Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own” and Mrs. Dalloway

2 Virginia Woolf from the National Portait Gallery Site

Virginia Woolf from the National Portrait Gallery Site

In “A Room of One’s Own” Virginia Woolf says that the only things a woman needs to be able to write are money and a room of her own. While these things are certainly important, I think she also needs inspiration; inspiration in the form of discomfort. In the case of Woolf, she is uncomfortable with the social status of women, and her writing reflects that, both in “A Room of One’s Own” and in Mrs. Dalloway.

In “A Room of One’s Own” Woolf discusses women in fiction. She focuses for a while on the disparity in educational funding between males and females, which obviously bothers her and fuels her writing.  As she walks through Oxford she considers “An unending stream of gold and silver, I thought, must have flowed into this court perpetually” (P1).  Conversely, when she contemplates the state of female educational institutions she is told that “it was a prodigious effort, and a great deal of time was spent on it. And it was only after a long struggle and with the utmost difficulty that they got thirty thousand pounds together” to start the college (P1).  She even compares difference in meals between the women and the men. When she dines at the men’s college she is served “a confection which rose all sugar from the waves,” but with her female friend she eats “beef with its attendant greens and potatoes — a homely trinity” (P1). This contrast shows the difference in monetary support between the two sexes, and these foods serve as a metaphor for the way men and women are intellectually nourished. Women were not encouraged to learn or given ‘gourmet’ education, whereas men were put into school and taught to grow up to be educated gentlemen.

This lack of encouragement for the intellectual development of women is another topic that Woolf’s dwells on. She wonders about all of the wasted talent that must have escaped the world because women were suppressed and kept away from books and education. She says that when “one reads of a witch being ducked, of a woman possessed by devils, of a wise woman selling herbs, or even of a very remarkable man who had a mother, then I think we are on the track of a lost novelist, a suppressed poet, of some mute and inglorious Jane Austen, some Emily Brontë who dashed her brains out on the moor” (P1).  This zealous description highlights how affected Woolf is by the predicament of her fellow females. She knows that not all women who have the urge to write are as courageous or able as she, and she mourns for past women who were gifted in this way who had even fewer opportunities. She says that “a highly gifted girl who had tried to use her gift for poetry would have been so thwarted and hindered by other people, so tortured and pulled asunder by her own contrary instincts, that she must have lost her health and sanity to a certainty” (P1).

Virginia Woolf and T. S. Elliot from the National Portrait Gallery Site

Virginia Woolf and T. S. Elliot from the National Portrait Gallery Site

Woolf continues her critique of woman’s place in society in Mrs. Dalloway. The very first line in fact, a dramatic declaration, is such a silly, useless, typically feminine thing.  By starting the novel with “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself,” Woolf makes a social comment (12). Not only is this a concern big enough in Clarissa Dalloway’s world to start a novel with, it is obviously unique that she should do so mundane a task herself. This fact shows that Clarissa is spoiled, and it critiques the place of women in society. While the young Clarissa Dalloway had “that woman’s gift, of making a world of her own wherever she happened to be” it is still a “woman’s gift” (88). The strength of the complement is negated within itself. Clarissa’s place in society is very set. She is the wife of a politician, a mother (though not a particularly affectionate one), and a hostess. When they are teenagers Clarissa’s friend Sally urges their friend Peter to “carry off Clarissa, to save her from the Hughs and the Dalloways and all the other ‘perfect gentlemen’ who would ‘stifle her soul’ (she wrote reams of poetry in those days), make a mere hostess of her, encourage her worldliness” (88). This seems to be Woolf’s voice coming through, showing her opinion of the societal norms. The very fact that Woolf writes Clarissa to be discontent in this role shows Woolf’s own discomfort with society’s boundaries. Clarissa “had the oddest sense of being invisible, unseen; unknown; there being no more marrying, no more having of children now, but only… this being Mrs. Dalloway; not even Clarissa any more; this being Mrs. Richard Dalloway” (20). Her complete subjection to her husband is her role, and this is a representation of a societal role that obviously made Woolf uncomfortable.

Photo Citations:

“Virginia Woolf.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 13 July 2014. Web. 13 July 2014. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virginia_Woolf&gt;.

Virginia Woolf Art, Life, and Vision” National Portrait Gallery, 13 July 2014. Web < http://www.npg.org.uk/whatson/virginiawoolf/home.php&gt;

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