Monday, 12 September 2011

Journal of a Solitude, by May Sarton (book review)

Journal of a Solitude, by May Sarton

When I was searching for the company of other solitary female writer types like myself, I found no better companion than May Sarton and her Journal of a Solitude.

It captures a year in the life of Sarton, containing both intimate descriptions of her home and daily activities, alongside reflections on her work, relationships and the tumult of emotions she experiences as a woman writer living alone.

She’s never self-involved though. Whilst her journal entries begin with the detail of her days, she then often goes on to make some wider philosophical point, as when a description of the autumn leaves falling in her garden turns into a reflection on the human experience of loss and re-growth.  I found such moments inspiring examples of how a writer can use extracts from her own experience to reach out to her readers. 

Though it was Sarton’s repeated noting of her need to be alone which resonated most strongly with me. Admissions such as, ‘I must have time alone in which to mull over any encounter, and to extract its juices, its essence,’ validated my own preference for solitude from which to write.

However, she doesn’t paint an idyllic picture of the female writer’s life alone. The anxieties attached to solitude and her periodic feelings of depression and loneliness resound strongly throughout the journal’s pages.

I also recognised her battles to clear time and space for her work against the need to attend to appointments, chores and other people. Importantly, Sarton recognises this tension exists for many women, particularly those with children; and although she was writing at a time when the pressure to stay at home was more severe, the journal entries in which she argues for women not to abandon their writing ambitions upon marriage and motherhood, still sound powerful and relevant today.

I may only be able to lust after the self-determined writing life Sarton was lucky enough to lead. Yet, by poetically rendering the details of her writerly world, with all its ups and downs, Sarton was still able to leave me feeling enriched and affirmed within my own.

By Michelle Wright
(October 2010)

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