Mrs. Dalloway: British Connexion

I grew up in a Disney world where age and wisdom increase proportionally. So it is a little weird for me to watch more mature people act so fastidious and puerile. Therefore, you can imagine how difficult it was to try to analyze the characters and the motives for their actions in the 1997 movie Mrs. Dalloway. While much of the movie stays true to the novel by Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway and her circle of friends seem slightly senile with all the smiles, stares, and repetition of “look.”

Yet, as I warmed up to the characters and saw them in different frames of their lives, I began to sympathize with them. There seems to be such an abundance of misery and pain in this world that Mrs. Dalloway, Hugh, Peter, Richard, and Lady Bruton choose to focus on the superficial and less upsetting. Mrs. Dalloway veers around the awkward emotions creeping up on her since Peter has re-emerged into her life. She does not want to worry but knows that they have left things unresolved and unhappy. Will he be the same Peter who I once knew? Will he remember me? Us? Is life happy without me? These are questions that are perceptibly considered during the movie. The questions boil down to the significance of existence and how it shows in the lives of other people. Clarissa, nevertheless, shies away from such depth and introspective thoughts throughout the movie to utter “You won’t forget about my party! You’re coming to my party?” (except throw a British accent on it to pronounce pa-aw-ty).

Nonetheless, Septimus bears much of the depth in the movie, as well as in the novel for me. He is not afraid of introspection but suffers from it. He appears to be encumbered by every other character’s inability to deal with such deep thoughts, pains, and suffering. He endures enough suffering for all of them. When Mrs. Dalloway worries about her party or Peter about why Clarissa doesn’t like him or Lady Bruton about her new and brilliant cause or Hugh about stately appearance or Richard about…about…nothing really, Septimus is on the edge of such trivialities. He constantly hears a cacophony of sounds triggered by one “clamorous sound." He says "all the world is clamoring" and notices that he is finding it insufferably difficult to continue to be in such pervading anguish. He seems desensitized when he feels the most out of all of the characters. Hugh talks to Clarissa about his indisposed wife and Clarissa seems to feel very little when compared to Septimus’s reaction to Dr. Holmes as a “sneaky hunter.” (Dr. Holmes implies that Septimus is feeling lost or displaced mainly because “Men coming back from war…their work has been commandeered by women” and not because he saw a comrade, Evans, blown up in front of him.)
On the other hand, Septimus sets the tone of the movie and gives reason to why these characters are the way that they are. The movie opens with Italy 1918 and Septimus in the trench calling out to his comrade, Evans, before the comrade’s demise. Soft echoing music with still, detached notes resonates. This event is big. Perhaps, it is too big to live up to or to contemplate. It becomes easier to focus on the little things. Shift in the little things like choice of hat or dress or meaningless parties do not have as great or immediate an impact as actually confronting issues like death, the war, or suicide. Mrs. Dalloway’s patrons can experience momentary satisfaction in her parties and can reserve pensive remembrances of the night for later. Clarissa talks about the significance of a party to “give people one night in which everything feels really enchanted.” The aim of her having a party is to give a spark to life and to advocate appreciation for it. She tries to share this enchantment with her guests. Clarissa is connecting and uniting with people in a world with such solitary thoughts and trivial focus where the characters may fail to understand one another because they do not venture deep enough within themselves and each other to comprehend one another. Clarissa connects with her guests, with Septimus as a participant (not victim because she does not see it that way) of suicide and flower-shop onlooker, and with the woman she sees in the window from her balcony at the close of the movie. The difference between Septimus and Clarissa is that, among other things, Septimus turns away from the person he connects with and sees through the window across from Dr. Holmes’s office. He rejects personal connection while Clarissa seeks it and strives to maintain it.

All in all, Mrs. Dalloway was a bit long for me but accurately portrayed much of the novel, except for the car scene—a big scene to me. The hues used in the movie were beautiful neutrals and pastels that mirrored the level of passion and depth within the world of Mrs. Dalloway (tepid with superficialities). The costumes were nice pieces. The actors portrayed the characters well. Mrs. Dalloway is an interesting movie and an individual who likes to see the novel-to-movie transition should see it.

The Hours: Review

The Hours attempts to connect the stories of three women that are all connected by Woolf’s novel, Mrs. Dalloway. The movie is interesting in that it is very Woolf-ian and connects all three of the characters that are disconnected by time, much like Woolf connects the characters within Mrs. Dalloway without ever having them meet. Likewise, it also spans only one day in each of the characters’ lives (the exception being that Woolf is shown at the end of her life as well) with each having some sort of party event looming on the horizon.

All three actresses play the parts very well, though I’m surprised Nicole Kidman got an Academy Award for her performance. Although good, it was not anything amazing. More so, Julianne Moore is perhaps the most dynamic of the three, playing Laura Brown who probably is the most delineated from the plot of Mrs. Dalloway. Rather, she is seen reading the book throughout and how it inspires her. Although not directly from Mrs. Dalloway, the character seems to have elements from other Woolf novels: the relationship between her and her son seems to have a touch of Mrs. Ramsay from To the Lighthouse and her inability to make a cake mirrors Rhoda’s trouble in The Waves to comprehend numbers.

Were it not for the middle story, the third story would have hardly any meaning. All the events eerily parallel Mrs. Dalloway and even most of the characters retain the names from the novel. Clarissa is trying to throw a party. Richard and Sally are switched as Sally is now in the long-term relationship with Clarissa, but there are obvious clues that Richard and Clarissa had a history. There is a daughter who comes home and a Peter character. What makes the novel so great is the relationship of these stories to the Septimus storyline. Instead, it is Richard who falls out the window (could see that one coming from a mile away) and AIDS is the substitute for shell shock.

It’s sort of comic that the characters know of Woolf’s novel, as it is even mentioned throughout, but do not realize they are carrying out situations and fates that are within the novel. The movie, however, looks great and the cinematography is very much inspired by Woolf, as it pays attention to details within the days of the characters, much as Woolf’s novel does. Phillip Glass’s wonderful music is probably what keeps the stories together. If you have never read Woolf’s novel, the story will probably be much more fascinating, but having read them and knowing how much deeper Mrs. Dalloway is, the movie does not reach to the same level as the novel.

The Courage to Live; A Review Mrs. Dalloway

Every moment of everyday is filled with choices; the choice to dream, the choice to love, and the choice to live. Of the thousands of choices we make in a day, some we realize will effectually change our lives for ever, while with others, there can be know way of knowing their eventual influence, unless, of course, we consider them in hindsight.

Perhaps that’s why Clarissa Dalloway thinks that is so “dangerous to live for just one a day.” Everyday requires the courage to live with the choices we have made, while simultaneously making new ones.

Mrs. Dalloway, a film directed by Marleen Doris, stays true to that theme. We follow Mrs. Dalloway, played by Vanessa Redgrave (who looks curiously like Virginia Woolf in her physical appearance), during and after she makes the choice of a lifetime to marry the more “safe” and predictable Richard “Dalloway, it’s still Dalloway,” over the brash, young, and pocket-knife-fondling, Peter Walsh.

We also follow Septimus Smith (Rupert Graves). Septimus’ story makes evident that many choices are made for us. The death of his friend Evans, for instance, by a wartime blast was cruel and sudden. Overcome with grief and despair, Septimus cannot use human reason to categorize his friend’s death. The doctors, in turn, can’t seem to categorize Septimus and vow, instead, to “take him away.” Yet Septimus believes that the mark of his own sanity is the choice to go on living as he like and if he can no longer do that, then he chooses to die rather than be “in their power.” It is the audacity of Septimus’ choice as well as the one she made that summer in Borden which eventually posses Mrs. Dalloway's thoughts to the point in which she is compelled to reflect on them: “That young man killed himself, but I don’t pity him. I’m somehow glad he could do it- throw it away. It’s made me feel the beauty. Somehow feel very like him- less afraid.” The simple fact that Septimus made a choice is what is so attractive to Mrs. Dalloway, it recalls in her a time of youth and promise. It makes her realize how much life and promise is still left for her to live.

This is not an easy film to produce, for the obvious fact that it is novel based on first-person narration, which take place in the narrator’s own mind. At times I thought the insert of thoughts by Clarissa were rather forced and intrusive and disrupted the flow of the film, but Vanessa Redgrave's performance is so subtle and gracious, it is hard not to be enchanted by her. I was especially moved by the last scene. After Mrs. Dalloway asks herself: “What makes us go on?” She returns to the party. There she joins Peter, Richard and Sally in a dance. After the years of separation, loss, and defeats small and large, they still find comfort in one another, fun and even laughter. What makes us go on? It is moments like these, among friends and family, who, despite all our choices and whether they were for good or ill, can still gather together to celebrate one another and to celebrate life.

Woolf and West

Rebecca West—could that possibly have been her real name? It is far too awesome. No, she would’ve had to ride a horse and carry a holstered gun to be Rebecca West. Or she would’ve had to float down 5th Ave in monochromatic, impeccably crafted clothing from wool coat down to unmentionables. Nope, she was neither of these people. She was Cicely Isabel Fairfield, writer, critic, person. Now who is Evadne? Show me that woman.

 Don’t get me wrong, I loved reading West’s “Indissoluble Matrimony.” It made my blood boil over with hatred for the imperial mamma’s boy, George. I loved the slippery and strong Evadne. Those characters flawlessly represent the struggle between husband and wife, colonizer and colonized—a tasty comparison. But the key word here is “flawlessly.” These characters are not realistic. Evadne is quasi-immortal, seemingly drowned by her husband but still beating him home. Furthermore, she is unphased by all this violence. She caresses him as he climbs in bed. A little much, no? Even Sally in Mrs. Dalloway is not that irrepressible.

 Ah, but we never meet Evadne. No, we meet George’s idea of her. Here is the horse I’ve beaten before: men’s mystical perception of women.  Septimus and Peter think Clarissa and Rezia can save them; George thinks Evadne has corrupted his soul, that he needs an absolution from the church. He confesses that he wants “a child’s God, an immense arm coming down from the hills and lifting him to a kindly bossom” (a.k.a. his mama). West and Woolf grapple with this same issue: men’s oppressive expectations of women. But in Mrs. Dalloway, we see beyond these expectations.  When Clarissa and Peter meet after years of estrangement, we see inside Peter’s head, where Clarissa can make him suffer like no other human being.  Then we see inside Clarissa’s, where her need for Peter’s approval renders her somewhat pathetic. Woolf does not leave us with the inflated perception of Clarissa. West, though, gives us only the male gaze. We can only see Evadne as a mysterious, cat-like porpoise thing.

 Though Woolf and West were contemporaries, “Indissoluble Matrimony” came before Mrs. Dalloway. It was not influenced by the groundbreaking Mrs. D. West’s characters would be much more relatable if the narration had woven through different psyches the way Woolf’s narration does--perhaps West kicked herself in the pants when Mrs. D was published. Or maybe she didn’t. Side-by-side these texts are wonderful. We have West saying “Yeah, just try and repress us. We can swim better than you.” Then we have Woolf saying, “Ouch, boys, that hurts.” Both are true.

Within the Gap

Michel de Certeau's essay Walking in the City illuminated a recent trip I experienced with my Service Learning group. On Monday, my group decided to take advantage of the warm weather and locate an abandoned Richard Serra sculpture and photograph it in order to make a proposal for its reinstallation, which is the main goal of the project. Though we knew that the sculpture was somewhere in the South Bronx around the 134th Street and the bridge to Randall's Island, we were unsure of its exact location so we spend several hours thoroughly examining the area.

Other than drifting during commutes or "exploring" Manhattan for new restaurants, I never approached my walks around the City with questions such as, "how could something be abandoned here?" and, "how can the abandoned be reintegrated to benefit the community?" Every element of the area had to be examined.

Unsure as to what exactly we were looking for, other than that it would be large and constructed out of steel, we looked anywhere we physically could enter to make sure that we weren't missing anything. Being that the area is mostly occupied by industry storage lots, power generators, and huge warehouses that compress the City’s garbage, there really weren’t many places where we could go. Our search led us to the water bank where we followed a path around the edge of a fenced off plot of generators. We were commenting on the amount of trash on the muddy bank and joking that this sculpture probably didn’t exist when we noticed several flat pieces of metal that were upheld by wooden beams. I don't know who made the observation that we were looking at shelters but, the three of us uniformly turned around and rushed to trace the path back to the street.

We didn't speak for a while.

There was something incredibly disturbing in finding the homeless literally pushed out to the extremes of the City’s space. This five foot wide piece of land between the extent of industry and the natural boundary of water was probably the last remaining physical space that was unclaimed towards the City’s conceptual identity.

I realized that I was so shocked to see the homeless on the outskirts of industry because I've grown so accustomed to seeing them in the highly urban areas of the City. I admit that I interact with the homeless in a similar manner to Richard's interaction with the vagrant woman in Mrs. Dalloway. While Richard "bore his flowers like a weapon," (Woolf, p. 113) it's become my second nature to use a book on the subway as a distraction from having to make eye contact with the homeless. Though I do happen to donate money and occasionally receive a "God Bless," when I say that I don't have any cash on me, which, as a student, is usually the case, I don't feel that interconnection that Woolf so successfully establishes between Richard and the vagrant woman, "still there was time for a spark between them." (Woolf, p.114)

Instead of this sense that everyone is bound by a unifying thread of human existence what remains are questions like Richard's, who initially wonders what could be done about the vagrant woman, presenting her as a problem that must be solved. Here, as discussed in de Certeau's essay, is where the problem of space becomes very real within the City. As Manhattan expands throughout its conceptual space and further develops its own identity, it becomes crucial to regulate its organization since Manhattan is confined to the physical boundaries of the island. Unfortunately, the homeless often fall into the category that de Carteau describes as, "a rejection of everything that is not capable of being dealt with and so constitutes the 'waste products' of a functionalist administration." Organizations and programs are constructed to “solve” these “problems” but they often only create an abstraction of power within the City that extends their administrative and ideal space, while attempting to utilize their limited physical space.

Several Bronx-based groups interested in ecology are currently working on creating a "green path" for bikes from North Bronx to Randall's Island that would run around the outskirts of industry. I can’t help but wonder how this would affect the inhabitants of the shelters.

We did find the Richard Serra sculpture, which was amazing. In that sense, exploring the area really was successful. Still, the shelters linger in my mind.

A Rose by Any Other Name...

Excepting the commonality of the name, I could have been named Rose…rose, that gorgeous flower.

As I was going a little crazy trying to make sense of the flower images in Mrs. Dalloway, I decided to look up what other people thought about it. I was shocked but I was not at all satisfied by my research. From the deciphered meaning that “Woolf uses flowers to signal that an erotic experience between women is immanent” (p.60)in Communication and Women's Friendships: Parallels and Intersections in Literature and Life by Ward & Mink to the meaning from Quamar Naheed’s D. H. Lawrence: Treatment of Nature in Early Novels that “flowers and green fields in the novel again and again symbolise peace and contentment" (p.13), I didn’t feel like these interpretations spoke for Woolf’s obsession with flowers. Therefore, I abandoned my search on flowers and focused on roses. I specifically looked at Septimus because I like him.

After Rezia is disturbed by Septimus trying to throw them under an on-coming omnibus or train, both Rezia and Septimus ponder their miseries. Septimus wonders why his life has been spared and “his weakness” (p.68) pardoned. He and Rezia are on an outing to Regent’s Park and he listens while slowly becoming lost in his thoughts.

"Now he withdraws up into the snows, and roses hang about him—the thick red roses which grow on my bedroom wall, he reminded himself.” .” ~ p. 68
Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. USA: Harvest Book and Hogarth 1981

The image of the blanketing, enveloping cold clashes and enhances the red rose image. The snow is white, frigidly enveloping, while the roses are described as a red comfort. The roses protectively cushion Septimus from the snow with their red amassing presence. Yet, the roses with soft petals and searing red warmth appear to be protective but also to be harming. Sure their beauty is reassuring but roses do have thorns. They can hurt the unwary who tries to grasp their beauty.

I think this might reflect the reality of life. Life can be beautiful and damning. Some people reflect more on the bad side of life and others on the good side of life. For Septimus, the balance of the good and the bad became skewed. We see him tortured by life and looking forward to death but we also see the dead making his life agonizing to live. He could have focused on the comforting aspects of flowers while displacing danger from the thorns to the snow. He could also be trying to ignore feeling by blocking out the prick of the thorns. His apathy to the thorns and coldness of the snow might be his way of realizing life’s dangers but protecting himself with a weak, snow and rose barrier.

It brings new thought to stop and smell the roses; Septimus envelopes himself in them.

Darkness and Being Alone

"I am alone; I am alone! she cried, by the fountain in Regent's Park (staring at the Indian and his cross), as perhaps at midnight, when all boundaries are lost, the country reverts to its ancient shape, as the Romans saw it, lying cloudy, when they landed, and the hills had no names and the rivers wound they knew not where-- such was her darkness."  (Woolf, 24)

There are times when we feel alone in the world, as if no one is around to help us or to be our companion's in life.  Rezia is certainly lost in this feeling of being alone.  Her husband, Septimus, seemingly gone mad and haunted by hallucinations, has left her without any companion in life, since she has moved away from her home and sisters in Milan.  Her poetic thoughts of being alone and comparing her darkness to the ancient land of England that the Romans came across when England is still uncharted territory is very poignant.

None of us know what the isles of Britain looked like before the conquering armies of Roman landed and charted out and built the framework of what is now modern day England.  It is impossible to know, but reminds us of the time when maps were made of the world that look silly to us with their misshapen continents in our age of Google Earth.  One of the last untouched worlds I can think of is New Zealand.  Visiting the small island nation, it reminds me of a prehistoric Scotland or England.  Not touched by the houses and development the way the flatlands of England are, the land seems virgin and untouched, a place where you could imagine rivers not knowing where they were going.  This feeling of untouched land seems to resonant extremely well with Rezia's predicament.

Her predicament also reminds me of Hedda's predicament in Ibsen's play Hedda Gabler.  The character, who is in control of her life in every possible facet, suddenly loses control towards the end of Act IV.  The life that she was leading seems marginalized and she cannot see any remedy to her predicament.  She, too, is in a darkness.  Her darkness is solved by her suicide at the end of the play, but an action so bold I cannot see Rezia committing.  Rezia plans to solve her darkness by divorcing Septimus, but will that solve the problem?  Will she really be happy if she returns to Milan?  Can that solve being alone?  Or will she just remain in the darkness, never having a cartographer to map out the river of her emotion.

On the Potential of Limitations

Whether an author structures his or her work in a traditional manner or diverts from an established format to experiment with its boundaries, a novel must begin in some way. Seeing as I can't even decide how to begin a post, I imagine that deciding on an opening sentence must be one of the most difficult, and intimidating, parts of writing a novel.

Woolf begins Mrs. Dalloway in a striking way: "Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself." This opening sentence is short, crisp and assertive; there is an action and a specification that "the" flowers will be bought. It's also a very powerful way of introducing the actual body of a novel entitled Mrs. Dalloway and its title character. However, the magnitude of the declaration seems to shrink when the reader realizes that Mrs. Dalloway just declared that she would buy flowers, which seem rather trivial and easy to acquire. There is a discourse in the opening sentence that makes the reader linger; the content of the opening doesn't reflect the potential for achievement that is portrayed through the assertive tone of the declaration.

This opening immediately reminded me of the first sentence of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, which begins with the assertion, "There was no possibility of taking a walk that day." Perhaps this is a strange parallel since it's negative, but, seeing that Woolf was heavily influenced by the female writers of Victorian Literature, a sense of similarity exists. The opening of Jane Eyre seems to allude to the weather, but, upon closer examination of Jane's situation, the short sentence becomes remarkably dense; rather than simply not going for a walk that day, Eyre doesn't even have the possibility of going outside. This limitation upon possibility reflects Jane's lack of mobility in Victorian England due to her low position in the social hierarchy as an orphan and a woman. Bronte's choice of opening her feminist novel is effective because the extent of Jane Eyre's immobility is introduced in the initial sentence as a theme that will challenge Jane Eyre throughout the novel.

Mrs. Dalloway seems indebted to the Victorian tradition of female authors, such as Bronte and Austen, who have their heroines assert themselves within the social limitations of their society. However, Woolf seems to challenge her title character further than Bronte since the novel is entitled with the social salutation for Clarissa as a married woman. Her limitations seem to exist in relation to the bounds of marriage and the act of losing one's maiden identity when a woman accepts her husband's social label.

However, something is achieved through Mrs. Dalloway's declaration that she will buy THE flowers HERSELF. This initial line declares a goal that the character will attempt to carry out throughout the novel. While Mrs. Dalloway completes her task of buying flowers well before noon, the larger task at hand, or her party, seems to be the goal symbolized by the flowers. Perhaps throwing a party is rather trivial, but its an action that Mrs. Dalloway carries through. Clarissa Dalloway seems strong because she acknowledges the limitations that British society places upon women, takes what she can, and becomes dedicated to stretching the potential of these limitations. The opening line emphasizes the active element of Mrs. Dalloway; while the other major characters of the novel are haunted by their past, Mrs. Dalloway actively prepares for her party.

Philosopher Robert Audi, who developed the Theory of Action, proposes that people actually utilize their choices more when they have fewer options to choose from. Perhaps this concept can be applied to a reading of Mrs. Dalloway, who, limited by her role in society, regards throwing a party as a way to assert herself within her time. While today's social mindset is that subdued women in past patriarchal societies should be pitied because of their lack of possibilities, perhaps Mrs. Dalloway encourages one to celebrate those women who took their limitations and found new potential within the boundaries.

My hands are small I know...

My cousin subscribes to a peculiar and aggravating kind of feminism. (He calls it feminism anyway.) He says he judges women harshly because they are made of better stalk than men. He is jealous of them because they are morally superior and more capable. Apparently, if you worship women, you can blame them. If they can save you, they are responsible for your demise. I've encountered this attitude elsewhere, mostly in emo music and emo boys. I was surprised to find it in two of Woolf's characters, Septimus and Peter. Of course, they are not feminists (much like my cousin), but they invest women with the power of salvation--an oppressive expectation to lay on a mere mortal. A lovely hand motif helps illustrate my point.

Septimus marries Lucrezia so that she will cure him of his inability to feel (86). One night it caused him to panic and "he asked Lucrezia to marry him, the younger of the two, the gay, the frivolous, with those little artist's fingers that she would hold up and say 'it is all in them.' Silk, feathers, what not were alive to them" (87). Poor Lucrezia didn't know she was volunteering to bring Septimus back to the land of the living. Her hands could make hats, not cure PTSD, depression, or madness. The weight of this expectation leads to the symbolic undoing of their marriage. Her hand becomes too thin for her wedding ring and with that, Septimus declares himself the lord of all men and free from his marriage (67). So much for Lucrezia’s lively hands.

As Septimus gives up on his marriage, Peter is nearby dreaming of women. He invests the trees with womanhood and notices how they then dispense charity, comprehension, and absolution (57). Continuing the revelry, he imagines a female shape being "sucked up out of the waves to shower down from her magnificent hands compassion, comprehension, absolution” (57). Even the hands of a fantastic woman can cure! Earlier he had seen a woman and imagined that her cloak was opening like "arms that would open and take the tired" (53). For Peter, femininity and sainthood are one and the same. We’ve seen what those expectations did to Lucrezia. Poor Daisy seems headed for a similar fate…unless she takes one of those hands and gives Peter a good slap.

The faith that these men put in women is oppressive but the bit about the water woman and her magnificent hands is emo-tastic. Couple that with Peter’s lament about Clarissa’s ability to make him suffer and we’ve got a hit. But if girls rule and boys drool, why are girls oppressed? I think Woolf is trying to say that girls are people too and canonizing them doesn’t do anyone any good.

The Flame and the Flower

Fresh off her morning shopping jaunt through the streets of London, Clarissa Dalloway returns home to further prepare for her party. She scales the stairs of her home and makes her way up to the room of her own for her afternoon nap. Woolf describes her ascent and consequent restlessness:

“Like a nun withdrawing, or a child exploring a tower, she
went upstairs,paused at the window, came to the bathroom. There
was the green linoleum and a tap dripping. There was
an emptiness about the heart of life; an attic room. Women must
put off their rich apparel. At midday they must disrobe…” (31).

Woolf chooses to describe Clarissa as retreating to her attic room as a nun would to her cloister. It seems to be a perfectly appropriate comparison for our rigid and prim heroine as we are able to imagine her reverently roaming the corridors and stairwells of the Dalloway estate. Then, Woolf throws the reader a curve-ball as she goes on to further compare the protagonist to a “child exploring a tower.” This simile seems to be the anti-thesis of the first. The mention of the exploring child evokes a sense of lighthearted deviance and mischief. The child exploring the tower embraces his or her curiosity; he or she indulges the urge to discover something previously unknown. Dissimilar to the child, the image of the withdrawing nun suggests repression of irreverent impulses and obedience to convention. To liken Clarissa to both is to illustrate her central conflict, her struggle with the duality of her personality. The reader gets the sense of her constant struggle to compromise her inner desires with her outward appearance.
While the adventurous child and the quiet nun are wildly different in their behavior, they share the unifying characteristic of intact virtue. Both battling sides of Clarissa are represented as virginal and sexually innocent. Woolf goes on to describe Clarissa’s late morning nap: “So the room was an attic; the bed narrow; and lying there reading, for she slept badly, she could not dispel a virginity preserved through childbirth which clung to her like a sheet” (31). Mrs. Dalloway lays on her “narrow” bed tossing, turning, and ruminating about her sexual dissatisfaction. She struggles to kick off the claustrophobia of the virtue that she believes clung to her long after she left the marriage-bed.
As she has a daughter, Mrs. Dalloway is most certainly not a virgin; however, it is likely that while she physically let go of her virginity, she feels emotionally unfulfilled by her previous sexual experiences with Richard. She goes on to think about her long-ago relationship with the wild and sassy Sally Seton and has a sudden “illumination; a match burning in a crocus; an inner meaning almost expressed.” Is the enlightened vision of the fiery perennial Clarissa’s way of vividly expressing her lesbianism in terms that she can fully comprehend with regard to herself? Is it a way of articulating her vague yet passionate feelings towards other women? Is Clarissa truly tormented because of her unfulfilled lesbianism, or is she just generally dissatisfied with her life as a married woman? After all, she feels the same excitement after her surprise visit with Peter Walsh in her attic room: “she heard a hand upon the door. She made to hide her dress, like a virgin protecting chastity, respecting privacy” (40). When he leaves her, she thinks that if she had married him, she would have been privy to the “gaiety” (47) she felt during their brief meeting everyday. The wide-eyed child and the hushed nun come together on the field of innocence, yet somehow manage to clash on the front of Clarissa’s mind. She is neither, but she remains both. She desires to explore the tower, but she requires her withdrawal into subdued snobbishness.

"Mrs. Dalloway"

Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs.Dalloway” focuses on Mrs.Dalloway’s day as
she prepares to host a party. Mrs.Dalloway is a middle-aged woman who looks back at her youth and romances in this novel set during WWI.

When we read Mrs.Dalloway we can see the effects of WWI with the character Septimus Smith, who suffers from depression. But we can see that high society isn’t as affected by the war as much as others: throwing parties and gossiping.

At the beginning of the book Clarissa sees her old flame Peter on the street and reminisces about their romance. Although she is 52 years-old, she sounds like a giggly teenage girl with a crush when she thinks about him. On page eight it says, “that he had no heart, no brain, nothing but the matters of an English gentleman, that was only her dear Peter at his worst; and he could be intolerable, he could be impossible but adorable to walk with on a morning like this.” This shows that she still has feelings for Peter but also a deep feeling of animosity towards him as well. Clarissa was upset that he married an Indian woman, but she felt sorry for him since he never did any of the things he dreamed of doing. But when she compares her husband with Peter, it’s almost as if she regrets marrying her husband. When it says that she would still find herself arguing with herself in the park over whether or not she did the right thing by not marrying Peter, it’s almost as if she’s having a midlife crisis. Like when a middle-aged man, who is having a midlife crisis, leaves his wife and finds a woman half his age.

In the book Septimus, who suffers from depression, is painted as a mentally-ill, helpless man who needs the constant assistance of his wife. His wife is very loving and helpful. On page 31 it says, “For Dr. Holmes had told her to make her husband (who had nothing seriously the matter with him but was a little out of sorts) take an interest in things outside of himself.” But Septimus did suffer from depression and that is evident when he commits suicide.

The Car

Woolf’s works always leave me with the impression that a path has just been lighted for me. Yet, I am not exactly certain of the path or its end(s). For example, the mysterious car appears to me to be an emptiness and disconnection of the post-WWI society. The people watching the car pass are not certain who is in the car yet their interest is immediately drawn to it. They circulate rumors and begin to revere the car, the imagined passenger, and the relation to the British Empire. Their uncertainty is universal in that no one is certain of the identity of the passenger; “But nobody knew whose face had been seen…Nobody knew.” They, nevertheless, argue about their failing certainties, trying to assert their evidence as greater than that of another’s.

Furthermore, the spectators grasp the empty and intangible to fill the malformed voids that the war crafted. Woolf writes, “passing invisibly, inaudible, like a cloud, swift, veil-like upon the hills…mystery had brushed them with her wing; they had heard the voice of authority; the spirit of religion was abroad with her eyes bandaged tight and her lips gaping wide.” The spectators experienced an irreligious and, perhaps, nonspiritual reverence for their empire. I would equate their reverence with nationalist blind faith or awe. They saw the car as a representation of the British Empire. Perhaps, the Empire is the lasting impression of grandeur, seemingly untouched by the hardships and difficulties of regular life.

However, while the spectators are united in their wonderment and uncertainty they are also divided in their inability to communicate or experience the car passing as a whole. While the mysterious car passes them by with closed blinds, Clarissa and her fellow onlookers are described as straightening themselves. They try to present an image of austerity and “extreme dignity” but stand as disconnected individuals. As I pointed out earlier, everyone has their own ideas as to who might be the passenger and Woolf does not mention that anyone voices any agreement. They only agree that the car is transporting royalty based on fleeting perceptions because few saw the face and they disagree on the sex of the individual, as well as the identity. Clarissa’s knowledge that the car contained British royalty was even based on a guess, “Clarissa guessed; Clarissa knew of course; she had seen something.” Though they could not quite make sense of it, all the spectators felt something. They were all at a standstill and suspended in the moment but not in time. The readers are told, “Clarissa was suspended.” We know that Septimus’s paranoia places him at the center of the event and that the “tall men, men of robust physique, [and] well dressed men” position themselves awkwardly to receive the passing car “for reasons difficult to discriminate.”

Nonetheless, the descriptions transcend the explanations of the moment to capture the conflicting and confusing feelings of the spectators. I interpret the descriptions of the spectators reverence and awe as empty tradition, serving only to remind one of the former years of grandeur and current decadence. The reader is given the impression that the whole procession (the straightening and attentiveness) was performed “as their ancestors had done before them.” Also, the car or the Queen as the representation of the British Empire appears as a relic (“the enduring symbol of the state which will be known to curious antiquaries, sifting the ruins of time”). The car creates a nostalgic haze, “The car had gone, but it had left a slight ripple.” It seems to call on better times when the Empire held more global prestige and a better grasp on its imperial endeavors.


"Getting up rather unsteadily, hopping indeed from foot to foot, he considered Mrs. Filmer's nice clean bread knife with "Bread" carved on the handle" (149).

This is easily the most heartbreaking sentence I've ever read. Unlike Bradshaw and Holmes, who never seem to show any humanity or empathy from their high perch, just before Septimus leaps from his, he cannot help but spare Mrs. Filmer's grandmotherly cutlery from sharing his gruesome fate. The contrast here is frightening; these doctors can neither understand nor care about the patient entrusted to them, but the supposed mad man can, in the final seconds of his life, show nothing but compassion for this stranger and concern for affects.

Holmes rushes up the staits, never doubting that he knows best as he pushes Rezia aside and barrels into the room. He never considers that his violent and unwelcome entrance may cause rather than present Septimus' death. He also does a lot of talking, and everything he says is false; he does not "come as a friend", and Septimus is neither "In a funk", nor a "coward". Despite all of his pronouncements, his words contain not a single morsel of truth; rather, after all his speech, he can only say to himself that he has no idea "why the devil [Septimus] did it" (150). Holmes is, thus, either lying to himself or exceptionally stupid.

Unlike the doctors, Septimus and Rezia are able to move throughout the scene and think correctly without speaking; Rezia does not say anything, rather, "she saw; she understood". Septimus does not need to speak, but rather is able to make a series of rational and empathic decisions in the moments before his suicide. Whereas Holmes has nothing but bluster and ignorance, coupled with the need to pronounce his thoughts on the world, Rezia and Septimus' quiet manner allow them insight and agency. By giving up the ability and conquering the need to conquer and colonize with speech, Septimus has gained a greater empathy and agency than the quacks who drive him out the window.

I see signs now all the time*...

When I was a little girl, I thought my mother created the world for me.

She died a few months after my first birthday, so I didn't remember her at all. I relied instead on the stories of my family to know my mother. Perhaps it was a result of their firm Catholic upbringing or maybe it's just what you tell a young child who is missing a parent, but my family taught me to believe that she was in Heaven, looking down from above, still helping me and guiding me, from all the way up in the clouds. I was certain she was an angel and no one corrected me.  

After much deliberation and examination of scholarly texts, namely my children's Bible, I concluded that if my mother was indeed an angel, she could communicate with me, like the angels in the Bible who brought messages to Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds. So I waited for my mother to appear in a blaze of light and glory, with wings and a halo and a long white robe, with a message for me. But she didn't come and I was puzzled, because I had been so certain she had a lot of things to tell me: about how nice it was living in Heaven, what God was like, whether Jesus still had the holes in his hands and feet, if the angels sang everyday or just on Sundays, how to be good--you know, the things that mothers tell you. 

I remained puzzled until one cool summer night. My father and I had just driven out to the house in Long Island for the weekend--it was dark when we arrived and I was half-asleep. My father pulled me gently out of the car and set me on the driveway. I was too tired to move, so I just stood there and looked at the stars and then it hit me. "Daddy," I said, "Daddy, look at the stars. Mommy put them there for me. She made the stars like that. She's saying hello." I don't remember what my father said to this, only that he smiled and lifted me up so I could get a better look.  

From that point on, I was convinced that my mother left unspoken messages for me, hidden in the fabric of everyday life. To other people, they were ordinary things, but to me, they were extraordinary. Only I knew that the bird that sang outside my window in the early morning was a song from my mother. Only I knew that my mother communicating with me by the way the world smelled after the first April rain. Only I knew that the warm sunlight which fell through the trees was her way of embracing me. Only I knew that her bright orange tiger lilies against our white picket fence meant something more. I realized that my mother left signs for me everywhere, in everything. I just had to see them. 

I don't remember when I outgrew this way of thinking, when I stopped living in a world where everything was loaded with meaning. But I haven't thought about this for a long time. Mrs. Dalloway has reminded me of my convictions about my mother's signs as a little girl. More specifically, Septimus Warren Smith has reminded me of this strange aspect of my childhood, in his lucid insanity, where he interprets everything as a sign:

So, thought Septimus, looking up, they are signalling to me. Not indeed in actual words;  that is, he could not read the language yet; but it was plain enough, this beauty, this exquisite beauty, and tears filled his eyes as he looked at the smoke words languishing and melting in the sky and bestowing upon him in their inexhaustible charity and laughing goodness one shape after another of unimaginable beauty and signalling their intentions to provide him, for nothing, for ever, for looking merely, with beauty, more beauty! (212)**

Septimus notices the extraordinary in the ordinary. Everything is of significance to him, everything has a message which needs to be communicated to the masses. The smoke letters in the sky, an ad for toffee, are beautiful to him, and are signs that promise to "provide him" with more beauty forever. He understands the meaning behind the smoke letters, even though he can't read the language yet (whether this is in reference to the fact that the smoke letters have not finished spelling out the word "toffee" yet or whether Septimus simply believes it is written in a language he cannot understand I do not know)--he sees significance in them that the sane people around him don't. They are too busy straining to spell out the word, instead of "looking merely" like Septimus, who perceives he understands "their intentions."

In his altered mental state, Septimus experiences revelations, which he notes "on the back of envelopes" (215). These revelations include, "Men must not cut down trees. There is a God...Change the world. No one kills from hatred. Make it known," (215). Septimus hears messages from singing birds, he sees the wickedness of people by simply walking past them in the street, he learns profound truths by the voices rustling above his head. The world of Septimus Warren Smith is a world where everything is charged with meaning; it is the world of the insane. He sees signs and messages and profound truths in the mundane. 

As we discussed in class, Mrs. Dalloway examines how people who never meet can be connected and have the same thoughts--but at the same time, Septimus Smith is a testament to the fact that people can look at the same world and come away with vastly different conclusions. What his wife sees as a toffee ad, Septimus sees as a promise of enduring beauty. Mrs Dalloway offers a world viewed from the sane and the insane, juxtaposes and contrasts these two points of view. 

I for one, find the world of Septimus Warren Smith to be a good deal more beautiful than that of Mrs. Dalloway's, of Peter Walsh's--a good deal more beautiful and a good deal more terrifying. Being able to see signs in the most prosaic things, in ordinary nature, lends an air of purpose to the often random universe we seem to inhabit; yes, you can find truth in this world, if only you'd sit and listen. 

Yes, you can find truth, beauty, messages from lost mothers, and meaning, if only you'd sit and listen. If only you'd sit and look. 

*The title of this blog is taken from a line in the Bloc Party song "Signs"
**Professor Fernald, this quote absolutely refuses to be block-quoted--it won't stay tabbed, so I bolded it out of desperation. 

Synchronicity is Not a Coincidence

“They always had the queer power of communicating without words. She knew directly he criticized her. Then she would do something quite obvious to defend herself, like this fuss with the dog—but it never took him in, he always saw through Clarissa. Not that he said anything, of course; just sat looking glum. It was the way their quarrels often began” (60).

Woolf focuses a large part of her literary endeavor in Mrs. Dalloway on describing the mental states of her characters. In order to convey how deeply World War I has wounded humanity's collective consciousness, its understanding of itself and of morality, she details what occurs in her characters' minds, as much as in their worlds. (Indeed, it is interesting to count the instances of the word “thought" on a single page, especially in Peter's passages.) However, Woolf often emphasizes a particular element of these descriptions-- the instances when characters seem to telepathically share a thought or mental perception. In these moments, it is almost as if the characters have a sort of supernatural power, like Darl in Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, who sees in his mind events that occur in distant places. I initially thought of two terms to describe this phenomenon: coincidence, and synchronicity. I then realized that the two words that had chosen me were opposites, rather than synonyms. Does Woolf simply mean to emphasize the characters' similarities, or even suggest that this is a commonplace and unremarkable occurrence (coincidence), or does she mean to write that these thoughts occur in the characters experiencing them as a result of the same external forces acting upon them (synchronicity)? Woolf confirms that she undoubtedly intends the latter.

Woolf extends this synchronicity to the characters' interactions. As she writes of Clarissa and Peter, "They always had this queer power of communicating without words" (60). In the midst of Woolf's challenging prose, this device almost seems to serve as an apology for the novel's lack of dialogue. More importantly, though, Woolf communicates that the characters are able to convey their feelings to one another, to determine whether to be empathetic or not, through the force of sharing a mental wavelength. This is a very unusual form of action for novels, even modernist novels, which usually develop relationships using dialogue and/or action, rather than description. "She knew directly he criticized her," and "He always saw through Clarissa" (60). Woolf emphasizes the characters' different points of view, but uses vague verbs to indicate that Clarissa and Peter have a common understanding—they share a discourse that exists outside of language. Woolf does not explain how Clarissa knew this, “directly.” Does Peter say it to her directly?

Woolf writes of Clarissa, "Her only gift was knowing people almost by instinct" (4). Similarly, in Peter's passages, Woolf builds a character with an extraordinarily keen sense of perception, who deconstructs the social pretenses of Clarissa's world with aplomb. Septimus, too, shares in this heightened sensitivity, perceiving "inexhaustible charity" in a toffee advertisement (22). Though his observation seems to be a humorous aberration of the theme, Woolf nonetheless uses it for the same higher purpose-- to convey that this is a shared "power," a shared experience—at least it is so between the characters Woolf cares about.

However, Woolf includes an ominous detail about Septimus that makes this power seem more like a curse than a gift--"He had fought," she writes, "he was brave" (23). Similarly, when Peter pursues a woman in the streets, she seems to whisper, calling him "You," a "private name," which was formerly limited to "his own thoughts" (53). And so, as in As I Lay Dying, with this hypersensitivity comes an increased susceptibility to mental corruption, to obsessive compulsive tics and sublimations like Clarissa’s fussing with the dog, and indeed to mental illness. Woolf's synchronicities have endless significance, but at their core, perhaps, is a human psyche disturbed by something which we might now call post-traumatic stress disorder, except in this case on a grand, civilizational scale.

There's a War On

Being young in a dynamic city with days full of things to do, I rarely stop and read the front section of the Times from cover to cover anymore, something I used to enjoy every morning in high school.  Even worse, I sometimes forget that our country is at war.  

One evening last spring, as I was making my way home for Easter, I decided to pick up an issue of Rolling Stone to occupy me as my flight out of JFK was delayed.  I stumbled upon Jenny Eliscu's piece entitled "The Troubled Homecoming of the Marlboro Marine."  Before then, I followed the war as it was developing in Iraq, but I hadn't contemplated things like Stop Loss or PTSD.  I became quite angry as I read the story of Blake Miller, a man who has become something of an icon for striking up a cigarette during a brief respite at the battle of Fallujah.  The distant, forlorn look in Miller's eyes, Eliscu writes, has been misconstrued by the American public as a triumphant gaze.  Miller came home burdened by what he was forced to do in Iraq, and he now occupies his time in a motorcycle club, drinking, and smoking packs of cigarettes a day, having given up on his counseling for PTSD.

As I read Woolf's portrayal of the shell-shocked Septimus Smith in Mrs. Dalloway, I was reminded of the Marlboro Marine.  Although Miller has to deal with the red tape of the VA, I suppose he is fortunate that he has some means of obtaining medication or therapy.  This isn't the case for Septimus.  In my reading, I found an oscillation in the narrator's depiction of the relationship between Septimus and Lucrezia, which I do not believe is sympathetic to Septimus' plight.  He comes across as insane, though "Dr. Holmes said there was nothing the matter with him," while Lucrezia's melancholy in England seems justified because of his psychosis (65).

"Every one has friends who were killed in the war.  Every one gives up something when they marry.  She had given up her home.  She had come to live here, in this awful city.  But Septimus let himself think about horrible things, as she could too, if she tried.  He had grown stranger and stranger."

This passage illustrates the lack of understanding of the emotional burdens that soldiers carry.  To Lucrezia, Septimus "let himself" be haunted by the memory of the war, and of his dead comrade, Evans.  In spite of her Italian heritage, Lucrezia ironically comes across as quite British in her perspective; she is stoic and pragmatic.  It is as if she says to Septimus, "Buck up.  This is an ordeal we've all been through."  She too could "think about horrible things," but she knows that this mindset is fruitless.  Perhaps this is why she finds Septimus odd; in her view, he freely gives himself over to his delusions.

I don't blame Lucrezia for her view of Septimus.  In fact, because she experienced the war as closely as he did, I see her as strong, courageous, and admirable.  Her feeling of "suffering" is justified, I think, by her ignorance of the real psychological trauma in her husband (64).  Yet, because of the times in which we live, I couldn't help but read Septimus in a more sympathetic light, not "strange," but damaged.  His delusions are understandable and heartbreaking.  The fictional Septimus, or the real-life Blake Miller ought to remind us that, for those involved, a war doesn't really end with a ceasefire.       


The Hours & Mrs. Dalloway

I have read Michael Cunningham's "The Hours" many times and its treatment of "Mrs. Dalloway" was one of the reasons that I took this class in the first place. While I have head Mrs. Dalloway before, it was a long time ago and I'm realizing now, as I re-read it, all the different ways that Cunningham reinvented and utilized Woolf's text for his own book. Since it has been so long since I read Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway," the characters and plot lines of "The Hours" had become much realer for me, however, in re-reading it, it's been extremely interesting to see the different ways that Cunningham interpreted certain characters, and if that really made a difference in the way the story is told.

The main characters that Cunningham borrows for his own book are, of course, a revised Clarissa (a lesbian in a long term relationship with Sally) , Richard (a gay novelist with whom Clarissa was once in love and constantly alludes back to), and Peter (both Clarissa and Richard's ex-lover, named Louis in the book). These three characters, who Cunningham also follows throughout a day that ends in a party, echo Woolf's melancholy for Clarissa's past, the complex relationships that exist between them and their own unhappiness with the way things have turned out. While the relationships are clouded and mismatched in Cunningham's novel, he retains Woolf's message through Clarissa and her ex-lovers, and just switches up the players a little bit. He sets Clarissa up with Sally instead, a relationship that Woolf implied, while retaining the weight of her past relationship with Richard, the same way that Woolf's Clarissa cannot ignore her past with Peter. Peter (Louis), who despite being essentially replaced by Richard in Cunningham's novel as Clarissa's great past love, is consistent in his relationship with Clarissa. Though he is no longer cast as someone she once really loved, he is a reminder to her of a happier time, as well as someone that causes her to sharply criticize and herself and her lifestyle.

The changes in Woolf's original work to Cunningham's is not limited to these three main characters. In fact, Septimus, a main character for Woolf, is never mentioned in "The Hours." However, he is not entirely dismissed as his suicide technique is re-used by Cunningham for one of his own characters in "The Hours." Similarly, while Elizabeth is fought over between her mother and her teacher in Woolf's version, Cunningham's Clarissa also battles for influence of her daughter, Julia, with Julia's older and overbearing girlfriend.

Therefore, while Cunningham has, in my opinion, created a successful and revised version of Mrs. Dalloway for a modern audience, the changes he made were simply on the surface. His work is adapted to a different time and a different set of readers, as well as to the role it plays with the other two stories in "The Hours." However, despite all the seemingly drastic changes between Woolf and Cunningham's interpretation of Woolf, many of the general themes remain the same. The story is still about a women unhappy in the life she is leading and living, essentially, haunted by the people of her past. Her relationships with her daughter and her lovers, present or past, still evoke a certain sadness from the reader and a compassion for Clarissa Dalloway/Vaughn. Therefore, though my re-introduction to Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway" was, at first, a little overwhelming due to what seemed to be some fairly big changes done on the part of Cunningham in "The Hours," when both stories are looked at more closely it is clear that Woolf's voice is still the one telling the story.--Kathleen Kane

[How can I explain why I love you so?]

[Sally] came into a room; she stood, as he had often seen her, in a doorway with lots of people round her. But it was Clarissa one remembered. Not that she was striking; not beautiful at all; there was nothing picturesque about her; she never said anything specially clever; there she was, however; there she was.

Just look at how long that last sentence is—that last justification. Peter Walsh is, and always will be, it seems, a little bit in love with Clarissa. He cannot explain it; when he tries to, he fails to find anything that stands out about her. In comparison to Sally she is, allegedly, plain in every way. Sally immediately attracts and maintains everyone’s attention, but Clarissa is seared into Peter Walsh’s memory. And there she was.

For some reason the lyrics of an unpublished Sherman brothers (composers of many a hit tune) song just popped into my head:

The winter snow

Only hides the flowers below

Every face and every day place conceals

The beauty in reveals

Through the eyes of love

Reading on in Mrs. Dalloway, I found that Clarissa and Peter had so much in common in regards to their world outlook; their literal way of looking at the world. They see the beauty underneath. In the beginning of the day, Clarissa is so taken with the beauty of her city awaking. And walking around in the afternoon, Peter goes so far as to muse that he “scarcely needed people any more. Life itself, every moment of it, every drop of it, here, this instant, now, in the sun…was enough.” And yet they are captivated by each other.

Clarissa may very well be as plain as Peter makes her out to be. (And his insistence on her plainness is all the more intriguing, as he can’t stop loving her and thinking of her, as he tries to explain his feelings away.)

……maybe that’s it, then.

Either everything is extraordinary, or nothing needs to be in order to capture one’s heart. We assign meaning to things, to places, people, events, smells, sounds, memories. OR… being open to everything, the most ordinary time or place or person can completely overwhelm your senses, your memory, your heart.

Without any outward sign. It’s the (nearly) imperceptible underneath of things that you can hear buzzing when you stop and listen………..

There she was.