A Woman at Home
I am still mulling over the biography of Elizabeth Taylor that I wrote about a few weeks ago. One of Nicola Beauman’s arguments is that Taylor might have been an even greater novelist if she hadn’t been tied to her sweet-manufacturer husband and the domestic round. I wonder . . . There is virtually always a difficult time in the life of a writer when they are honing their craft, serving their apprenticeship as it were, and earning hardly any money. For many writers this problem never goes away. The general public would be amazed, I think, if they knew how little most writers make. For Taylor this was never a problem. There was plenty of money – enough soon for domestic help and for boarding schools for the children – and she was able to concentrate on producing the best work she could while for years she didn’t earn a penny. In his book ON BECOMING A NOVELIST John Gardner states the case baldly, ‘The best way a writer can keep himself going is to live off his (or her) spouse.’
Yes, there’s another side to this. Cyril Connolly felt that the pram in the hall could be the ruin of a promising writer, and it is true that combining writing with babies and toddlers is difficult, but once the children are at school it becomes a whole lot easier (even without boarding schools). Of course the school day is short, but look at what Trollope managed to do in three hours a day. He thought a writer shouldn’t need much more than that, and I tend to agree. It’s the other stuff (like writing this blog!) that it’s hard to fit in.
On balance, it suits me. And I couldn’t put it better than Agatha Christie, who once sly remarked that crime is an excellent occupation for a woman at home.