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14 March Feminism Essay

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Feminism in Mrs. Dalloway
Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, originally published in 1925, is a novel riddled with themes, one that could be and has been criticized for many years. Woolf has much to say about society and the post-war changes, but a steady underlying theme in the book is feminism, the roles of women of the time period and their seeming insignificance. The story is a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, who while planning a party, reflects on her life and feels as though much of it has been trivial. Woolf is saying this about the women of this era, that within the constraints of their social roles, their lives are trivial. Often subtle, a feminist tone is established from the very beginning. Clarissa has decided to go out to buy the flowers for the party herself as her maid has much work to do. She nearly immediately begins to think of Peter Walsh, her love from years ago that she had considered marrying. Considering Clarissa's memories of dialogue between herself and Peter, one might come to the conclusion that although he loved her, he did not conceal his feelings that Clarissa, as a female, was petty; but he would humor her. It is indicated within this text that he, as a man especially, had the capacity of mind to be concerned with far more important matter. "But Peter-however beautiful the day might be, and the trees and the grass, and the little girl in pink-Peter never saw a thing of all that. He would put on his spectacles, if she told him to; he would look. It was the state of the world that interested him; Wagner, Pope's poetry, people's characters eternally, and the defects of her own soul. How he scolded her! How they argued! She would marry a Prime Minister and stand at the top of a staircase; the perfect hostess he called her (she had cried over it in her bedroom), she had the makings of the perfect hostess, he said. (Woolf 7)" In remembering this, Clarissa reassures herself that she had been right not to marry him. "For in marriage a little licence, a little independence there must be between people living together day in day out in the same house; which Richard gave her, and she him. (Woolf 8) It is as if Clarissa realizes that she is to be the property of some man, best she find the most tolerable of situations; "...this being Mrs. Dalloway; not even Clarissa any more; this being Mrs. Richard Dalloway." (Woolf 11) Although the character of Clarissa is portrayed as a suppressed woman, there are indications in the novel that some women were beginning to take on roles of power. For instance, Lady Bruton was a lady in a position of power. Clarissa always said that Lady Bruton did not like her. Indeed, Lady Bruton had the reputation of being more interested in politics than people; of talking like a man; of having had a finger in some notorious intrigue of the eighties, which was now beginning to be mentioned in memoires. Certainly there was an alcove in her drawing-room, and a table in that alcove, and photograph upon that table of General Sir Talbot Moore, now deceased, who had written there (one evening in the eighties) in Lady Bruton's presence, with her cognizance, perhaps advice, a telegram ordering the British troops to advance upon an historical occasion. (She kept the pen and told the story.) (Woolf 105-106) "On this day, Lady Bruton was hosting a luncheon. The attendants were primarily men, outside of Miss Brush, her assistant. The occasion for this luncheon was business. The topic of discussion was Lady Bruton's proposal for "a project for emigrating young people of both sexes born of respectable parents and setting them up with a fair prospect of doing well in Canada" (Woolf 108) In an essay in regard to this small feminist reference within the novel, a student wrote that "Lady Bruton's strong independence as a leader shows the movement towards tolerance of women being in power" (Anonymous Student Not only did Lady Bruton host this business luncheon with the gentlemen in attendance, but when Richard Dalloway asked if she would be at Clarissa's party, she wondered how Clarissa could throw parties. She thought about parties and how they frightened her. So, the idea set forth here is that not only could a woman take on acts and responsibilities that were traditionally masculine, but she could also reject those that were traditionally feminine. Clarissa continues to reflect upon her past relationship with Peter Walsh throughout the day. Apparently she has some feelings that perhaps her life would have been something very different with Peter than with Richard, perhaps something more exciting. Elizabeth Abel writes, in Narrative Structures and Female Development: The Case of Mrs. Dalloway, "marriage in Mrs. Dalloway provides impetus rather than closure to the courtship plot, dissolved into a retrospective oscillation between two alluring possibilities as Clarissa continues to replay the choice she make thirty years before." (Abel, Elizabeth.) Although Clarissa thinks deeply about the possibility of having married Peter, the most intensely emotional and romantic memories belong to Sally Seton. Having to admit her love for Sally to herself caused her some feelings of shame, undoubtedly imposed upon her by the societal standards of her time, at least in part. Critic Renee R. Curry also writes "The description of Clarissa Dalloway and Sally Seton's relationship with each other as young women clearly alludes to a lesbian attraction:" (Curry, Renee R.) "...the cold contract of man and woman, or of women together. For that she could dimly perceive. She resented it, had a scruple picked up heaven knows where, or, as she felt, sent by Nature (who is invariably wise); yet she could not resist sometimes yielding to the charm of a woman, not a girl, of a woman confessing, as to her they often did, some scrape, some folly. And whether it was pity, or their beauty, or that she was older, or some accident-like a faint scent, or a violin next door (so strange is the power of sounds at certain moments), she did undoubtedly then feel what men felt. Only for a moment; but it was enough....But this question of love (she thought, putting her coat away), this falling in love with women. Take Sally Seton; her relation in the old days with Sally Seton. Had not that, after all, been love?" (Woolf 31-32) But instead, as was socially expected of her, (a woman of her class especially) she had married Richard Dalloway and outwardly embraced a life of duty. She was a woman who had maintained her appearance, was mother to a daughter, and fulfilled her social obligations such as her role of hostess to parties. She perhaps could not admit to herself that this was not the life she desired as was the cause of her musings throughout this day. The sense of a wife's duty is also demonstrated in the character of Lucrezia "Rezia" Warren Smith, wife of Septimus Smith (Said to be Clarissa's parallel character), the mentally disturbed soldier returned from the war. Rezia, although she loves her husband very much, and cannot imagine living without him, feels the burden of having to care for her ill husband. Doctors have either diagnosed him as having nothing wrong with him, or have not been able to care for him at all. Rezia finds herself in the role of constant caregiver, and begins to see her husband as less of a man. "For she could stand it no longer. Dr. Holmes might say there was nothing the matter. Far rather would she that he were dead! She could not sit beside him when she stared so and did not see her and made everything terrible; sky and tree, children playing, dragging carts, blowing whistles, falling down; all were terrible. And he would not kill himself; and she could tell no one. "Septimus has been working too hard"-that was all she could say to her won mother. To love makes one solitary, she thought. She could tell nobody, not even Septimus now, and looking back, she saw him sitting in his shabby overcoat alone, on the seat, hunched up, staring. And it was cowardly for a man to say he would him himself, but Septimus had fought; he was brave; he was not Septimus now." (Woolf 23) The story, as it is being concluded, takes a turn when during the party when Lady Bradshaw arrived with the announcement that a young man (Septimus) had killed himself. Clarissa became overcome with emotion about this, at first expressing it inwardly as anger "What business had the Bradshaws to talk of death at her party? A young man had killed himself. And they talked of it at her party-the Bradshaws, talked of death." (Woolf 184) She then began to have more feelings, more scattered thoughts, as she wondered about the way he had done it, why he had done it. That if she died at this moment she would die happy. She went to the window and watched the woman across from her getting ready for bed (their eyes had met) and felt relief when she finally turned out her lights. Then she began to think again of the young man; "The young man had killed himself; but she did not pity him; with the clock  striking the hour, one, two, three, she did not pity him, with all this going  on...She felt somehow very like him-the young man who killed himself. She  felt glad that he had done it; thrown it away. The clock was striking. The leaden  circles dissolved in the air. He made her feel the beauty; made her feel the fun.  But she must go back. She must assemble." (Woolf 186)

The death of Septimus had served a purpose for Clarissa. At first she wanted to keep the thought away from her party. She did...

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