Mrs. Dalloway: Portrait of the Artist as a Middle-aged Woman By Jacob Littleton Twentieth Century Literature 41(1995): 36-
Main Concept • Novelist Virginia Woolf portrays a middle-aged woman who has transcended the mundane quality of her life by finding joy in everyday objects and maintaining this attitude as a form of personal faith. The heroine, Clarissa, can also be considered an artist in the way she attempts to enhance the existence of her fellows by holding parties that allow her guests to behave in ways which she has predetermined.
Clarissa’s artistry is the essential key to understanding her character, and the depiction of that character is the novel’s key event. • Clarissa is a nonbeliever- she rejects society’s common props against the void: Walsh’s passion, Kilman’s religion, Bradshaw’s Proportion. • Her delight is free of self-interest or discrimination. -- “ subvert the masculine grammar of subject and object, unifying and protecting both in a single field.”
Clarissa creates a faith based on the unit of heightened awareness of existence • Human interaction and communication form a network by which individuals merge into one another through experience, imagination, and memory. • The value of existences is not individual but collective; in Clarissa’s skeptical mind this collective experience takes the place of “love and religion,” and other potential rocks against the void, in which she places no faith. --- She sees a way for her to act to strengthen collective being through her parties. Her parties are her art.
The artist’s role is to create and express the truths that she or he apprehends in the world; the artist is Woolf’s high priest of consciousness. • Clarissa’s parties project the truth she sees onto a ritual physical structure freed in many ways from the forms and concerns of everyday life. • The party marks a place of special awareness of friendship and connection, for it is a celebration of these aspects of humanity in common culture as well as in Clarissa’s more developed scheme of live.
The individual’s social position • Clarissa’s isolation, the fact of death in her life, is caused by a social order which requires the subjugation of the private self, for Clarissa the real self, to the individual’s social position. • “Mrs. Dalloway” is fixed in a social position: her femininity, in a patriarchal culture, subsumed by her identity as Richard’s wife. • It is significant that Septimus is the other character for whom Woolf brings up this dichotomy.
Conclusion • Woolf’s presentation of Clarissa Dalloway is itself subversive on many levels. By creating a viable heroine with many intellectual attributes ascribed solely to men, Woolf destabilizes gender boundaries Clarissa’s talents derive, moreover, from her social femininity, presenting an alternative to male-identified utilitarian ideology.