Monday, October 19, 2009

Mrs. Dalloway

Greta Tasedan
Engl 814
Blog 9

Eliot wrote, "About anyone so great as Shakespeare, it is probable that we can never be right; and if we can never be right, it is better that we should from time to time change our way of being wrong. Whether truth ultimately prevails is doubtful and has never been proved; but it is certain that nothing is more effective in driving out error than a new error" (Weiss 1). This quote seems to perfectly answer Virginia Woolf's question in her essay "Modern Fiction." Virginia Woolf asks "Is it worth while? What is the point of it all?....Life escapes; and perhaps without life nothing else is worth while" (3). There is a huge gap in the thought process of these two literary giants. This quote also comes quickly to mind when reading Erwin R. Steinberg's "Mrs. Dalloway and T.S. Eliot's Personal Wasteland." It seems that Woolf, in her judgment of Eliot, has embraced this philosophy wholeheartedly. She seems to fluxuate between liking and respecting Eliot and thinking of him as "a very vain man" (6). Her inward thoughts about him, his work, and his wife are all very different from her outward acts of inviting him on outings and publishing his work. This distinct separation of the inward mind and the outward actions and words is a theme I found in Mrs. Dalloway.

Woolf's writing style, a very distinct separation between the internal thought and the external dialogue, is extremely interesting. Because most of Woolf's characters are so internal, I believe that this implies a distinct separation between each and every character. Thoughts are rarely shared aloud. Also, her noticeable lack of spoken dialogue between characters suggests this same separation. I am inclined to believe, having read very little Virginia Woolf, that she was a very internal person and felt a very distinct separation from most of the people in her life, and most definitely from most people in the world.

In Mrs. Dalloway all of Clarissa's thoughts suggest (to me) the oppression of a very internal and limited consciousness. Clarissa's stream of consciousness never rests long on one thought or one person. She seems to be experiencing or at least considering the thoughts and emotions of all the people in her life and in a way that seems overwhelmingly oppressive. Just as Clarissa takes on the job of buying the flowers herself, she takes on the cares and emotions of her husband, Peter Walsh, and even Elizabeth and her relationship with Miss Kilman. There is not an emotion, issue, love, or hate that Clarissa doesn't feel (or at least consider) just as if it was her own. As a side note, at this time in Europe women were expected to be more internal.

In contrast to Clarissa who is absorbed by those around her as well as her own thoughts, Septimus seems to be absorbed by his own singular consciousness. He internalizes all his feelings and thoughts, shutting out his wife and the real world. He seems to have internalized so much that he lives entirely in his own head with little thought for others. This is quite interesting because Septimus, as a man, was not expected to be this internal. He is still bound by social constraints that women of this time were subjected to, but he still is not expected to be so closed off. His wife is so concerned about his mentality that she takes him to a doctor who takes the problem seriously enough. It was interesting how internalizing would be seen as an illness in a man, but Clarissa (who is unarguably internal) is considered completely healthy.

In David Trotters Essay "The Modernist Novel," he discusses (what appears to be) this same limited consciousness using example of Virginia Woolf's novel To the Lighthouse. He details the "impersonal egotism" (81) which "manifests itself as an absurd reduction of everything family, on Mr. Ramsay's part, and an absurd expansion of the family until it becomes everything, on Mrs. Ramsay's part" (81). Although I refuse to be so arrogant as to draw any concrete assumptions about Virginia Woolf's mental state and it's manifestation in her writing, (I have read very little Woolf) this theme seems to be developing relatively consistently throughout her literary works.

This says quite a bit about Virginia Woolf's possible views on woman and mental illness.

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