feminist, essayist and fiction writer Virginia Woolf was considered by many to be one of the most important and innovative modernist writers of her era.
She was born in London in 1882.
She died at 59 in 1941, when she filled her coat pockets with rocks and walked out into the River Ouse in Sussex and drowned herself.
It was Woolf who wrote in A Room of One’s Own in 1928, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction”.
And of course, that is still true today. A woman needs money of her own, independence, time and space if she is to write fiction.
Material matters, of which Woolf was so aware, are still of utmost importance for creative and artistic women.
But you can’t help but wonder what Woolf would think if she were to come back, let’s say for a day trip, just to have a quick look around, so to speak, 70 years after her death.
Have things changed, Virginia? What can we tell you?
Well, we could mention that recently the prime minister of our country, Julia Gillard, had cause to make a moving and passionate speech to the Australian parliament about the misogyny she feels she has endured since becoming Australia’s first female prime minister.
Woolf considered that men gained their confidence by claiming they were superior to women.
A patriarchal society favours the interests of men and it seems that in some sectors Woolf might find that patriarchy is still alive and well.
Undoubtedly, women’s lives have improved greatly in the last century. Few women nowadays would scrub floors on their knees, or routinely do their weekly washing by hand.
Many have computers, most have electricity and hot water on tap. Machines and technology have offered women freedom from some of the hard physical work involved in raising a family.
However, do women in contemporary society, particularly women from the working classes, have creative freedom to pursue their artistic dreams?
In many respects, it seems the social expectation is still that the domestic realm is the responsibility of the female, and to a degree these expectations have been internalised by women.
I suspect that if Virginia were to peer through the windows of some, or even most, of the female writers I know, she would find them folding washing, hearing kids’ reading, making lunches for the next day, before finally, after a long day at work, sitting down in front of the computer to tap out a few creative words.
Of course, Virginia, women are no longer forced to hide their manuscripts or cover them with blotting paper as did Jane Austen, or to write in a man’s name in order to be taken seriously as writer as did Mary Anne Evans (George Elliott).
Yes, things have changed but, Virginia, I think you will find that material matters, social expectations, and familial responsibilities still impinge on women’s freedom to write fiction.