CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Women finding room to write

Adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own examines ‘why women are poorer than men’

29 May, 2020 — By Lucy Popescu

Indira Varma. Photo: Sachyn Mital

DON’T miss Linda Marshall Griffiths’ evocative adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s seminal work A Room of One’s Own, starring Indira Varma, and directed by Nadia Molinari.

It’s 1928. A woman stands by a river pondering the opening sentence of an essay on female creativity. As she walks across the grass she is told to keep to the path – only male scholars are allowed on the hallowed turf. She is then barred entry to the college library where ladies have to be accompanied by a fellow or possess a letter of introduction.

Undeterred, the woman makes her way to lunch – “at least in the college dining room I am allowed” – and describes the extravagant meal in detail. In contrast, the meagre fare in the women’s college disappoints: plain gravy soup, overcooked greens finished off by prunes and custard! Worse, they’re served water rather than wine. She decamps to her friend Mary Seaton’s room to drink whiskey and bemoan the disparity in funding for women’s education.

This is the central thrust of Woolf’s essay. How can women find time to write when they are expected to marry and give birth? Poverty and dependency impoverish the mind. Next stop is the British Museum to discover “why women are poorer than men”. The history books are dominated by male voices whose prejudice is epitomised by Professor X’s assertion that women are of “mental, moral and physical inferiority”.

In a neatly dramatised interlude, Woolf imagines what might have happened if Shakespeare had had an equally gifted sister. She concludes that she would have been denied the opportunity to write or display her talent. Her ambition would have been swiftly curtailed by pregnancy. The average Elizabethan woman was absent: “in the kitchen chopping up suet”.

Even when women started to write in the 19th century they often published anonymously. Jane Austen did not have a study and had to work in the sitting room. Female characters continued to be defined by their relations to men rather than each other.

Woolf’s conclusion resonates today: a woman needs security – a room of her own and a lock on the door – for creativity to flourish.

  • A Room of One’s Own is on BBC Radio 4 at 3pm on Sunday.

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