Yesterday's NYTimes Book Review announced the publication of a new biography of the legendary writer, Virginia Woolf. While reading the review I was reminded of a discussion I had several years ago with friends.
I used to be a member of a book group, and though that assemblage of women still meets monthly, I quit for reasons I won't go into today. We were a group of women who had, for the most part, kept a foot inside the work force after becoming mothers. At our finest hour the group contained--among others-- four lawyers (one non-practicing), one PhD. college professor, two teachers, the owner of a medical transcription business and a free-lance writer. Still, there was a tension between specific camps inside the group. Suffice it to say that the women who spoke up for the most traditional
aspects of "women's roles" also seemed to be the ones who felt their positions in the workplace made their opinions of literature more valid than...say...those of us who were part timers or had quit their jobs altogether.
The woman who started this group was so incredibly fearful that discussions would decline into nothing more than a gathering for us to talk about food or kids (A "hen party" as one threatened husband referred to us. Not my husband, though) that she instigated a rule prohibiting any talk about children and made sure dessert wasn't served until we were finished discussing the book in question. Of course, this same woman proceeded to do nothing BUT talk about her children whom she was sure were far superior to any of ours. Anyway--
One month we had to read "A Room of One's Own" by Virginia Woolf. It spoke of the need all people had--but especially women--to have a physical space in which to become whatever they wanted to become. Mostly it seemed to be a treatise for the luxury of thinking only of yourself... to contemplate the possibilities of your life and how you want it to turn out. It was pointed out quite early in the conversation that Virginia Woolf, though married, had no children.
Around that same time, Random House had just published a list of the Best 100 American Novels of All Time. (or was it The 20th Century?) Either way, the badge of honor required that only novels which had been published over 25 years prior could be considered. Do I even need to point out that only a fraction of the list named female writers?
And at the risk of sounding as though we blamed our lack of recognized literary foremothers on the presence of children in their lives, let me hasten to remind you, dear readers, that Charles Dickens, Nathaniel Hawthorne, John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway were all fathers many times over.
Of course, we know what the difference was between the life of Louisa May Alcott, a women who eschewed marriage so that she COULD write, and the freedom allowed any male writer of her generation. I imagine that the quality of Richard Yates' parenting skills was probably never called into question while he burned the midnight oil to perfect his novels or even when he drank himself into a stupor. And the women whose brilliance gave birth to books like "To Kill A Mockingbird", "Jany Eyre", "Wise Blood" or "Frankenstein"? All either single women or married but with no children.
So...our group set out on a mission. Given that women in the workplace still labor under the notion that their presence in the office, boardroom, courtroom or the senate would immediately be blamed if the children they produced turned out to anything less than Joe or Jane Model Citizen, we decided to find proof that a mother could also be a successful writer.
We kicked out the 25 year limitation because we wanted to include our contemporary sisters in the writing world....Barbara Kingsolver, Alice Walker, E. Annie Proulx, Alice Munro...
Our assignment? To find universally lauded female writers who also had raised children that did not turn out to be drug dealers, snipers, or Enron executives.
Here's how we started the list: Dr. Maya Angelou.
I don't think we got much further than that. I'm not sure why. Perhaps some of us were bored with the discussion or just didn't see what the big deal was.
I didn't really mean for this to be another post about READING, though that is one of the great pleasures of my life. To me, that discussion is like an episode of Unsolved Mysteries. And I am greatly curious about what my blogger friends think. Even the guys....your views are also very important. Give it a good think and get back to me.
My next post will be something light and stupid...to help you digest your turkey and dressing. Something gossipy like the fact that Julia Roberts just sold her house (or one of them) to the very pregnant Holly Hunter.