Several years ago I went back to school to take some writing courses and ended up completing my English degree with a minor in creative writing. One of the courses I took during that time was Women’s Prose and I became hooked on reading Virginia Woolf. I loved her voice and stream of consciousness writing but what really hooked me was her strength and how she used the art of writing as her basis of expression and freedom.
Virginia Woolf was one of the foremost modernists writers of the twentieth century, writing at a time when women were typically ignored or dismissed. In one of my favorite books of hers, A Room Of One’s Own, she writes,
All I could do was to offer you an opinion upon one minor point—a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction; and that, as you will see, leaves the great problem of the true nature of woman and the true nature of fiction unsolved.
When Virginia Woolf wrote, simply finding a place to write was difficult; to be taken seriously as a writer was near impossible. Some discriminatory attitudes, as they relate to women, have changed in todays society while some have just become more subtle in the manner in which they are presented.
One of the lines from this book which always stayed with me related to Virginia not being able to visit the library simply because she was a woman. When she was locked out, Woolf wrote, “I thought of the organ booming in the chapel and of the shut doors of the library; and I thought how unpleasant it is to be locked out; and I thought how it is worse perhaps to be locked in.”
To be locked in. The idea and image is suffocating. If you’re locked out you may have the opportunity to turn away and begin again. You can choose another path or find an avenue that may be less constricting or impenetrable but the opportunity to breath remains an available choice. Being locked in removes choices from your life. You become dependent on someone else for the breath of your life; that freedom of expression that helps you find your own room.
Being locked in continues to be a disturbing way of life for many people. The prison that is created by these thoughts or actions are easy to build and difficult to escape unless you have the strength to survive and the belief of a dream.
So much has changed in the hundred or so years since Virginia Woolf wrote these words.
Unfortunately, too much has remained the same.