I've been thinking a great deal about the role of women in the world of writing.
This week, I've been pouring over the sheer genius of Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own. She speaks with such conviction about a subject very dear to my heart. What is the role of women in society, in art, in academia, in politics? How is she portrayed in history? What options were available to her vs. what should be available?
Woolf writes, "The world did not say to her as it said to them, Write if you choose; it makes no difference to me. The world said with a guffaw, Write? What's the good of your writing?" Hence we have writers like George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) and Currer Bell (Charlotte Bronte)...women who had to use pen names for their works to be taken seriously in an age when women were expected to write frivolous stories.
One part of the text especially speaks with great boldness. Woolf contemplates what would have happened if Shakespeare had a sister who was the brilliant writer. Would the world remember her genius? Probably not. We have fairly little poetry, art, music, journal entries or plays from women before the 19th century.
Still the question lingers. What would a woman have done with the same talent?
I have therefore written my own limerick poem on this subject. I hope you enjoy.
If Shakespeare Had A Sister
If Shakespeare had a sister,
Brilliant she must be,
With words all flowing from her heart
Of love and tragedy.
She’d write up in the apple loft
And on the cottage grounds,
Lifting her ever far away
From home where she was bound.
But while William learned his Ovid,
His Virgil and his prose,
Dear sister darned the stockings,
Twas her place, Heaven knows.
She wrote in secret when she could
Until there came the morn
When father said that she should marry
To have a baby born.
Now sister was in a panic.
Her writing she must save!
And so she left in dead of night
Lest she be a mortal slave.
In London, she could be free
To write of Caliban and Kate.
But instead the kings would only leer
For this was woman’s fate.
Her words were lovely, as was her face,
A half-moon made with a pen.
And yet her lines could pierce them not,
The stage was for the men.
They told her, “What’s this madness?
A woman with a mind?
Get thee to a nunnery
And leave this Globe behind.”
If Shakespeare had a sister,
Well, you wouldn’t know today.
The world of poets and philosophers
Said she had nothing to say.
And so she wrote her sonnets
Alone in apple trees,
Unable to have an audience
And bring them to their knees.
Kudos to everyone who caught the Shakespeare puns and references! I have also included a few pictures from my own experiences at Shakespeare's home in Stratford-upon-Avon. These pictures show a few of the domestic scenes that would have been common for women at the time.
[Quick clip of Shakespeare's cottage]
I'm thankful to live in a world that has been affected by the work of writers such as Virginia Woolf, who paved the way for women to be writers, to be taken seriously, to have a room of their own.
What do you think about women & fiction?
What do you think would have happened if Shakespeare had a sister?