To celebrate the 90th anniversary of the publication of A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf, The Royal Society of Literature are staging a Dalloway Day with events taking place in Fitzroy Square (No 29 was home to Virginia and her brother in 1907), The National Portrait Gallery (paintings associated with the Bloomsbury Group) and the British Library. One of the activities will be a discussion of anthology of new writing by Fellows of the society.
Members have an advance copy of the anthology. Reading these auto-biographical pieces finds little reference to a room of one’s own, but three to a desk or table of one’s own. Bernadine Evaristo writes ‘I absolutely need a desk.’, ‘…in that box room I had a small table…’ says Daljit Nagra, while Howard Jacobson admits ‘…desperation forced me to buy a kitchen table from a second-hand furniture shop…’
Which leads me to consider the tables used in my writing life. In our first house, sent scurrying from the busy kitchen with my mother sewing dresses to make money and two brothers ‘working’ at their homework, I abandoned the table and did my writing lying on my stomach on the floor of my bedroom. Sometimes I took a small veneered table into the sitting room. In those days I wrote with a fountain pen so on the table was a bottle of liquid Quink ink. ‘Don’t spill the ink on the carpet’ was the firm instruction which accompanied me. Now I have a desk in my study but, when on holiday, my first task is to find a table in a place where I can write. In one house the table is placed in front of a window; in the other I work on the large kitchen table, under electric light as the room, having no window at all other than the glass panes in the back door, is gloomy. To say the least. However, I do have peace and quiet.
Back to Virginia Woolf. She might not talk much about rooms in her book but she does detail her meals. One day in October she visits a college in ‘Oxbridge’ where she lunches and dines. ‘It is a curious fact,’ she writes, ‘that novelists have a way of making us believe that luncheon parties are invariably memorable…But they seldom spare a word for what was eaten….’ Rectifying the omission of others by describing the courses of the college dinner in detail ending with ‘Prunes and custard followed.’
Perhaps the only mention of prunes and custard in English Literature!