The Woolfs had a routine that seldom varied. Every morning at about nine-thirty, right after breakfast (which Leonard always served Virginia in bed), they went to their separate rooms to write. They wrote from nine-thirty until one. The Woolfs had spent so many mornings of their lives in this way that by 1934 they had written more than a score of books between them. At one, they joined each other for lunch…After lunch the Woolfs would read their mail and the newspapers. Afternoons were usually devoted to typing out and revising that morning’s work or taking care of business related to the Press. When the weather was fine (and often even when it was not), Virginia liked to include a long walk in her afternoon schedule.
–from Mitz by Sigrid Nunez
Sigrid Nunez has written a perfect little book about the Woolfs’ marmoset Mitz. Told through the eyes of this little monkey, the novel’s real focus is the Woolf household and the comings and goings of Mitz’s guardians, Virginia and Leonard. Their marriage is an extremely directed and productive union couched in much tenderness.
There are other recent examples of married writers who work in their own little hives. Poets Donald Hall and Jane Kenyon used to scribble away in adjoining rooms in their New Hampshire farmhouse. Jonathan Franzen has written about his marriage to his college sweetheart and the intense bond that allowed them to write around the clock and discuss books and ideas at all hours. (Much better than an MFA program!) And how about Sartre and Beauvoir? (Whatever that means!)
Yes, the Woolfs (or Wolves?) were privileged but also extremely fortunate to have found in each other a real partnership, like perfectly matched tennis players. You could say their daily routine was rigid and unforgiving, but there is so much freedom that comes from discipline! No, the Woolfs weren’t closing bars most nights or dancing in fountains, but they were doing something just as exciting. Even a little girl like Mitz could see that while perched on Leonard’s shoulder or sitting snug inside his waistcoat. To Mitz, these humans were as singular as they were friendly–always providing fresh worms and a chin-scratch and as much endless entertainment as the biggest show on earth.