A Letter to Virginia Woolf,
On Translating A Room of One’s Own
into Romanian

"I write to you as myself, I write to you as us all, I write to you as one."

By  Elena Marcu

Dear Virginia,

It’s February in Bucharest. Its been a few months since you filled one room of my head with your writing. We translated A Room Of Ones Own (O cameră doar a ei) last summer, Anca Dumitrescu and I. We did our best to rebuild that much needed room of yours. We did our best to be respectful with your thoughts, with your words, with your time and our time, with your London and our Bucharest.

There has been a second print run of A Room of One’s Own, so I find myself thinking of you again. I write this not so much as a letter to you but as a letter to us all. We all are your daughters as much as we are your sisters, we are yours as much as we are our own. We walk the streets as you once did thinking the thoughts you once thought, asking ourselves the questions you once asked yourself, asking each other the questions you were once asked. 

Its been 90 years, Virginia, since you wrote this and I hate to say that we are not there yet. But we are a little closer. We are a little freer. Chloe liked Olivia perhaps for the first time in literature, you wrote. Many, many Chloes have liked many Olivias since. Yet, much more around the world than in Bucharest, where we all received the education of a different era: be proper. And yet we are a little freer. We are a little less poor. Just a little. We are able to travel to the Amalfi Coast and pay for it with the money we earn as we choose. We are a little more together. We are a little louder. And that I know you can hear. 

Article continues after advertisement

I write to you as myself, I write to you as us all, I write to you as one. Virginia, you now are as alive in Bucharest as much as you are alive in London and anywhere else. You will forever be alive. Not someplace stagnant, not someplace drawn on a map, but someplace vibrant. A benchmark on the way towards something. Something difficult to grab or to redeem but not untouchable. Something perpetually desirable. Something abstract but tangible, something extraordinary but man-made, some direction maybe. Most of us still need a compass to get places, Virginia. Most of us still need direction, redefine what we were taught, reconfigure where we are headed. South? North? East? West? Its mostly mapping intuition and affinity.

We know this girl, Shakespeare’s sister. It is for her that we sometimes take the streets today.

I look at my grandmother’s picture. She was five when you left, Virginia. For her there has never been West or East or South, it’s always been: over there where I was born, over there where I ate the best pears of my life, over there where my brother drowned and there where I met your grandfather, there where I go to the doctor, there where I’m going to be buried. Her sentences are made of dirt and hot meals and sweat. For her, a room of one’s own is where I read and where she listens. A room of ones own was where my grandfather used to read the movie subtitles to her. A room of ones own was where my mother read the French homework my grandmother would not understand. Her room was our knowledge. She is your daughter as much as she is your sister as much as she is me, she is yours as much as she is mine, as much as she is her own, she is of this land as much as she is of elsewhere, she is of this time as much as you and me. She is of something shared, as much as she is of something alien.

”Let me imagine, since facts are so hard to come by, what would have happened had Shakespeare had a wonderfully gifted sister,” you wrote. Although to truly imagine might have given us a very different story. We know this girl, Shakespeare’s sister. It is for her that we sometimes take the streets today. It is for her that we translate this book in Romanian. It is for her that you wrote it. That girl, she is alive today, some might say. That girl, she is your grandmother, some might read. That girl, she is your country, some others might think. But they would be wrong. She is not my grandmother but a village. She is now not my country but poverty. She is not my country but isolation. She is opacity and rigid habits, unlocalized and timeless and persistent but not unbreakable.

I went to the library the other day. A hundred years later and there are still fewer women on the shelves. But there are so many more shelves holding books by the living. So do not worry. We are getting better, Virginia. We are getting closer.

We try to write our anger and not let it write ourselves into oblivion. We learned how to write our anger.

We try not to forget. We try not to forget how different we can be and still not unequal. I try to keep all of us in my head: the men, the women, the fluids, the in-betweens, the dead and the unborn. I try not to allow any voice to speak louder. I try not to allow any heavy hand pressing on my own. I tried to make you speak my language. So I could speak your mind. Here. In Bucharest. Here. In Romania. Here inside of me. Inside of us. Because, Virginia, we all are your daughters as much as we are your sisters, we are yours as much as we are our own, we are of your words as much as we are of our own, we are of our love and anger and determination. We try not to forget anger must not be the sentence. History must not be the sentence. Incubators must not birth the sentence. 

Article continues after advertisement

Furie. That is the word for anger in Romanian. My language. It has a hard ring to it. The r” is abrasive. It is curt. It is dry. We are still angry. We try to write our anger and not let it write ourselves into oblivion. We learned how to write our anger. One learns after a while. You gave us a hundred years extra to learn from. But when I see you on the page I sometimes wonder if we butchered reason beyond comprehension. Wonder if we butchered love. If we strangled vastness with anger. Anger is magnetic. It makes us cringe so we believe it to be real. We believe it to be authentic. We believe it to be universal. But damn can it be futile if worshipped like a God. Perhaps we are now a little more Godless, and somehow, sometimes, this makes me believe. 

I wonder what youd make of the room I am in now. It is my own. It has a door. The door has a lock. The lock has a key. But I always leave it unlocked. Not because I’m reckless. But because we got someplace where less and less people barge in, careless, rushed, uninvited. Because we earned the right to create something we can choose not to ever share. My dearest Virginia, we now are as much our own as you could have possibly hoped. And, fuck, do we hope for more! 

The preceding is from the Freeman’s channel at Literary Hub, which features excerpts from the print editions of Freeman’s, along with supplementary writing from contributors past, present and future. The latest issue of Freeman’s, a special edition gathered around the theme of power, featuring work by Margaret Atwood, Elif Shafak, Eula Biss, Aleksandar Hemon and Aminatta Forna, among others, is available now.

Elena Marcu
Elena Marcu
Elena Marcu is co-publisher of Black Button Books, the first all-female-run publishing house in Romania. James Baldwin, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Maggie Nelson, David Foster Wallace, Roxane Gay, Elaine Castillo, Junot Diaz and Aleksandar Hemon are amongst the writers they publish.





More Story
Virginia Woolf's Depression
Shouldn't Define Her
In the course of my research for my new novel, in which I bring Virginia Woolf back to life in modern-day New York, I set out one cool...