I feel I have to make it clear that this essay is not about “grit”
March 15, 2019 5:32 PM   Subscribe

When I first read Virginia Woolf’s dictum that “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction,” I was homeless.
At Electric Lit, Sandra Newman writes about the tension between the common perception of writing as bourgeois and the often very broke reality: "What If You Can't Afford 'A Room Of One's Own'?"
At kottke.org, Tim Carmody comments on his own situation in relation to the essay, lauds it, and disagrees on one point: "The Problem Of Writing And Money"
posted by Going To Maine (13 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I always thought that essay was more of a plea than a dictum. Like "A single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."
posted by muddgirl at 5:44 PM on March 15 [5 favorites]

But more productively I watched Can You Ever Forgive Me? last night and it's a very de-glamorized look at the life of a writer.
posted by muddgirl at 5:49 PM on March 15 [2 favorites]

OK apparently I have a lot of Thoughts about this article, which I must preface are not disagreements. Many writers that we think of as prominent in their day were in a very precarious financial situation. For example at the end of her short life Austen and her sister and mother relied on the charity of their relatives. SNAP and section 8 housing are exactly the kinds of security blankets that are needed.

Another thought I had is how the internet and self-publishing have allowed women to create a metaphorical room of one's own. There are so many women making an actual living writing genre fiction that never comes close to the NYT bestseller list.

Now I will stop sucking the air out of the room.
posted by muddgirl at 6:27 PM on March 15 [4 favorites]

Some years ago an acquaintance told me about looking for an editor: they went online and posted an ad on the forum of some association of editors. They were inundated with reply’s - most notable were the number of writers vying to edit this totally un-remarkable text, who had won national prizes: Pulitzer/National Book Award.

(Similar but different are anecdotes about writers scoring a ‘reasonably’ huge payday only to get a notice from the IRS a short time later demanding their cut.)

America is unforgiving to its artists - and it’s fucking shameful.
posted by From Bklyn at 5:01 AM on March 16 [1 favorite]

I'm not quite sure how the IRS wanting someone to pay taxes is somehow unforgiving, other than the IRS is utterly unforgiving about taxes. But that's not singling out artists, that's everyone.

The status of artists in the US is fucking shameful, but it's not the IRS wanting taxes that's the problem. It's the culture at large and its attitude toward the arts.
posted by hippybear at 7:12 AM on March 16 [4 favorites]

I think the gutting of the National Endowment for the Arts is a better example the US government's hostility toward artists and creative work.

Also that the Obama's sickly shadow of a WPA was all about road construction/etc and didn't do anything to help artists or anyone working in creative industries (including the entertainment industry, which is very exploitative but also is very important to the US's international standing and wealth). I don't think that Obama himself was or is especially hostile to the arts, but I think that American anti-intellectualism certainly is -- and budgetary and staffing choices reflect that at every level of public life.
posted by rue72 at 7:41 AM on March 16

My point about the IRS (and the anecdote) is that even if a writer is lucky enough to receive a substantial pay-day the net could be less than if they had been receiving that payment over a number of years. The anecdote I heard was about the shock of having to pay tax on a lit. prize: turning it from a pay off mortgage / life changing event to something much more modest.
posted by From Bklyn at 8:59 AM on March 16 [1 favorite]

I come away from this piece absolutely convinced that its author did not understand Virginia Woolf at all.
posted by gsh at 11:08 AM on March 16 [1 favorite]

Didn't Rowling write the first Potter book while on the dole, living in gov't housing? Of course, her subsequent success is an outlier.
posted by Ber at 11:43 AM on March 16

Rowling is from Scotland, where I think they actually have that.
posted by toodleydoodley at 2:15 PM on March 16

I come away from this piece absolutely convinced that its author did not understand Virginia Woolf at all.

This is such a strong opinion! I wish it were contextualized.
posted by Going To Maine at 4:40 AM on March 18

When my money problems are in the ordinary range, I feel it’s more useful to see Woolf’s “room of one’s own” as metaphorical. After all, her insistence on a physical room was predicated on the fact that women were given no public space for their intellect. Outside the room, they would be jeered at, dismissed, erased.

This has always been my understanding of both the essay and this particular dictum from it. How else could it/ is it interpreted?
posted by From Bklyn at 4:56 AM on March 18

Newman and Carmody have both considered it literally, as they have often been writing when they have been dead broke and unable to have rooms of their own. Newman does not posit either reading as exclusive of the other, and it seems to me that if I were homeless and reading Woolf’s essay it would be hard to decouple the metaphor from my own lived experience either.
posted by Going To Maine at 5:32 AM on March 18

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