London Evening Standard: Motherhood need not spell the end of literature
From the London Evening Standard‘s Sebastian Shakespeare:
There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall, wrote Cyril Connolly. Britain’s latest Nobel Laureate for Literature, Doris Lessing [at left], would doubtless agree. Lessing abandoned her two infant children (both under five) after leaving her first husband. “I had these two children and just couldn’t afford to keep them,” she said. Her two prams were not only enemies of promise but became emblematic of female poverty.
Some of the best female writers of the 20th century found it difficult to combine motherhood and creativity. Dame Muriel Spark walked out on her son when he was six to write novels and seek fame and fortune. She eventually cut her estranged son out of her multi-million pound will, leaving every penny of her assets to the female friend she lived with for 40 years.
Colette, who never wanted children, hardly ever saw her daughter, whom she left in the hands of an English nanny. She chillingly, albeit rather brilliantly, described children as “those happy unconscious little vampires who drain the maternal heart”. And as for Virginia Woolf, well, we all know what happened to her. The author of A Room of One’s Own, who argued that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction”, ended up without children and committed suicide.
My wife, who is writing a book, recites this litany of names above as proof positive that motherhood and creativity do not go hand in hand — and the reason why she is putting procreation on hold. And Lessing’s Laureateship is now the icing on her anti-natal cake. Doris has set my breeding programme back by five years. However, for every bad egg there are plenty of examples of model literary mothers. What about Toni Morrison (1993 Nobel Prize winner), who continues to collaborate with her musician son Slade on children’s books?
Motherhood, far from being a hindrance, can be a spur to creativity. Look at JK Rowling, one of the most successful writers of the modern (or any) era, worth £500 million, who was a single mother when she embarked on writing her Harry Potter books.
Connolly’s maxim is not only out of date — in my block of flats I can’t keep a pram in the communal hallway — but plain wrong. The whole point of the perambulator is that you should push it around. JK Rowling took her baby out for a walk in the pram because it was the only way to get her child to fall asleep while she scribbled away in various Edinburgh cafés. You could argue that there is no better friend of good art than the pram in the mall. And, if you are lucky, the little blighter might actually get round to reading your book as well. At least that is what I’ll be telling my wife. Will my argument change her mind? I’ll get back to you.
Sebastian seems to be trying to convince himself, doesn’t he? I don’t feel comforted. Is this little piece uplifting, or just depressing?