Since 1991, Catherine Bryne has transformed herself for an hour into one of the most famous literary women of the 20th century. When she says, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction,” Catherine is recreating the plight of artistic women in a world dominated by men as described in1928 by the writer and critic, Virginia Woolf.
Introduction to Virginia Woolf
It is a calling that Catherine responded to at age 40 when she was a wife and mother who had returned to college in Florida to study theater and literature.
When a professor suggested the long essay, “A Room of One’s Own,” as her graduate project, Catherine was “incredibly moved by the beauty of the prose–so graceful, so elegant and perceptive.” Little did she know that her adaptation of Woolf’s powerful words would find a permanent place in her life.
Today’s Women Need to Listen, Too
Because she believes that today’s women also need to hear these words, Catherine continues to present her interpretation of Virginia Woolf’s famous essay to groups throughout the United States and as far-reaching as Scotland and Mexico. “The power of this piece,” she says, “is the power of Virginia Woolf’s words and how they’re being heard by the audience itself.”
With her large brown eyes, delicate bones and drape of blond hair, Catherine is often described as having a haunting resemblance to Virginia Woolf. She also likes to dress in a 1920s duster and swooping hat to bring authenticity to her presentation.
Touching Something Deep
When Virginia Woolf wrote, “there will be female Shakespeares in the future, provided women can find the first two keys of freedom: fixed incomes and rooms of their own,” she was speaking personally. Generations later, these words, expressed so movingly and powerfully by Catherine, continue to touch something in her audiences.
Crowds surround her afterwards, some moved to tears, others saying the words have given them courage to go after their dreams, to seek the freedom for creative expression which means life for so many of the women in her audience.
A Question that Still Resonates
“I understood the cultural milieu Virginia came from, ” Catherine says. “The question she posed–why men have always had power, influence, wealth and fame, while women have had nothing but children—is an issue that still resonates today.”
Called a feminist manifesto, the performance probes a woman’s place in contemporary society today with as much need as when it was first presented as lectures at the only two women’s colleges in Great Britain. Her purpose, Woolf said, “…was to encourage young women; they seem to get fearfully depressed.”
A Personal Connection
“I count myself one of them,” Catherine says. “My performance of ‘A room of One’s Own’ has much to do with my own struggle to break the bonds, both emotional and cultural, that have handicapped me artistically.” This personal connection helps Catherine bring an intimacy to what might be dismissed as a literary performance.
One of her most famous venues was the Edinburgh International Fringe Festival in 1993.
On another occasion she stepped out onto the stage and was stunned to see that the audience was entirely men, and Hispanic men at that. She was almost unable to speak.
Catherine describes the response afterwards as one of the most gratifying she’s ever experienced. “It was though that setting gave them permission to talk about the women in their lives, the struggles they realized these women faced and how they could be supportive.”
Continuing Her Calling
When she moves back to Mexico this fall, Catherine plans to resume the highly acclaimed performance she initiated in San Miguel de Allende fifteen years ago. A man in the audience at that event was so moved by the performance that he introduced himself to Catherine as a trustee of Salem College for Women and invited her to perform for the students there.
At Catherine’s most recent performance in July on Cape Cod a woman approached her after the event who is involved with International schools in England. Her invitation for Catherine to perform for the students there reinforces Catherine’s awareness that the room she has made in her life for Virginia Woolf is big enough to include all of us.