An analysis of Virginia Woolf’s Essay
An analysis of Virginia Woolf’s
During the time in which she wrote Mrs Dalloway, on June 19, 1923, Virginia Woolf made a diary entry which expressed a key thought she intended to incorporate in the novel: ”In this book, I have almost too many ideas. I want to give life and death, sanity and insanity. I want to criticise the social system, and show it at work, at its most intense. ” While some critics have insisted that Virginia Woolf did not care about social values, her husband later said that she was profoundly interested in the social issues of the world around her. This is borne out in Mrs.
Dalloway, which does not turn away from the social and political issues of her time. Her characters turn to politics, questioning the status quo and the social order in which they lived. Woolf largely addressed these issues indirectly, showing her views in her works without the authorial interpretation that might be found in a traditional novel; she leaves final judgement to her readers. Mrs Dalloway came at a time when many social critics in England questioned the prevailing ideology. Prior to the war, England had stood at the head of a great empire, upon which the sun never set.
When the war ended, England counted herself among the victorious powers, but the horrific losses of the war had destroyed the imperial confidence. In the wake of the war, many people sought to break out of the old thinking to find some new way of understanding the world. In the opening sentence of the novel, Clarissa Dalloway proclaims her independence: “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself. ” (Woolf 3) She will do this because Lucy has so much work to do. First of all, “ Mrs. Dalloway” and “Lucy. ” Her maid has no last name, and her own name appends her to her husband.
Further, while she feels she is taking on a part of the work that more properly is Lucy’s, her “work” is only a matter of buying flowers. Woolf injects similar irony throughout the novel, following on the idea suggested in this very first sentence, theme of social commentary. In Mrs. Dalloway, Woolf shows the abiding superficiality of the social order of which Clarissa Dalloway is a member. Early in this section, Clarissa Dalloway thinks of Miss Kilman, a Communist whom she regards as callous, because she brought out guilt feelings in Clarissa:
Miss Kilman would do anything for the Russians, starved herself for the Austrians, but in private inflicted positive torture, so insensitive was she, dressed in a green mackintosh coat. Year in and year out she wore that cost; she perspired; she was never in the room five minutes without making you feel her superiority, your inferiority; how poor she was; how rich you were; how she lived in a slum without a cushion or a bed or a rug or whatever it might be, all her soul rusted with that grievance sticking in it, her dismissal from school during the War –
(Woolf, 12) Doris Kilman is critical to this novel. She is an outsider, someone below the Dalloway’s class. In the mackintosh she wears almost as a uniform, she hates and resents them for the ease of their social graces, their wealth, and their class standing. She has been hired to tutor Miss Elizabeth Dalloway in history. While the Dalloways sought someone who could teach this subject “objectively,” in reality, she shows the meaning of “objectivity”: objectivity is built on objects, on the property that the rich have, and the poor do not.
Miss Kilman covets what the Dalloways possess. She Clarissa Dalloway’s vanity and deceit, Miss Kilman has become convinced that she deserve their money or social position more than they do. In truth, however, she herself is vain, a reverse snob whose mackintosh smelling of sweat is her ensign, proof of her poverty, proof that she belongs to the lower orders, without the cushions and rugs. But her disaffection for that life is clear. Oddly, Miss Kilman turns to religion, ostensibly for solace and peace. although she uses the religiosity as a weapon against Clarissa Dalloway.
She puffs herself up, comparing her sufferings with those of Christ, who warned of those who pray loudly in the public square that they already have their reward. She is dogmatic and self-righteous, the sacred messenger of a new faith. Ironically, Clarissa fears males, and looks most fondly for the companionship of women. Miss Kilman is a greater threat than any man in her life. However, it is more the idea that Miss Kilman represents than the woman herself. She has brought her destructive, envious force into the Dalloway house. Her target her is Elizabeth, Clarissa’s daughter.
Even in this campaign, Woolf shows us the sides of Miss Kilman she would want to conceal: in the restaurant scene her wolfs her food, gulping down the sugared cakes and chocolate eclairs, a symbol of what she would like to do to the Dalloways, ready to eat their beauty, youth, money, and class. As she stuffs food into her mouth, Woolf focuses on her hands, opening and closing, like the convulsive stretching of the claws of a predatory cat. In the end, Miss Kilman finds no solace for her life, her church having turned arid on her.