Thursday, January 31, 2013


In Mrs Dalloway as in To the Lighthouse, Woolf writes her joys and, above all, her pains. In fact, Virginia Woolf hadalways been confronted to the vicissitudes of life; a happy family life, a series of cherished
people‟s deaths, sexual abuses of brothers,  the passion  of a beloved husband, ravages of  a
war, a brilliant intellectual life, and the concerns of a woman as a woman and as an individual
in the society, all punctuated with serious mental breakdowns and numerous suicide attempts.
The consequences of Woolf‟s sinuous biography are reflected and described in these two
novels by means of plots, a set of characters, symbols and themes. Writing, ultimately, comes
as therapy for self-expression, claim and communication.

The first chapter aims at giving the reader an overview on the context of Mrs
Dalloway and To the Lighthouse. First, feminine and feminism will be defined to make
a clear distinction between them. Then, the most important events in Woolf’s life will
be given in a brief biography of the author. Finally, the chapter will end with a
historical background of the novels’ period.
The second chapter will be dedicated to Mrs Dalloway. A summary of major
events is necessary to understand  the main character, Mrs Dalloway. Then, particular
attention will be given to Mrs Dalloway, the party given in her house, and her
relationship with Septimus Warren Smith, a mentally disturb veteran of the First
World War and whom she never met directly. Mrs Dalloway represents women’s role
in politics as perfect hostesses. Most importantly, she symbolizes women’s mental
(anxiety), physical (sexuality) and special (liberty) state in the society.
The third chapter will consist in a study of To the Lighthouse. In this respect,
the same method will be followed as in the second chapter for Mrs Dalloway; starting
with a plot summary and then moving to a study of Mrs Ramsay (the main character)
and the themes related to her and to Virginia Woolf. As Mrs. Dalloway, Mrs. Ramsay is a wonderful hostess who takes pride in making memorable experiences for the
guests at the family’s summer home. The novel shows the evaluation of the Ramsays
from the pre War to the post war period.

Generally feminism  which is anti-masculine in essence  identifies inequalities
and injustices in the way girls and women are treated in a particular society and the
disabilities and disadvantages which result from these. However, feminist writers
sometimes exaggerate when holding utopian views and idealizing women. Instead of
concentrating on how women should live in a quite unlikely world, they better focus
on the way women  live in reality. In the feminine novel,  however,  writers  give
detailed depictions of women’s lives, ideas, emotions and preoccupations including a
lot of feelings. Virginia  Woolf, who is more feminine than feminist,  treats both
feminine and feminist problems in her two novels,  Mrs Dalloway  and  To the
In Mrs Dalloway, Virginia Woolf tackles the importance of the competence of a
woman in organizing parties for political purposes. The task of women in politics is
limited to preparing the necessary food and the right d├ęcor. In addition, she has to be
presentable in order to please the guests and the masculine assembly. Mrs. Dalloway
buys flowers, dresses for the party, and is anxious about her guests’ opinions of her
sense of organization. In To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Ramsay devotes all her attention to
her male guests because she thinks that they are important in the running of the
world. Woolf’s anti-masculine attitude is shown in her constant bad representation of
the man. In Mrs. Dalloway, Septimus Warren  Smith is attributed madness and Mr. Dalloway
shows distance and  ‘frigidity’ and indifference towards his wife. In To the
Lighthouse, men such as Mr. Ramsay,  Charles Tansley and Augustus Carmichael are
short, ignorant and graceless; qualities that do not seem to bother them so much as
they find compensation in the standard masculine superiority.
What is striking in Mrs Dalloway and To the Lighthouse is Woolf’s sensitivity
and sensibility when writing about her life experience and her problems as a woman
like sexuality as well as social and domestic duties. In fact, Virginia Woolf witnessed a
dramatic change, almost turmoil, in her private and social life. In  Mrs. Dalloway,
Woolf refers to her experience by evoking war and political parties with which she
became familiar when she married Leonard Woolf,   and to the madness of Septimus
that evokes her own mental breakdowns. In To the Lighthouse, she evokes her own
childhood and gives a portrait of a happy family saddened and ultimately torn apart
by a series of deaths, especially the mother’s death that changed their lives, exactly
the way her mother’s death had changed her own life  in 1895 when she was still
Virginia Stephens. The idea of death is constantly present and is persistently echoed
in both novels.
Woolf establishes a parallel between two opposed characters, one sane and
the other insane, one female and the other male, Mrs. Dalloway and Septimus; a
parallel to demonstrate that men and women are not actually different. They are
preoccupied and surrounded by the same matters; but their reactions are not similar
because of social pressure and an innate perception that often a man and a woman react differently.
She  holds, in  A Room of One’s Own, that women  need paper to
write and space to evolve far from man’s obsessive desire to overprotect her. Men
and women do not have the same freedom to express themselves. The parties
organized by Mrs. Dalloway and Mrs. Ramsay, ironically refer to women’s difficulties
to communicate by means of speech. Writing for women, thus, comes as a confession
and communication. The fact of attributing  adjectives like feminine and feminist to
the literature written by women is in itself a recognition of the existence of  women’s
writing as a form of  communication and expression. As such women’s literature
deserves the given denominations, but by no means do they imply that it is inferior to
men’s writings. It is simply literature written by women dealing with the same topics
that are viewed from a different perspective by someone from the opposite sex since
men and women do not have the same experiences. The feminist critic, George Henry
Lewes, in his The Lady Novelist claims that the emergence of women’s literature had
much to do with a description of their lives and experiences and that men and
women live differently and, thus, have different experiences.
Mrs Dalloway (1925) was written before  To the Lighthouse (1927) but if a
comparison is to be made between Woolf’s life and the two novels,  it will be clear
that the events in the latter precede the events in the former since To the Lighthouse
goes back to the author’s childhood. In both novels, Virginia Woolf treats the notion
of time in a quite original way. In Mrs Dalloway, time is regulated by the sound of
clocks far from the physical setting of the novel and in To the Lighthouse, time varies in length.
What can be derived from these two novels is that time does not cure old
hurts and Woolf, even in her forties, was still affected by her childhood and by the
deaths of her parents. Her life and memories are reflected through a writing prism as
a parallel between actual experiences and fiction, “two blocks related by a corridor”,
as she says in her manuscripts of To the Lighthouse. In short, Mrs Dalloway, To the
Lighthouse  and Woolf’s life are two blocks related by the corridor of writing as a
means of therapy of self-experience.

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