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On Self Love: Lessons from Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own

There are many takeaways from Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, and there is a lot to feel. Anger that she gets turned away from the doors of an Oxbridge library because she is a woman unaccompanied by a fellow or a letter of introduction, hopelessness that her imagination that in 100 years the equality of sexes would have been achieved has not come true — and it many not come true for another two centuries at least, sadness that the financial inclusion that eluded aspiring women writers centuries ago still continues to elude a majority of women in the rural developing world who till lands whose title deeds they do not own. The list is endless.

Despite all of these feelings, and others that must surely result from a barrage of sad news that we encounter daily about the state of a world that is becoming increasingly divided, unequal and less kind, seek a personal space that allows your work, your being, your living, to be ridden of bitterness and anger that might destroy its very essence.

Asked to speak about women and fiction, Woolf finds that the lyricism of many women’s writing disintegrates into indignation. Women like Charlotte Brönte might have had great writing genius, but encumbered by anger at their circumstance that restricted women’s freedoms and relegated them to household work, they could never write to their potential as Shakespeare could.

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 was fired out of him and consumed. Therefore his poetry flows from him free and unimpeded. If ever a human being got his work expressed completely, it was Shakespeare. If ever a mind was incandescent, unimpeded, I thought, turning again to the bookcase, it was Shakespeare’s mind.

Jane Austen did manage to write beyond her circumstance.

And, I wondered, would Pride and Prejudice have been a better novel if Jane Austen had not thought it necessary to hide her manuscript from visitors? I read a page or two to see; but I could not find any signs that her circumstances had harmed her work in the slightest. That, perhaps, was the chief miracle about it. Here was a woman about the year 1800 writing without hate, without bitterness, without fear, without protest, without preaching.

Incandescent. Unimpeded. That’s the nature we are willing our brains, our abilities, our potential. There is privilege, sometimes unaffordable, in creativity and intelligence that does not protest given all the inequalities and wrongs of our times. But may we find moments of peace and grace in which we can think, create, and be, as if we weren’t wronged.

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