(So why write novels? Indeed, why! I suppose we have to go on living as if …)
Some books are not read in the right way because they have skipped a stage of opinion, assume a crystallization of information in society which has not yet taken place. This book was written as if the attitudes that have been created by the Women’s Liberation movements already existed. It came out first ten years ago, in 1962. If it were coming out now for the first time it might be read, and not merely reacted to: things have changed very fast. Certain hypocrisies have gone. For instance, ten, or even five, years ago — it has been a sexually contumacious time — novels and plays were being plentifully written by men furiously critical of women — particularly from the States but also in this country — portrayed as bullies and betrayers, but particularly as underminers and sappers. But these attitudes in male writers were taken for granted, accepted as sound philosophical bases, as quite normal, certainly not as woman-hating, aggressive or neurotic. It still goes on, of course — but things are better, there is no doubt of it.
I was so immersed in writing this book, that I didn’t think about how it might be received. I was involved not merely because it was hard to write — keeping the plan of it in my head I wrote it from start to end, consecutively, and it was difficult — but because of what I was learning as I wrote. Perhaps giving oneself a tight structure, making limitations for oneself, squeezes out new substance where you least expect it. All sorts of ideas and experiences I didn’t recognize as mine emerged when writing. The actual time of writing, then, and not only the experiences that had gone into the writing, was really traumatic: it changed me. Emerging from this crystallizing process, handing the manuscript to publisher and friends, I learned that I had written a tract about the sex war, and fast discovered that nothing I said then could change that diagnosis.
Yet the essence of the book, the organization of it, everything in it, says implicitly and explicitly, that we must not divide things off, must not compartmentalize.
‘Bound. Free. Good. Bad. Yes. No. Capitalism. Socialism. Sex. Love …’ says Anna, in Free Women, stating a theme — shouting it, announcing a motif with drums and fanfares … or so I imagined. Just as I believed that in a book called The Golden Notebook the inner section called the Golden Notebook might be presumed to be a central point, to carry the weight of the thing, to make a statement.