Think of your private sphere. Now think of the world of Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google. What aspects of your private life do you share? Some people like to keep certain areas of their lives private, unseen by the public eye, unobserved by outsiders. The author of the Catalogingandcardigans blog that I follow confides, “[Most] of my concerns about the privacy of my social media presence are unfounded. There’s a lot in the media about people getting in trouble with their present or future employer because of what they’ve put online, but it’s not like I’m one of the Boobrarians on Twitter dropping the f-word at random” (Sep. 30, 2011). Canadian Artist Wendy Trusler examines the private and public through old letters in her art installation. Her collection of more than 3,000 letters spans over 150 years and asks the question, “Why do we keep letters?”
In Frank Warren’s PostSecret book project, he invites people from all walks of life to send him their secrets on homemade postcards. Many people use these missives to reveal their “private fears, hopes, regrets, and desires” (Indigo-Chapters book blurb). In a sense, people use the forum as a confessional booth. They shed years of guilt and repression by divulging their secret thoughts on the back of a postcard and mailing it off. It is a very public revelation, but the anonymity of the transaction maintains the author’s privacy.
Have you noticed how often the subject of privacy is in the news these days? Between the British phone hacking scandal and our very own Vic Toews wanting to legislate access to the private files on our computer, the discussion of the private sphere remains relevant. Here, Rick Mercer uses his weekly rant to chastise Vic Toews MP for tampering with Canadians’ privacy:
When Bowen and Lessing explore the private and the public spheres in their writing, they put those concepts under the microscope and examine them through a post-war and post-colonial lens. For Bowen, how does the concept of home change when it is bombed, attacked, and almost annihilated? Mrs Watson’s episode in the wood unsettles her. In a chat with her husband about love and life, she muses,
“The way we live, we never know anyone. All that crowd back at home, they’ve forgotten us. It was all coming in for coffee, or else whist. It doesn’t get you anywhere. I mean, you get used to it, but that doesn’t make it natural. What I mean is…” (Bowen 985).
Although she does not reach a conclusion about her life and the shape it will have in this new suburb, she is thinking about her place in her private sphere. Mrs Watson picks up the threads of her life and gets to know her new neighbours, but she is also thinking of life, what she can share with her husband, and those thoughts she must keep private.
Lessing ponders the question of home through the eyes of Mary Turner. Arendt suggests, “To live an entirely private life means above all to be deprived of things essential to a truly human life” (58). Not only is Mary thousands of miles away from the British motherland, she is an orphan. She is without a mother and father, she is married but has no relationship with her husband, and her ‘friends’ are untrue. Her private space is not a sanctuary. It is a danger zone. In the end, “their poverty has worsened and Mary’s health, physical and mental, is breaking down” (Roberts 76). Mary is “alone”, “defenceless”, “propelled by fear”; and death overtakes her (Lessing 203). As much as she tries to create a home, a private sphere is unobtainable for Mary Turner. Both Bowen’s and Lessing’s studies of the private realm are unsettling, disturbing, and thought-provoking.
In her Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech, Lessing asks of young writers, “Have you still got your space? Your sole, your own and necessary place where your own voices may speak to you, you alone, where you may dream. Oh, hold onto it, don’t let it go” (Lessing). This is the private space we must treasure and protect. The private sphere is valuable real estate indeed and must be preserved at all cost.