Feminism in 'Mrs. Dalloway'

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Feminism in Mrs. Dalloway
Virginia Woolf is one of the greatest writers whose works reflect her philosophy of life and identification of women. She grew up with an intense interest in the feminist question, and her novels hold the key to the meaning of life and the position of women in the existing patriarchal society. She portrays the impact of the patriarchal English society on women’s lives, the loneliness and frustration of women’s lives that had been shaped by the moral, ideological and conventional factors.

Mrs. Dalloway, regarded as a masterpiece of Virginia Woolf, is a novel riddled with themes. Woolf has much to say about society and the post-war changes but a steady underlying theme in the book is feminism, the roles of women of that period and their seeming insignificance. Basically it is the character of Clarissa Dalloway, her relation with Sally Seton, and other women characters, Miss Kilman, Lucrezia Warren, who are also clustered around Clarissa in different contexts of the novel, through which Woolf reveals the physical as well as the psychological world of womanhood – their dilemmas, subjectivity, sexuality and conditioning in the traditional patriarchal society.

Woolf fought for women’s individual identity, privacy and freedom in the male dominated society. These views bloom in the novel Mrs. Dalloway. The relationship between Clarissa and Peter underwent a constant tension between love and freedom. Clarissa though craved for love and to be loved, she also wanted privacy and independence of her own. She wanted to preserve her virginity and equated it with freedom as result of an aggressive society where women were snubbed and despised. So, instead of Peter she chose to marry Richard because she thought Peter would not give the kind of freedom which was essential for her happiness. Again, Peter couldn’t understand the importance of her emotional need. So, Clarissa thought if she would marry Peter, he would have engulfed her and forced her soul. “For in marriage a little license, a little independence there must between people living together day in day out in the same house; which Richard gave her, and she him (where was he this morning, for instance? Some committee, she never asked what.) But with Peter everything had to be shared, everything gone into.” Thus, in her decision to marry Richard, she chose privacy over passion and became first woman who sacrificed her love to be a woman.

In the novel, Clarissa’s relationship with her husband, Richard Dalloway, proved to be a failure. Richard was so preoccupied with politics more than his wife. In response to his loyalty to the social duties of upper class, he left his wife for a meeting that he did not care about. Again we find Richard was invited to Lady Bruton’s party without his wife. At this Clarissa felt a sense of emptiness and insignificance. Clarissa mocked her husband’s attempt at taking a hot water bottle as a substitute for her warmth: “And if she raised her head she could just hear the click of the handle released as gently as possible by Richard, who slipped upstairs in his socks sand then, as often as not, dropped his hot-water bottle and swore! How she laughed!” Through Clarissa – Richard relationship Woolf emphasizes that marriage is not a guarantee of a happy relationship and mutual understanding between a husband and a wife in patriarchal society, even while living under the same roof.

Again, these two relationships – Clarissa-Peter and Clarissa-Richard – reveal women’s existence in the society. Both the males, Peter and Richard, viewed Clarissa as a woman, inferior and insignificant. Peter never wanted to understand Clarissa. Rather he was deeply interested in the affairs of the world: “It was the state of the world that interested him; Wagner, Pope’s poetry, people’s characters eternally, and the defects of her own soul.” He always scolded her and said sarcastically that she would marry a Prime Minister and stand at the top of...
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