Virginia Woolf says I shouldn’t write mad. Well, to be more precise, which is to say, remotely precise at all, she said to the general public that Charlotte Bronte should not have made the mistake of writing mad when she briefly digressed from Jane Eyre’s perusal of the moors to Jane Eyre’s musings on social injustice and women’s role in the world (which Woolf interprets as Bronte’s musings). So you see even though she didn’t say “You there, MKP– make sure you never write in anger,” as a writer who is a reader I naturally assume that I am the one all my favorite writers intended to be read by.
And now that I’ve begun to think this way, I’m imagining young readers of the future at their laser desks in their space schools, reading this, and thinking “Just so—she must be talking directly to me!” And I am, young Galactic Literary Enthusiast. Or retro-Westward Expansion Scholar, if there’s been an apocalypse that rebooted civilization and you’re all living in parked conestoga wagons on the prairie peering at these words by the light of mutant buffalo chips that glow without needing to be burned.
Woolf then goes on to say that Bronte would have been better off if she’d written as Jane Austen wrote, and as Shakespeare wrote, with no sensitivity to or acknowledgement of, their restricted place in society. Austen, believes Woolf, shared Shakespeare’s lack of self-consciousness about sex and gender relations and class implications and a bunch of other –tions that I think surely, surely Austen must have been aware of, even if she chose not to rant and rave about in her novels.
The thing is, Bronte/Eyre’s digression on the rooftops of Thornfield is one of my favorite parts of Jane Eyre—I have a lot of favorite parts, but that one’s on my Quotes page! The passionate words of a 19th century woman proclaiming her equality, and her legitimate need for employment, occupation, travel, and usefulness, whether they come from Jane Eyre’s newly awakened sense of self or Charlotte Bronte’s legitimate pissed-offedness that she’s stranded on the moors with her family instead of dining out with Thackeray and whomever else might pass by her charming pied-a-terre, the way a woman of means, say, a woman with 500 a year and a room of her own, might do—no matter where it comes from, I relate to it.
Of course, Virginia Woolf did have a point in terms of sheer manageability of tasks at hand. It’s surely better for me to conserve my energy and look past all my reactionary motivations to unapologetically write whatever moves me. I could just tell you straight-forwardly what I like and dislike, and leave it to you, future/past learners and current readers, to identify with it, to pore over my words and figure out why it was significant that in 2011 I was able to so stridently and firmly state my preference for ____ over ____. Maybe you’ll have a ProfessorialBot 642200 who looks like Steve Jobs to explain my place in the historical context of 21st century literature (paging MKP’s ego…to the deflation ward…paging MKP’s ego…), or a comely schoolmarm whose chemical burns are hardly noticeable in the soft glow of Earth’s double moon fragments, who can say “See, once upon a time women weren’t allowed to vote, own property, marry other women, reject gender roles, eschew beauty regimens, or feel good about their bodies and achievements, even though it’s impossible to be perfect or have it all.”
Or maybe you won’t have such a dutiful Bot/Marm Friday. And on that grim offchance, I have to leave my anger in. With all due respect to Virginia Woolf, who was far, far before her time and probably felt far more of this anger than she ever deigned to let on, I will take my literature spiked with Bronte fervor over Austen decorum any day. Because the second you ask me, or writers like me, not to give voice to their anger, to take the high road and just create, you are asking me, asking us, to participate in our own silencing.
I have to think Virginia Woolf is taking the side of the patriarchy when she says women should just swallow their anger and get on with writing whatever it is they truly wish to write. Anger is like the Title IX of the emotional writing world, and it needs equal funding, equal time, and equal facilities to all the manly emotions on display in the gallery of World Literature.