Shakespeare’s Sister.

When was the last time you read ‘A Room of One’s Own’?
Have you read ‘A Room of One’s Own’?
I did. Last week. Then I read it again.
There is so much there: language and polemic; bemusement and anger; truth universal and truth of that moment. But also extraordinarily elitist empathy.

Highlights below. More for my sake than yours, because it’s 120 pages so why should you take anything out of context?

Thought — to call it by a prouder name than it deserved — had let its line down into the stream. It swayed, minute after minute, hither and thither among the reflections and the weeds, letting the water lift it and sink it, until — you know the little tug — the sudden conglomeration of an idea at the end of one’s line: and then the cautious hauling of it in, and the careful laying of it out? Alas, laid on the grass how small, how insignificant this thought of mine looked; the sort of fish that a good fisherman puts back into the water so that it may grow fatter and be one day worth cooking and eating.”

I dislike big fish. I prefer the little speckled ones that almost pass for sunlight.

His face expressed horror and indignation. Instinct rather than reason came to my help; he was a Beadle; I was a woman. This was the turf; there was the path. Only the Fellows and Scholars are allowed here; the gravel is the place for me.”

More or less disgust, do I have, for a Beadle than for a Trump? Go back to the gravel- worse than stone-cold bigotry- is both petty and patronizing. Go back where you came from, is ignorance and fear. The only answer being: You wouldn’t make it 20 minutes where I came from.

One does not like to be told that one is naturally the inferior of a little man who breathes hard, wears a ready-made tie, and has not shaved this fortnight. One has certain foolish vanities.”

I dunno. He might be kinda hot.

The inevitable sequel to lunching and dining at Oxbridge seemed, unfortunately, to be a visit to the British Museum.”

Or sleeping in a rail station, but whatever. Inevitable never is and unfortunate is relative.

Before, I had made my living by cadging odd jobs from newspapers, by reporting a donkey show here or a wedding there; I had earned a few pounds by addressing envelopes, reading to old ladies, making artificial flowers, teaching the alphabet to small children in a kindergarten. I need not, I am afraid, describe in any detail the hardness of the work …”

Um. I’m not sure there are many details to be had in the toil that is reading to old ladies and small children. But yes, let’s move on to more despicable drudgeries.

Watch in the spring sunshine the stockbroker and the great barrister going indoors to make money and more money and more money when it is a fact that five hundred pounds a year will keep one alive in the sunshine.”

Where there are donkey shows to report on.

Moreover, in a hundred years, women will have ceased to be the protected sex. Logically they will take part in all the activities and exertions once denied them. The nursemaid will heave coal. The shop-woman will drive an engine. All assumptions founded on the facts observed when women were the protected sex will have disappeared … Remove that protection, expose them to the same exertions and activities, make them soldiers and sailors and engine-drivers and dock-labourers, and will not women die off so much younger, so much quicker, than men that one will say ‘I saw a woman today,’ as one used to say, ‘I saw an aeroplane.’”

A hundred years have passed. We are not a protected sex. Nursemaids are coal heavers. Shop-women drive engines. They do both a morning shift and a night shift and the kids say ‘my mama worked three jobs to put food on the …’ In the event of unprotected sex, they are not protected. They are defunded. I don’t think that’s what Virginia hoped for. What did she hope for? I’m confused. Did she want to be an aeroplane? Or did she just want to fly? A hundred years have passed and today we are sure that in 100 years time we will say ‘I saw a bee today,’ as we used to say ‘I saw a drone deliver a package to a woman who didn’t have time to do her own shopping because she had flowers to arrange and a wedding to attend and a donkey show to instagram.

I thought of that old gentleman, who is dead now, but was a bishop, I think, who declared that it was impossible for any woman, past, present, or to come, to have the genius of Shakespeare. He wrote to the papers about it. He also told a lady who applied to him for information that cats do not as a matter of fact go to heaven, though they have, he added, souls of a sort. How much thinking these old gentlemen used to save one! How the borders of ignorance shrank back at their approach! Cats do not go to heaven. Women cannot write the plays of Shakespeare.”

Behold — this unimpeachable use of commas and exclamation points. The sarcasm, as well, is not to be bested. He wrote to the papers, bless him.

All the victims of inner strife, as their writings prove, sought ineffectively to veil themselves by using the name of a man. Thus they did homage to the convention, which if not implanted by the other sex was liberally encouraged by them (the chief glory of a woman is not to be talked of, said Pericles, himself a much-talked-of-man), that publicity in a woman is detestable. Anonymity runs in their blood. The desire to be veiled still possesses them. They are even now as concerned about the health of their fame as men are, and speaking generally, will pass a tombstone or a signpost without feeling an irresistable desire to cut their names on it, as Alf, Bert or Chas. must do in obedience to their instinct which murmurs as it sees a fine woman go by, or even a dog, Ce chien est à moi.”

There she goes outwitting me again. Where has she slipped from the men who save us from shaming ourselves to our laudable disdain for pissing on trees named Chas.? The answer, it seems to me, is neither ban the veil nor collect followers of your lips, ass and jumpsuit collections. So what is it? Did VW know that one day publicity = power? What would AOC say from her broken, woken platform?

There are no yard measures, neatly divided into the fractions of an inch, that can lay against the qualities of a good mother or the devotion of a daughter, or the fidelity of a sister, or the capacity of a housekeeper.

This has not changed and this will never change. But it isn’t, and will not be ever again, a lament for women only. Women have sad company — the masses, majorities even, of the locked out and locked in status are not women. They are children. They are migrants. They are stopped to be frisked and warned and booked. Gender is a too-fluid category of oppression.

There are no yard measures, neatly divided into the fractions of an inch, that can lay against the qualities of a good mother or the devotion of a daughter, or the fidelity of a sister, or the capacity of a housekeeper.

Well, I disagree. And am glad that I do. I believe that shows progress. I believe VW would, too. I have a room of my own. I am in it, now, disagreeing with the protofeminist of the modern era. That’s at least a solid yard and a half.

In fact one goes back to Shakespeare’s mind as the type of androgynous, of the man-womanly mind, though it would be impossible to say what Shakespeare thought of women.”

No arguments here. And let’s bring ‘man-womanly’ back.

For there is a spot the size of a shilling at the back of the head which one can never see for oneself. Think with what humanity and brilliance men, from the earliest ages, have pointed out to women that dark place at the back of their head.

Such was the case in 1929. But it is 90 years later and we have out-manned the men in our capacity to find the dark places. We have klieg lights as powerful as the mechanics available to an era of obsolete titans of industry and barons of commerce.

Come back VW, they are all afraid of you.



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