"Mrs Dalloway" in Love

Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2005 25 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Literature


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Mrs Dalloway in Love
2.1. Romantic Love: Clarissa and Peter
2.1.2. ‘Privacy Over Passion’
2.1.2. Peter Walsh in Love
2.2. Homoerotic Love: Clarissa and Sally
2.2.1. Female Friendship and Homoeroticism
2.2.2. Class-Consciousness versus Friendship
2.3. Matrimonial Love: Clarissa and Richard
2.3.1. ‘Together and Apart’
2.3.2. Celibacy and (the Lack of) Feminine Warmth
2.4. Familiar Relations and Maternal Love
2.4.1. The Parry Family
2.4.2. Maternal Love: Clarissa and Elizabeth

3. Conclusion


1. Introduction

Mrs Dalloway, published in 1925, is widely accepted as a major work of 20th century English literature, because it introduced new stylistic approaches to writing and set basic aesthetic standards for the further development of literary modernism, thereby establishing Virginia Woolf as its leading female representative. Besides, the novel offers a subtle insight into the atmosphere in postwar London society, which was characterized by a feeling of overall destabilization and increasing isolation.

Due to various causes, Great Britain’s political, economic, and social spheres had undergone fundamental changes during the previous decades: the rapidly increasing industrialization had completely transformed the working sphere, caused high unemployment rates and further fragmented class divisions, which culminated waves of political and social unrest; revolutionary findings in the natural and medical sciences put the traditional view of man into question and brought about a crisis of faith; beyond, the recent experience of the First World War and its aftermaths added considerably to an ‘atmosphere of gloom and doom’ in Great Britain.

Altogether, the loss of belief into progress, the rise of scientific knowledge and the decay of traditional moral values resulted in a ‘disenchanted’ world view; the individual suffered from the growing atmosphere of coldness in society; he was “more isolated than ever before because he [could not] come in under an umbrella of common social forms, and thus escape from his sense of isolation” (Marder 64). Victorian guiding lines offered no adequate solutions for the demands of modern society anymore, and Virginia Woolf “was in accord with many of her contemporaries in rejecting Victorian values. The social code, she felt, had degenerated in most cases into mere formalism. She regarded Victorian morality as unrealistic and suspected those who professed it of hypocrisy” (Marder 47). Furthermore, her living at “a time when the hard-won victories of the suffragettes and women war workers were slowly being translated into law and affecting social attitudes” (Dowling 105) made her particularly interested in the emancipation’s cause, and in many of her essays and articles, Virginia Woolf questioned the traditional, socially constructed gender roles. Repeatedly, she expressed the want of a specifically female language and literature, because, unlike many contemporary feminist writers, she was not attempting to “minimize the difference between the sexes; all her writings stress the fact that men and women are different” (Marder 35) and aimed at the conveyance of her ‘female’ view to the world.

In reaction to the falling apart of the outside world, modernist literature increasingly shifted its focus of attention from a depiction of real events to the illustration of the inner world of human emotions, psychological tensions and sensory impressions, thereby stressing the fact that ‘reality’ can only be perceived in a subjective way. Mrs Dalloway is a sophisticated example of this writing technique. The plot spans twelve hours in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, an upper class woman in her fifties, but the fragmented, non-linear story-line distorts the real time frame. In employing the stream-of-consciousness techniques, Virginia Woolf confronts the reader with a flash of insight into the characters’ reflections, associations and memories, while outside events retreat to the background. All this allows for an intimate insight into the characters’ feelings, attitudes and desires.

In the novel, Virginia Woolf refers to diverse personal relationships, including friendship, love attachments and familiar relations. The question of love is central to the story: “Missed declarations, and being or having been in love or not in love, are persistent themes of Mrs Dalloway” (Bowlby 184). In order to illustrate various kinds of love as presented in the novel, each of the following chapters deals with the analysis of a particular personal relationship of Clarissa to another person. The first chapter starts with an examination of the romantic love attachment between Clarissa Parry and Peter Walsh, and their lasting affection for each other. The next chapter is concerned with the friendship between Clarissa and Sally Seton, where special attention will be given to their homoerotic attraction to each other and the reasons for their estrangement from each other. Chapter 2.3. is dedicated to the presentation of the positive and negative aspects of Clarissa and Richard Dalloway’s marriage. Finally, the first part of the last chapter gives a short introduction to Clarissa’s familiar background, while the second part inquires into the relationship between Clarissa and her daughter Elizabeth.

2. Mrs Dalloway in Love

2.1. Romantic Love: Clarissa and Peter

2.1.1. ‘Privacy Over Passion’

In their youth, Peter Walsh and Clarissa Parry shared an extremely close relationship that was characterized by an intimate knowledge of each other’s thoughts: “They had always this queer power of communicating without words” (MD 67), as if “[t]hey went in and out of each other’s minds without any effort” (MD 70). Their friendship had swayed them both in their personal development; Clarissa had profited intellectually from the contact to Peter, because “[i]t was Peter who had helped her; Peter who had lent her books” (MD 140), and he retrospectively acknowledges that “[s]he had influenced him more than any person he had ever known” (MD 169). Even so, their intimacy became increasingly oppressive to Clarissa, who, very insecure about herself and always concerned about keeping her true feelings to herself, “had tried to be the same always, never showing a sign of all the other sides of her – faults, jealousies, vanities, suspicions . . . ”(MD 42), but Peter knew her so well that he “always saw through Clarissa” (MD 67), and "[h]e made her see herself; exaggerate” (MD 184). She became obsessed with the idea that “he always criticizes me” (MD 46), and even years later, after having distanced herself from him and marrying Richard Dalloway instead, “[a]lways when she thought of [Peter] she thought of their quarrels for some reasons – because she wanted his good opinion so much, perhaps” (MD 41).

Beyond doubt, Clarissa's choice of Richard was partly motivated by a desire for social prestige and materialistic security; “[t]he obvious thing to say of her” Peter rightly assesses, “was that she was worldly; cared too much for rank and society and getting on in the world – which was true in a sense; she had admitted it to him” (MD 85). In this respect, Peter would have been an unsuitable partner for her, because of his lack of conventionality, self-control and good manners. But all the more, her refusal of him was an act of self-preservation, because Clarissa believes that “love and religion would destroy that, whatever it was, the privacy of the soul” (MD 140), and “Peter’s obsessive ideal of romantic fusion would have engulfed Clarissa and forced her soul” (Henke 131), so “she had to break with him or they would have been destroyed, both of them ruined, she was convinced; . . . ” (MD 10). Certainly, there is some truth to the fact that “[l]ove can reveal the differences between us; but if it reveals that there are too few differences, if we get too close to the loved one, then a relationship can become destructive as it can deny the separateness of each partner” (Hawthorn 52); certainly, Peter’s all-pervading love would have left her no individual sphere.

When Peter suddenly reappears in London after many years of absence, Clarissa is taken by surprise at his visit, and her “emotions [change] like quicksilver under the pressure of ancient memories and suppressed desires” (Dowling 121) during their conversation. After her refusal of him, “she had borne about her for years like an arrow sticking in her heart the grief, the anguish; and then the horror of the moment when some one told her at a concert that he had married a woman met on the boat going to India! Never should she forget all that” (MD 10). Indeed, the fact that Peter Walsh’s name is far more often mentioned by Clarissa than Richard’s points at his continuous importance to her.

Accordingly, Clarissa reacts with envy and jealousy at Peter's announcement of his forthcoming second marriage, “but in her heart she felt, all the same; he is in love. He has that, she felt; he is in love” (MD 50). Like an incantation, she repeats it to herself again and again: “He was in love! Not with her. With some younger woman, of course” (MD 51). Even if “[a]t the heart of Peter’s attraction to Daisy [his fiancé] is a compulsive need to assert his youth, vitality and potency” (Henke 132-33), her reaction is unfair all the same; she assumes that Daisy “flattered him; she fooled him, . . . All his life long Peter had been fooled like that . . . ” (MD 51), which, of course, is also true for her own treatment of him. Anyway she cannot bear the thought of his being in love with someone else, and she is not approving of his choice of women in general: “But look at the women he loved – vulgar, trivial, commonplace. Think of Peter in love – he came to see her after all these years, and what did he talk about? Himself. Horrible passion! she thought. Degrading passion[!]” (MD 140). But for all that, “Peter can fall in love, and can receive brief moments of revelations created by this love . . . ” (Buren Kelley 95), which is a quality that she denies herself, but actually envies in him.

In fact, their reunion rouses her emotions extremely: “She was upset by his visit. She had felt a great deal; had for a moment, when she kissed his hand, regretted, envied him even, remembered possibly (for he saw her look it) something he had said – how they would change the world if she married him perhaps; . . . ” (MD 171), and, as if regretting her past decision against him, she suddenly feels “at her ease with him and light-hearted, all in a clap it came over her, If I had married him, this gaiety would have been mine all day!” (MD 52). It becomes clear that “Peter Walsh also features in Clarissa’s reminiscences (as she in his), representing the romantic hero rejected in favour of the conventionality personified by the Conservative Member of Parliament” (Bowlby 76), which is “a shocking revelation of the sacrifice involved in the path she has chosen” (Dowling 121). But after having calmed down again, she recalls that “it would not have been a success, their marriage” (MD 171). She cherishes the memories of their youth, but she could never have accepted him as an equal partner, considering Peter to be “a man. But not the sort of man one had to respect – which was a mercy; . . . ” (MD 172). He is far too impulsive and “not only possessive but infantile in his passionate demands” (Henke 131); Clarissa, by contrast, is very reserved and is not allowing herself to follow the dictates of her heart, because she fears the destructive force of love: “Love destroyed too. Everything that was fine, everything that was true went” (MD 140). Nevertheless, their separation has left a mark on the life of both, and “[h]er rejection of him, however, although in one sense it was necessary, may also have left a gap in the lives of both of them as a result of which each has been rendered incomplete” (Hawthorn 50).

2.1.2. Peter Walsh in Love

Peter had been hit hard by Clarissa’s rejection, and he had left for India right away; years later, he returns without having been economically successful and with a still unsettled love life. He is a man who “could not keep out of smoking-rooms, liked colonels, liked golf, liked bridge, and above all women’s society” (MD 174); after a failed marriage, he is now in love with Daisy, “’[a] married woman, unfortunately,’ . . . ” (MD 51), who is willing to ”desert her own children, ‘sacrifice all’ and offer him the flattering idolatry of girlish infatuation” (Henke 133). His soft spot for the feminine sex is well-known among his old acquaintances in London, and they condescendingly comment on the cause of his return: “’In trouble with some woman,’ . . . They had all guessed that that was at the bottom of it” (MD 119). Peter, by contrast, prefers to think of himself as “an adventurer, reckless, . . . swift, daring, indeed (landed as he was last night from India) a romantic buccaneer . . . ” (MD 60), and, as if wanting to prove to Clarissa that he has overcome her refusal, he eagerly tells her: “’I am in love,’ . . . ‘In love,’ he repeated, now speaking rather dryly to Clarissa Dalloway; ‘in love with a girl in India’” (MD 50). Nonetheless, Peter knows Clarissa good enough to realize that she “would think me a failure, which I am in their sense, he thought; in the Dalloway’s sense” (MD 49). Furthermore, he is perfectly aware of the fact that his fiancé cannot stand the comparison to her, because “Daisy would look ordinary beside Clarissa” (MD 49). All the more, Peter wants Clarissa to approve of his future wife, and “it seemed to him that the wife of the Major in the Indian Army (his Daisy) and her two small children became more and more lovely as Clarissa looked at them . . . ” (MD 51).



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Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz – Seminar für Englische Philologie: Forschungs- und Lehrbereich Anglistik
Dalloway Love Modern Fiction Ulysses



Title: "Mrs Dalloway" in Love