“Among your grandmothers and great-grandmothers there were many that wept their eyes out. Florence Nightingale shrieked aloud in her agony. Moreover, it is all very well for you, who have got yourselves to college and enjoy sitting-rooms– or is it only bed-sitting rooms?– of your own to say that genius should disregard such opinions; that genius should be above caring what is said about it. Unfortunately, it is precisely the men and women of genius who mind most what is said of them.” (Woolf 72-73)
This quote really just resonates with me because I feel as if Woolf is directly addressing me. She highlights how far women have come, how they are in college and learning. But these same women should not belittle those that did not express their genius. Those circumstances were wildly different, and have even changed so much from were I sit, reading this essay now.
“For here again we come within range of that very interesting and obscure masculine influence upon the woman’s movement; that deep-seated desire, not so much that she shall be inferior as that he shall be superior, which plants him wherever one looks, not only in front of the arts, but barring the way to politics too, even when the risk to himself seems infinitesimal and the suppliant humble and devoted.”
This concept of a woman’s inferiority solely so a man can be seen as superior is nothing new. The “influence on a woman’s movement” can also be interpreted as two different scenarios: one being her movement in station or class by her own means impeded by a man; or two, being the physical act of moving itself, in order to intimidate her. The real-world and highly relevant example that comes to mind when looking at this passage is the current presidential race between Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton; while she has broken many a “glass ceiling”, her opponent has still mocked and criticized her capability to lead on the sole fact that she is a woman. During the second debate he continued to move about the stage in a predatory manner, like a shark. The only saving grace, regardless of one’s views on Hilary Clinton, no one could label her a “suppliant”.
“But suppose Peter said to her, “Yes, yes, but your parties – what’s the sense of your parties?” all she could say was (and nobody could be expected to understand): They’re an offering; which sounded horribly vague.” (118)
Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1925. Print.
In this scene, Clarissa is contemplating the reasons she planned and hosted parties. The narration before this quote says, “what she liked was simply life” and she goes on to say out loud, even though she is alone, “That’s what I do it for”. No one is around to hear her talk through this justification, even though she sounds like she is trying to prove her point to someone. It almost seems like, by saying it out loud, she is trying to prove it to herself. She goes on to think, through free indirect discourse narration, “but suppose Peter said to her”. Attempting to convince herself that having these parties is just something she liked to do, Clarissa shifts to thinking about what Peter would say to her, knowing him well enough that he would question her. This sentence hints at Clarissa possibly being a little insecure, especially regarding Peter’s opinion of her. She not only thinks about his opinion, but also thinks of what everyone else would think in response to his doubt. She thinks, “nobody could be expected to understand” acknowledging the fact that she is aware no one else would back her up when she defended herself. But this is an entirely hypothetical situation, as Peter hasn’t even said anything yet. She even acknowledges that her answer would sound “horribly vague”. This style of thinking is common throughout the novel, as characters tend to get lost in their thoughts.
“She held her hands to her head, waiting for him to say did he like the hat or not, and as she sat there, waiting, looking down, he could feel her mind, like a bird, falling from branch to branch, and always alighting, quite rightly; he could follow her mind, as she sat there in one of those loose lax poses that came to her naturally, and, if he should say anything, at once she smiled, like a bird alighting with all its claws firm upon the bough.” (Woolf 161)
Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. Penguin Group, 1992.
In this sentence, Septimus Warren Smith “follows” his wife’s mind as she sits across from him, sewing a hat. Woolf uses the figure of a bird on a tree to represent how Septimus represents Rezia’s mental processes. It’s reflective of Septimus that he does not understand Rezia’s mind in literal terms but through the image of a bird, because of his struggles to interpret the world simply. By attempting to comprehend the mind of another character, Septimus is in effect trying to comprehend human minds in general, including his own. The world through Septimus’ eyes is greatly intensified and somewhat surreal, so the representation of the mind through a figurative image shows another aspect of his unique perspective. It’s also noteworthy that the image of Rezia’s mind is a “bird,” which carries with it a connotation of lightness (consider how the bird “alights” from branch to branch), as opposed to seriousness, as well being a slang term for a young woman originating as early as 1915. (1)
“She felt very like him- the young man who had killed himself. She felt glad that he had done it; Thrown it away.”
Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. New York: Harcourt Inc, 1925. Print. 182
This line from Mrs. Dalloway is ironic with the title of the assignment itself, “mindread”, because it is as if she can or had actually read Septimus’ mind. Clarissa put herself in Septimus’ shoes before he died and therefore knew his mindset and feelings. Not only that, but Clarissa could also relate to Septimus because she felt similar emotions. However, this idea of feeling what he felt ultimately desensitizes the death of Septimus and what he went through because at the end of the day, it is all subjective. There is no way she actually read his mind, but it is made to seem that way- that the feelings are shared.
-“If she could have felled her it would have eased her. But it was not the body; it was the soul and its mockery that she wished to subdue; make feel her mastery. If only she could make her weep; could ruin her; humiliate her; bring her to her knees crying, You are right! But this was God’s will, not Miss Kilman’s.”
-“Clarissa was really shocked. This a Christian – this woman! This woman had taken her daughter from her! She in touch with invisible presences! Heavy, ugly, commonplace, without kindness or grace, she know the meaning of life!”
-This section of the novel shows an inner conflict between Clarissa and Miss Kilman. With minimal dialogue, these two characters are able to have a full blown disagreement. This internal dialogue represents the theme of thought through out the novel. They are both thinking about one another in negative ways, as they analyze and address their issues with each other internally. Their thoughts express what is really going on here.
Virginia Woolf. Mrs. Dalloway. (New York: Harcourt, Inc., 2005) 122.
“…could Miss Kilman really mind it? Yes, Miss Kilman did mind it.”
Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1925. Print. 127
The context of this sentence is the cake that Elizabeth wonders if Miss Kilman had wanted when it is taken from her. Elizabeth is astonished by Miss Kilman’s eating habits and wonders whether she is even hungry at all but simply taking and taking as so many have done to her in the past, leaving her with nothing. Elizabeth acts as the link between the worlds of Miss Kilman and that of her mother and company. Interestingly, Miss Kilman’s feelings toward the two women are the complete opposite. She detests Clarissa and is infatuated with her daughter; feelings that can never be expressed in either regard for fear of unemployment, rejection, or both. So Miss Kilman eats, not out of pleasure, or need, but to finally possess something that no one can take away, and fill herself with something other than feelings of inadequacy and intense emotions.
“She had the oddest sense of being herself invisible; unseen; unknown; there being no more marrying, no more having of children now, but only this astonishing and rather solemn progress with the rest of them, up Bond Street, this being Mrs. Dalloway; not even Clarissa any more; this being Mrs. Richard Dalloway.” (Woolf 11)
Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. Penguin Group, 1992.
This selection is indicative of the feminist undertones to the character of Mrs. Dalloway and helps explain her function in the novel. The sentence also employs Woolf’s technique of run-on sentences, bridged by semicolons, which seems to create a stream of consciousness effect.
“As a cloud crosses the sun, silence falls on London; and falls on the mind. Effort ceases. Time flaps on the mast. There we stop; there we stand. Rigid, the skeleton of habit alone upholds the human frame. Where there is nothing, Peter Walsh said to himself; feeling hollowed out, utterly empty within. Clarissa refused me, he thought. He stood there thinking, Clarissa refused me.”
Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway (New York: Harcourt, Inc., 2005), 49.
There’s excellent imagery in this excerpt that emphasizes Peter Walsh’s thoughts. The cloud crossing the sun is a huge metaphor for the way that he is feeling because Clarissa refused him. He feels “hollowed out” and “empty”.
“The way she said “Here is my Elizabeth!”— that annoyed him. Why not “Here’s Elizabeth” simply? It was insincere. And Elizabeth didn’t like it either. (Still the last tremors of the great booming voice shook the air round him; the half-hour; still early; only half-past eleven still.) For he understood young people; he liked them. There was always something cold in Clarissa, he thought. She had always, even as a girl, a sort of timidity, which in middle age becomes conventionality, and then it’s all up, it’s all up, he thought, looking rather drearily into the glassy depths, and wondering whether by calling at that hour he had annoyed her; overcome with shame suddenly at having been a fool; wept; been emotional; told her everything, as usual, as usual.”
In this quote, readers are given some outside description of Mrs. Dalloway. Although while reading up until this point, it is clear to me that Mrs. Dalloway is trying just a little too hard to impress people at her party. “Here is my Elizabeth” is almost her way of bragging about her daughter, treating her like a piece of furniture. Peter gives off mixed feelings about Clarissa when he calls her “cold.”
“That she held herself well was true; and had nice hands and feet; and dressed well, considering that she spent little. But often now this body she wore (she stopped to look at the Dutch picture), this body, with all its capacities, seemed nothing-nothing at all. She had the oddest sense of being herself invisible, unseen; unknown; there being no more marrying, no more having of children now, but only this astonishing and rather solemn progress with the rest of them, up Bond Street, this being Mrs. Dalloway; not even Clarissa any more; this being Mrs. Richard Dalloway.”
Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway (New York: Harcourt, Inc., 2005), 10-11.
Mrs. Dalloway acknowledges that she lives for others and fantasizes about who she would be if she did not. She then looks at herself through a critical lens, describing her body as something she wore. She feels displaced and contemplates her own identity.
“She would not say of any one in the world now that they were this or were that. She felt very young; at the same time unspeakably aged. She sliced like a knife through everything; at the same time was outside, looking on. She had a perpetual sense, as she watched the taxi cabs, of being out, out, far out to sea and alone; she always had the feeling that it was very, very dangerous to live even one day.”
Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. New York: Harcourt, 1925. Print. Page 8.
The early 20th century is seemingly marked by this need for an escape from reality, with almost all of the titles we have read so far indicate this separation from time and space at some point. Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway is no exception, and the most interesting thing is that this feeling, this “perpetual sense” know does not confine itself to race, gender, or class; as it has been exemplified in a myriad of different characters created by very distinct authors.