good as a man.’” Contrasted to these women, she notes that only Jane Austen and Emily Bronte were successful in their craft because “they wrote as women write, not as men write.” They neither excused themselves for their writing because they were “merely” women, nor tried to adopt a false voice in order to be compared to a man. They were, in essence, essentially themselves. In speaking of women writers, Woolf expresses that “it would be a thousand pities if women wrote like men, or lived like men, or looked like men, for if two sexes are quite inadequate, considering the vastness and variety of the world, how should we manage with one only? Ought not education to bring out and fortify the differences rather than the similarities?”
Wouldn’t she be horrified at the current androgyny? Woolf stated that Jane Austen was one of the few successful female novelist during her time for, unlike other women, she did not try to learn from the “men’s sentences” that were her only examples. Instead, “Austen looked at it (the man’s sentence) and laughed at it and devised a perfectly natural, shapely sentence proper for her own use and never departed from it.”
Whatever you desire to do, take it from Virginia: do it as a woman would do it, not as a man would. Devise your own approach and never depart from it. Excuses and protests will achieve little, but give a woman a space to think and the confidence to think as herself, and there will be, as Virginia found, “no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.”
source: A Room of one’s own, harcourt, inc, 1989
– ❤ A.