I am thrilled to have Nava Atlas, author of The Literary Ladies Guide to the Writing Life guest blog today. She has such valuable information that she will be back tomorrow with Part 2, and we’ll have a giveaway of her beautiful book tomorrow.
When discussing the challenges faced by women authors of the past in The Literary Ladies’ Guide to the Writing Life, one of the questions I’m asked with startling regularity is why it has always been so difficult to master the work/life/motherhood balance. It was grueling for Harriet Beecher Stowe in the nineteenth century; and while it may have been somewhat easier for Madeleine L’Engle in the twentieth, it was just as guilt-inducing. For those of us who write today, there are still no easy answers.
I’m not one to bandy about gender stereotypes, but it’s hard to dispute that in traditional relationships women still bear the greatest share of childcare and household management. This is tricky enough in situations where both partners work, and even more so in instances where the woman’s work is something she actually likes and that gives her creative gratification. The impulse is always to put others first—if not our kids, then our parents, or our partner, or our community. How dare I take this time to write, our guilty mind frets, when there’s so much to do, and when so-and-so needs me?
In times past, if a woman wanted to give her all to her writing pursuits, she often had to forego family life. Fewer than half of well-known women authors of past generations were mothers. Of the twelve authors I focus on in this book, only four were mothers (Harriet Beecher Stowe, Madeleine L’Engle, L.M. Montgomery, and George Sand), and that’s a fairly accurate reflection of how the profession was in the past. Now, more women writers than ever want to enjoy a fulfilling creative life as well as a family. It’s comforting to learn that women authors of the distant and not-so-distant past, like most of us, muddled through as best they could, and dealt with daily disruptions and longer interruptions. And yes, they felt guilty, acknowledged it, and wrote anyway. They just couldn’t help it.
Harriet Beecher Stowe was the mother of seven children. Despite the rigors of raising a large family, attending to household duties, and doing paid writing to help with expenses, she burned to write the anti-slavery story that would become Uncle Tom’s Cabin. She expressed her desire for a private place to write and for more more domestic help. She also wrote of her guilt, as in an 1841 letter to her husband: “Our children are just coming to the age when everything depends on my efforts. They are delicate in health, and nervous and excitable and need a mother’s whole attention. Can I lawfully divide my attention by literary efforts?”…Continued tomorrow
Nava Atlas is the author of The Literary Ladies’ Guide to the Writing Life, as well as many vegetarian and vegan cookbooks. Visit the Literary Ladies web site and VegKitchen to learn more about her work.