Moving Tropes: New Modernist Travels with Virginia Woolf
Lamont, Elizabeth Clea, Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics
The article concentrates on one of Virginia Woolf's profoundly lyrial novels, Mrs. Dallowav, to question the dominant acceptance of Woolf's British rootedness and lack of wanderlust. Through a close reading and analysis of pertinent passages, the article shows how Woolf was not simply experimenting with forms, but also pushing forward in her tropes movement across borders and travel. Every character in the novel is somehow related to a foreign place. The domestic dimension of this novel, stressed for so long, is problematized to give way to a fresh view of Woolf as more transnational than appears. The article calls on recent works in anthropological and feminist criticism related to boundary crossing to throw light on Woolf's text. The study draws parallels between movement of characters in London and the rhetoric of travel indicated or subsumed in the lyricism of the text. Even in shop windows gazed at by the protagonist in the novel, global relations of power are inscribed, destabilizing the stasis of home and creating metaphoric hybridity.
London is enchanting. I step out upon a tawny coloured magic carpet ... Faces passing lift up my mind; prevent it from settling ...
All must end upon the Odyssey ...
Virginia Woolf's profoundly lyrical fourth novel, Mrs. Dalloway, set in London and focused on a day in the life of one woman and her preparations for a society soiree, is most often interpreted as a thoroughly British, purely 'domestic,' novel. In fact, before feminist recuperations of her oeuvre made waves beginning in the early 1970s, Woolf's novels were valued by many scholars of the modernist period more for their aesthetic experimentation than the way in which they address important social and political issues. In the few sentences John Fletcher and Malcolm Bradbury devote to Woolf in their survey of canonical Modernism, her novels are described as "exploration[s] both of the aesthetic of consciousness and the aesthetics of art" characterized by "a kind of joyous artistic freedom" to focus on "form" (408-09). Beyond an interest in formalist issues, comparisons between Woolf and her Modernist contemporaries--T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, H.D., Ezra Pound and others--have never been extensively drawn. One significant reason for this oversight is the fact that Woolf, living and writing in Bloomsbury, never embraced the wandering, expatriate, "starving artist" existence that other Modernists did. Geographical wanderings, critics insist, produced an added dimension to the works of the High Modernist canon noticeably absent from Woolf's life and work. (1)
And yet, Woolf's novel is teeming with hidden--or at least largely critically unrecognized--lyrical metaphors of movement and multiple tropes of travel at work within its English domestic setting that frustrate and problematize purely aesthetic readings of the novel. (2) Indeed, every character in the novel is implicitly or explicitly linked to "foreign" places, peoples or travel. And yet what does it mean that, punning, Woolf names one of Septimus's nerve doctors Dr. "Holmes"? Or that Dr. Bradshaw wants to commit Septimus to a home? Mrs. Dalloway seems to propose a dialectical relationship between incessant movement and domestic stasis that performs a radical re-interpretation of twentieth century ideas of the English home and empire. Of particular importance is a re-examination of the character, Peter Walsh, not as Clarissa's patriarchal nemesis, but as an Anglo-Indian struggling to fashion some sort of coherent identity out of his colonial past, and a character of central importance to Woolf. Further, how might Clarissa Dalloway and Septimus operate as doubles in a geopolitical sense? And what should one make of the Irish characters, Moll Pratt and Mrs. Walker, who appear briefly in Clarissa's movements as she prepares for her party? All the characters' private contemplations and mental musings take place while they are in motion, perambulating across Regent's Park, traveling down Bond Street or riding atop an omnibus across London. Spice winds, sirens and endless nautical metaphors pepper the text, endlessly complicating and confounding the domestic plane with a rhetoric of travel.
To begin to answer these questions, the recent work of several prominent modernist scholars and critics interested in transnational feminism, history, politics and race is extremely useful. They have begun to theorize about the ways in which the notions of travel and border crossing, as central tropes or thematic features of modernist texts, might be used as vehicles for ushering in new discussions of modernist writers and texts. (3) Their interest in female border crossings reflects another kind of travel--disciplinary boundary crossings--which have become critical to postmodern re-evaluations of literary modernism. Literary critics have become increasingly fascinated with the ways in which theories in cultural studies (anthropology and ethnography, in particular) can open up texts and render readings in hitherto unforeseen ways. A significant article articulating the nature of these border crossings has been Arjun Appadurai's "Global Ethnoscapes: Notes and Queries for a Transnational Anthropology." If we keep in mind Arjun Appadurai's definition of the subject matter of cultural studies as roughly equivalent to "the relationship between the word and the world," (196) these boundary crossings can be worthwhile expeditions for literary critics indeed. Appadurai argues that this conception of cultural studies can be used as a basis for a new kind of global ethnography, one that takes into account our "deterritorialized" postmodern world and finds a new translation of "this tension between the word and the world" (196). (4) Indeed, Modernist scholars need to reject "the dominant Western attitude toward hybridity that sees it as always elsewhere or infiltrating an identity or location that is assumed to be, to always have been, pure and unchanging" (198). Woolf's novel articulates the same sentiment, revealing the hybridity of a cosmopolitan center like London long before the term was en vogue among feminists and (post)modernist scholars. (5)
Another anthropologist whose work is particularly valuable for understanding the significance of travel in Mrs. Dallowav is James Clifford. In a number of essay collections he has edited and written since the 1980s, Clifford makes a vigorous effort to reconceptualize the project of Western ethnography. (6) In "Traveling Cultures," Clifford stresses the ways in which "diverse, interconnected histories of travel and displacement" are creeping into and problematizing "certain localizing strategies in the construction and representation of 'cultures'" (97). Traditional cultural analysis establishes its objects of study spatially, using terms like "native" and "local" to describe the limited area of study; but with the drastic expansion of mobility in the modern age, including tourism, urban sprawl, immigration and migrant labor, more and more people "dwell" with the aid of cars, mass transit and airplanes. The exotic has become uncannily close as foreign populations immigrate while familiarity can often be found miles and oceans away. Clifford refuses to read Levi-Strauss's "great narrative of entropy" in this modernist fragmentary existence; he insists instead that cultural identity needs to be understood as a more complicated process of continual production and destruction (101). Clifford aims to "invert the strategies of cultural localization, the making of 'natives,'" by "an emergent culture-as-travel-relations ethnography" which recognizes a dialectic between past ethnographies of dwelling and a new ethnography of travel (102). He does not deny the existence of locales or home but endeavors to "sketch a comparative cultural studies approach to specific histories, tactics, everyday practices of dwelling and traveling: traveling-in-dwelling, dwelling-intraveling" (108).
Indeed, Clifford's revisionist ethnography can be instrumental in understanding the significance of travel and movement within Mrs. Dalloway's domestic setting. However, Woolf's novel also serves to spotlight some significant weaknesses and aporias in Clifford's argument. As Karen Lawrence points out, even this revisionist ethnography occludes a consideration of gender, despite the fact that Clifford admits the need for such a focus (96). I would add that a concentration on the multiple issues of race, class, power and history are crucial in assessing the significance of movement and travel in modernist literature. In a recent article, "Uncommon Readings: Seeking the Geopolitical Woolf," Susan Stanford Friedman poses a series of evocative questions useful in formulating a "geopolitical" reading of Woolf's oeuvre that takes into account these multiple issues. Friedman is centrally concerned with developing "a feminist epistemology and political activism that foregrounds gender as it intersects with multiple and interactive constituents of identity based on such factors as class, sexuality, race, ethnicity, religion, and geopolitics" (25). Indeed, I will argue, Woolf's use of multiple tropes of movement and the metaphor of the traveler allow her to accentuate the complex ways in which issues of gender, race, class, power and history intersect and reveal how greater systems of geopolitical power are always already at work within the domestic sphere. However, while Lawrence and Friedman both focus primarily on Woolf's novels of nautical travel and summer holiday, The Voyage Out and To the Lighthouse, I shall analyze what is often read as one of Woolf's more provincial and domestic novels, Mrs.Dalloway. The lyricism of Woolf's narration, noted by Friedman, is not simply a lyrical lining to the unfolding of events, but a counterpoint that needs to be explored.
Finally, I am not interested in critiquing Woolf's criticism of, or participation in, British imperialist projects in the way that Jane Marcus's "Britannia Rules The Waves" and Kathy Phillips's Woolf Against Empire do. Instead, I shall use Clifford's "work in progress"--his theories of the dialectical and interpenetrating relationship between dwelling and travel--to consider some of the issues raised by Lawrence, Friedman, and others to uncover the transglobal or geopolitical characteristics of Woolf's novel. Like traditional ethnographers who have habitually "privileged relations of dwelling over relations of travel," polemical readings of Woolf's novel often "marginalize or erase several blurred boundary areas" that problematize their arguments and "elide the wider global world of international import-export"--to borrow Clifford's terms--that occurs on the pages of Woolf's novels ("Traveling Cultures" 99).
To understand the context in which Woolf was writing, several historical details pertinent to the novel are important. Mrs. Dalloway is set in London, in 1923, a time of incredible flux and change for the city, brought about largely by the newly ended First World War. Although the novel concentrates on "one moment in June," Woolf goes to great lengths to present a historical London, in great transition both at home and in its colonies abroad. The tomb of the Unknown Warrior, built at Westminster Abbey (1920), by which many characters walk during the course of the novel, and other similar features of London public ideology were also still new and unfamiliar in the London landscape; while abroad, British colonies like India and Burma were agitating for independence.
And yet, the vision of London Woolf evokes is simultaneously solidly traditional and lyrically nostalgic. Amidst the upheaval and change Woolf depicts in the novel, the monarchy remains intact and the Empire victorious. The novel opens as Clarissa Dalloway stands poised on a Bond Street curb waiting to cross Victoria Street and finish her pre-party errands. Both Bond and Victoria Streets are places of hurried movement, but they simultaneously evoke--and serve as metonyms for--the staid affluence of the upper-class British family and the solid military power of the Empire. With "a touch of the bird about her," Clarissa "perch[es]" on the edge of Victoria Street thinking of "the swing, tramp, and trudge [of] the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging," the constant movement of life which makes her "love it so" (4); but she also muses with contentment on the fact that the "King and Queen were at the Palace" and "even now, at this hour, discreet old dowagers were shooting out in their motor cars on errands of mystery" (5). Indeed, "since her people were once courtiers in the time of the Georges" (5), Clarissa, too, is out on leisurely errands of her own. This freedom of movement is intimately tied to persons of privilege, symbolized by the motor car in which:
there could be no doubt greatness was seated within; greatness was passing, hidden, down Bond Street, removed only by a hand's-breadth from ordinary people who might now, for the first and last time, be within speaking distance of the majesty of England, of the enduring symbol of the state ... (16)
The "astonishing ... progress ... up Bond Street" (12) is complicated, however, by uncomfortable references to the darker, coarser side of Bond Street and what that represents. The devastation and grief caused by the First World War, for example, is not lost in the shuffle. For, while "the War was over" officially, Mrs. Foxcroft is still "eating her heart out because that nice boy was killed," and Lady Bexborough is left holding "a telegram in her hand, John, her favorite killed" (5). Woolf also hints at the nascent Americanization of London which was a prominent, and often unwelcome, feature of the interwar years: shopkeepers are described as "fidgeting in their windows with their paste and diamonds," preparing their eclectic collections of jewelry "to tempt Americans" (5). With these brief words, the stereotype of the bargain-hunting, gullible American tourist, betrays the complex geopolitical unconscious of the novel. (7) The "vehicle" conveying this post-war commercialization of London is the airplane circling above Bond Street and writing indecipherable advertising slogans in the air. A few minutes later, among the various and quaint social handbooks and dusty leather-bound manuals Clarissa glances at in a shop window, her eyes rest for a moment on Big Game Shooting in Nigeria. Even in the shop windows of Bond Street, global relations of power are inscribed, destabilizing the comfort and stasis of home.
Clarissa Dalloway herself is an exceptionally powerful embodiment of Clifford's notions of the "hybrid native." Countless Woolf critics have remarked on how confined Clarissa feels when, walking up Bond Street; she describes herself as "not even Clarissa any more" but "Mrs. Richard Dalloway" (11): and yet within this local, contained persona, Clarissa has a simultaneous and "perpetual sense, as she watch[es] the taxi cabs, of being out, out far to sea and alone" (8). For while she exists "in the streets of London, on the ebb and flow of [domestic] things," Clarissa also feels a part of "people she had never met" (8). She has the distinct sensation of being lifted "as she had seen the trees lift mist, but it spread ever so far, her life, herself" (9). In fashioning a protagonist irresistibly drawn to moths, waves and crystal dolphins, Woolf manages to capture the dialectics of dwelling and travel, stasis and motion, within one persona. Woolf will repeat and expand this motif in the central female character of To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Ramsey, and in the major symbolism of The Waves.
While this scene serves to characterize Clarissa, the way in which the convergent and interpenetrating issues of gender, race and class play a significant part in the geopolitics of the text becomes increasingly clear as well. For instance, directly before Clarissa declares that "she would not say of any one in the world now that they were this or were that," she refers to "those Indian women" as "silly, pretty, flimsy, nincompoops" (8). Woolf, in fact, makes several such references to Indian women, emphasizing the existence of complex tensions and divisions between different classes and races on a local level. Later, when "shawled Moll Pratt," the old Irish flower peddler, contemplates tossing a bunch of roses in the path of the mysterious car "out of sheer lightheartedness and contempt of poverty," she resists, noticing "a constable's eye upon her, discouraging an old Irishwoman's loyalty" (18-19). Moll, a poor, Irish woman represents how gender, race and class can combine to form a stifling situation of multiple oppresions. Finally, a significant connection is made between Clarissa and yet another working class immigrant, Maisie Johnson, the nineteen-year old girl who had "left her people" in Edinburgh to join "that gently trudging, vaguely gazing, breeze-kissed company" of London (27). As Maisie gazes around her, she can only think "Horror! horror!" (27), a Conradian exclamation Clarissa will later echo, (8) recalling how Peter had interrupted her kiss with Sally "Oh this horror!" she thinks, as though "she had known all along that something would interrupt, would embitter her moment of happiness" (36). That the words of a lost and lonely immigrant echo Clarissa's terror at having her privacy invaded by a man reveals the significant interpenetration of class and gender oppressions.
The very nature of Clarissa's trip up Bond Street, in fact, is wholly submerged in issues of class. She "buys the flowers herself" because, as she tells us in the opening words of the novel, her servant, "Lucy had her work cut out for her" (3). And yet how does her trip differ from what Lucy's presumably would have been? If one were actually to follow her steps, it would become clear that "Clarissa's walk is anything but direct" (Doan and Brown 18). That Clarissa wanders through Westminster, across Birdcage Walk, into St. James's Park and finally turns onto Bond Street, suggests the ways in which class and travel are inextricably enmeshed. The meandering Clarissa enjoys the privilege of leisure, for had Lucy set off to buy the flowers and had she taken Clarissa's path, she would have risked dismissal. Furthermore, Clarissa does not purchase her flowers from an ordinary florist or street cart vender, but from an upscale Bond Street florist.
One particularly significant (and familiar) scene that begs (re)consideration in a geopolitical reading is Clarissa's return from Bond Street to her Westminster home and her retreat to the attic room. How might this domestic site--a quiet retreat to which Clarissa bows in silent admiration--be read within an ethnography of travel? As Clarissa bows her head in the foyer, she
gives thanks to servants, yes, to dogs and canaries, above all to Richard her husband, who was the foundation of it--of the gay sounds, of the green lights, of the cook even whistling, for Mrs. Walker was Irish and whistled all day long. (29)
That the Irish "whistle all day long" seems like a racial stereotype buried in the political unconscious of the text, for later, Clarissa directs Lucy to give an "old bald-looking cushion" to the same Irish cook: "Give it to Mrs. Walker with my compliments! Take it away!" she cries (38-39). We might also look, however, at the way Clarissa "travels" from a purely British or "local" identity to one that acknowledges the part people of "foreign" origin play in her identity and her life.
Once inside the domestic sphere, Clarissa is forced to stay at home, "cloistered," (30) because Lady Bruton has neglected to invite her to lunch. Clarissa's anxiety is founded on the fear of social exile, a fear of domestic stasis without the complement of 'travel.' She understands the importance of movement as a supplement to her domestic existence. As Clarissa climbs the stairs, in the grips of this fear, she seems to travel psychically toward old age and death; for "as she begin[s] to go slowly upstairs, with her hand on the bannisters, as if she had left a party," she "pause[s] by the open staircase window" and feels "herself suddenly shriveled, aged, breastless" (30). The attic room scene--beginning with the oft-quoted "like a nun withdrawing, or a child exploring a tower"--has been endlessly discussed in feminist and psychoanalytic readings of the novel; but it can also be located along another axis of movement, namely, the geopolitical--an axis consistently inflected by questions of gender. As Clarissa looks at her narrow bed and its "clean, tight stretched sheets" that cover and confine her each night, she also describes "traveling" nightly to "the retreat from Moscow" with Baron Marbot as she reads from his Memoirs (31). Domestic, local, confined though the attic room may be, it is simultaneously a place of travel for Clarissa.
Because her husband, Richard, does not share this attic room with Clarissa, her thoughts travel uneasily to their relationship and the absence of sexual relations in their marriage. Significantly, she recalls how she had "failed" Richard "on the river beneath the woods at Clieveden" and "at Constantinople," both places far beyond London (31). In fact, their marriage is thoroughly suffused with tropes of travel and feelings of distance. And a few minutes later, resting in her drawing room while Richard lunches with Lady Bruton, Clarissa describes "a gulf between husband and wife" that "one must respect" always (111). Despite this distance, Clarissa feels intimately attached to Richard by "a thin thread ... which would stretch and stretch as [he] walked across London" (112). Far across town, Richard thinks of returning home to Clarissa, "eager to travel that spider's thread of attachment between himself and Clarissa" (115), for even while they are apart, "she [keeps] coining back to him like a sleeper jolting against him in a railway carriage" (76). Richard is one of the many secondary characters through which the reader becomes acquainted with Clarissa. Richard sees Clarissa's desire to give parties as a way to combat the suffering and pain of life, again using metaphors of travel to explain why:
possibly, she says to herself, as we are a doomed race, chained to a sinking ship (her favourite reading as a girl was Huxley and Tyndall, and they were fond of these nautical metaphors), as the whole thing is a bad joke, let us at any rate do our part. (77) (9)
While Richard allows us glimpses of Clarissa, her thoughts travel to several other significant secondary characters, all of whom Woolf relates (and Clarissa relates to) through metaphors of movement and, most often exotic, travel. Sally Seton is one such character, fascinating to consider in a transnational approach. She is described by Clarissa as possessing
an extraordinary beauty of the kind she admired, dark, large-eyed, with that quality which she always envied; a sort of abandonment, as if she could do anything; a quality commoner in foreigners than Englishwomen. (33)
Woolf overtly characterizes Sally as the stereotypical "exotic" beauty and impulsive "foreigner": She "had French blood in her veins, an ancestor had been with Marie Antoinette, had his head cut off, left a ruby ring" (33). What does it mean that Clarissa's most precious memories are intimately connected to a French, overtly sensualized and irresponsible woman? Might Woolf's characterization of Sally have to do with the fact that both Clarissa's and Woolf's mothers were part French? Or does Woolf fall into an exoticization of the Other here, fetishizing the provocative French woman? In the final party scene, Sally appears as the married, "domesticated" Lady Rosseter with five sons at Eton and "ten thousand a year" (188). Clarissa, in spite of her own marriage to Richard, is clearly hurt by the fact that Sally has readily traded her 'otherness' and her Socialist beliefs for money and a title. Clearly, Clarissa is ambivalent, traveling between a representation of the domestic sphere, eschewing or exoticizing the Other, and a sense of utter confinement and panic within the same space.
Similarly, Clarissa exoticizes her somewhat emotionally-distant daughter, Elizabeth. Oddly enough, however, in Elizabeth's case, her "foreignness" is estranging and represents a dividing difference between mother and daughter:
Was it that some Mongol had been wrecked on the coast of Norfolk ... had mixed with the Dalloway ladies, perhaps, a hundred years ago? For the Dalloways, in general, were fair-haired; blue-eyed; Elizabeth, on the contrary, was dark; had Chinese eyes in a pale face; an Oriental mystery; was gentle, considerate, still. (122-23)
Indeed, there is a distance between Clarissa and her daughter, a gap that exists between Clarissa and all the major female characters in the novel, always symbolized by their foreign characteristics or ties. "What could she be thinking?" Clarissa puzzles, as Elizabeth appears momentarily in her doorway to say good-bye (135). Once out of the house, Elizabeth, "with her oriental bearing, her inscrutable mystery," deserts Doris Kilman to ride atop an omnibus (136). She is "a pioneer, a stray, venturing" for "no Dalloways came down the Strand daily," traveling in the direction that many characters take on foot that day, but hers is a journey aboard a renegade bus:
the impetuous creature--a pirate--started forward, sprang away; she had to hold the rail to steady herself, for a pirate it was, reckless, unscrupulous, bearing down ruthlessly, circumventing dangerously, boldly snatching a passenger, or ignoring a passenger, squeezing eel-like and arrogant in between, and the rushing insolently all sails spread up Whitehall. (135)
Unlike her mother's reserved stroll up Bond Street, Elizabeth's journey down the Strand is free-spirited and daring, like the adventures of a wild pirate or a young Sally Seton. However, she encounters metaphorically the same problems Sally inevitably did in her youth. To "each movement of the omnibus" Elizabeth responds "freely like a rider," but simultaneously, "like the figure-head of a ship," she becomes a motionless statue of feminine beauty. The heat gives "her cheeks the pallor of white painted wood" and her eyes gaze "ahead blank, bright, with the staring incredible innocence of sculpture" (136). Indeed, Elizabeth's gender affects her experience of travel, forbidding total freedom of movement, and making us wonder if this rebellious young girl will follow Sally Seton down a similar path to conventionality and confinement.
Here, I think it is worthwhile to consider briefly Elizabeth's companion, Doris Kilman, usually read solely in terms of her class or religious fervor, but who is another character in which issues of gender, race, class and power converge in hitherto unforeseen ways. She is "degradingly poor" because, as she explains, "the War came; and she had never been able to tell lies" (123). Mrs. Kilman, originally spelt "Kiehlman," lost her position at Miss Dolby's school "because she would not pretend that the Germans were all villains" (124). Turned out because she is an English woman of German descent, Kilman represents a growing English dis-ease with the idea of the pure English blood being "tainted" by the blood of foreigners, especially with the post-war rise of immigration. Kilman's relationship to travel is particularly fascinating. While Elizabeth, traveling down Whitehall atop an omnibus, imagines herself riding defiantly upon a pirate ship, Doris Kilman describes herself as "a wheel without a tyre (she was fond of such metaphors), jolted by every pebble" (130). Like Clarissa, caught on a sinking ship, and Septimus, a drowned sailor, Doris describes herself metaphorically as an inhibited traveler. And, like Peter Walsh, Kilman walks across London, passing newly erected statues commemorating the recently dead, like the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, a manifest sign of the recent horror of the War, just erected in 1920.
The major emigre character in the novel is, of course, Septimus Warren Smith, who emigrates to London "because he could see no future for a poet in Stroud" (84). Primarily because of his lower class status, Septimus is particularly vulnerable in London, a city which had "swallowed up millions of young men called Smith" (84). Like so many struggling writers, Septimus was first forced to seek work as a clerk. Through his commitment and diligence, he quickly found himself on the threshold of the London business world. Mr. Brewer, the managing clerk at Sibleys and Arrowsmiths, was immensely pleased with Septimus's progress and estimated that "in ten or fifteen years" he would "succeed to the leather arm-chair in the inner room" (85). When the war broke out, Septimus "was one of the first to volunteer" to defend England (86). His journey to France and into combat forced him to forsake his English companion, Evans, for a new Italian bride, Rezia. For Rezia, like many of the war's new brides, immigration to England has meant immense sacrifice and suffering, too. "Why [was I] not left in Milan?" she laments, instead of "coming to live here in this awful city" (65-66). Travel is not all unpleasant for Rezia, however; her most joyous memory of Septimus is the afternoon "they went to Hampton Court on top of a bus, and they were perfectly happy" (66). Significantly, Woolf's characterization of Rezia is one of her few attempts to imagine the subjectivity of a foreign woman in the novel.
In his post-war state of neurosis, while birds sing in Greek, Septimus (who like Clarissa is partial to nautical metaphors) feels laid out "like a drowned sailor on a rock" (69). He imagines himself a modern day Jesus Christ, a wandering Jew in a savage land, "suffering for ever, the scapegoat, the eternal sufferer" (25). Tragically, Septimus's home, his place of dwelling, becomes his greatest enemy, personified in the odious "Dr. Holmes." The doctor, for Woolf, represents "human nature ... the brute, with the blood-red nostrils;" but Dr. Ho(l)mes also has a geopolitical significance, symbolizing the fact that "home" is not always necessarily a place of understanding and safety. Septimus himself recognizes the irony of his doctor's name when Bradshaw tries to commit him to an institution: "One of Holmes homes?" he puns (97). Dr. Bradshaw's worship of "Conversion,"--a "Goddess even now engaged in the heat of India, the mud and swamp of Africa, the purlieus of London"--symbolizes the way in which imperialism is not a solely 'foreign' project (99). "At Hyde Park Corner on a tub" or walking "penitently disguised as brotherly love through the factories and parliaments," conversion reaches across classes and oceans (100).
That Clarissa Dalloway and Septimus Warren Smith are psychic doubles is readily accepted by Woolf critics; how might they operate, however, as geopolitical doubles? Using Clifford's theories of the ethnographies of dwelling and ethnographies of travel to think about their relationship, we can say that Clarissa Dalloway symbolizes local calmness and stasis. She remains fixedly in London, at home and sane; while Septimus (already an emigrant in London from Stroud) travels east to fight the War and ensuing insanity, thus signifying the space of movement and travel in their relationship. (10) Also, both Clarissa and Septimus allude to attractions, possibly homosexual, to people from their past (Sally Seton and Evans), attractions that could take place only outside of London, in Bourton and France, respectively. As the time draws near for Clarissa's party, Septimus prepares to die. "If it were now to die 'twere to be most happy," Clarissa thinks after hearing of Septimus's death, echoing the words of Othello (35). Again and again, Woolf uses several of Shakespeare's plays with foreign focus to unite Clarissa and Septimus: Othello, Antony and Cleopatra and Cymbeline--all also involved with questions of race and empire. Finally, as Clarissa glides up the staircase, floating above her party like a mermaid in her blue-green dress, Septimus, moving in contrast, jumps from an open window to his death.
In analyzing the geopolitical characteristics of Peter Walsh, I would like to refer briefly to Kathy Phillips's depiction of the anti-imperialist, anti-war Woolf. The thrust of Phillips's argument focuses on Virginia Woolf as a powerful satirist of British social institutions through her use of "incongruous juxtapositions and suggestive, concrete detail, which can be interpreted as metaphor" (vii). Phillips concentrates most specifically on the "informed juxtapositions" (ix) Woolf arranges which "associate Empire making, war making, and gender relations" in "a complicated and shrewd critique" (vii). Phillips's agenda, similar to Jane Marcus's in "Britannia Rules The Waves," is to rescue Woolf from those who would see her as apolitical. Despite the fact that Phillips makes some significant observations that serve to highlight the political Woolf, the danger of such a reading is a reductionism that fails to take into account the impossibly irreducible complexities of Woolf's novels. To argue that Mrs. Dalloway's chief purpose is to "expose the hollowness of the representative middle-class pair. Peter and Clarissa, despite a few likable traits" (5), dangerously oversimplifies the novel. In an attempt to open up Phillips's reading, I want to expand on Clifford's definition of "the border" as well as Appadurai's notions of a "deterritorialized" world.
Peter Walsh, a self-described "solitary traveler," is literally introduced into the novel--and Clarissa's attic room--as a traveler, recently "home" from India (57). He is from "a respectable Anglo-Indian family which for at least three generations had administered the affairs of a continent" (55). To read Peter as a colonialist power-monger is certainly tempting, but to do so is to elide the complexity of his character, a complexity brought about largely by his experiences traveling back and forth between England and British India. Peter's relationship to either country is not easy to categorize; neither place is definitively "home" or "foreign" for him, the condition of deterritorialization Appadurai describes. India, the foreign land to which Peter traveled, has become his place of dwelling, while England, his cultural "home," is not his permanent place of dwelling. He is in between two radically different cultures, living in an Appaduraian "ethnoscape" created by the immigration of British families into India necessitated by colonialism. Indeed, Woolf's characterization of Peter Walsh highlights the problematic relational status of all Anglo-Indians and the fact that Woolf was profoundly aware of the way in which colonialism affected the identities of the English who settled the colonial lands.
Clifford's interest in 'the border' can help us talk about Peter's situation in transglobal terms. He ends "Traveling Cultures," with "a series of exhortations" (108) about what kinds of questions he believes his article should provoke: "We need to conjure with new localizations," Clifford urges, "like 'the border'" (109). Like the Haitian Clifford describes--existing between the Caribbean and Brooklyn, Peter Walsh, an Anglo-Indian, can also be studied ethnographically in both England and India. Indeed, there is "the need to think of at least two places," when reflecting on Peter Walsh (109). For as Clifford explains, the question becomes "not so much 'where are you from?' but 'where are you between?'"--a query he calls "the intercultural identity question" (109). Based on many critical interpretations of Peter, he would indeed seem like an unlikely candidate for an intercultural identity. In many ways, however, Peter, like the indigenous Indians, is a product and victim of British colonialism. His victimization manifests itself in the form of an intense insecurity and a subsequent desire to dominate, combined with the unshakeable feeling of being abused, helpless and disadvantaged for having been born (and banished) into Anglo-India. (11)
Peter Walsh, nonetheless, imagines himself the wielder of British imperial power. Walking across London, he swells with a racist pride, thinking about how "all India lay behind him; plains, mountains; epidemics of cholera; a district twice as big as Ireland" (48). Interestingly, Peter judges India's lack of progress by its failure to adapt to new modes of travel. He had, he recalls, "invented a plough in his district" and "ordered wheel-barrows from England" which "the coolies wouldn't use" (49). And Peter's imagined conquests of India are intimately connected to his illusory triumphs over British women. "After India," he explains, "one fell in love with every woman one met ... Every woman, even the most respectable, had lips cut with a knife; curls of Indian ink" (71). Walking across London, Peter fantasizes--"an adventurer, reckless ... swift, daring, indeed (landed as he was last night from India) a romantic buccaneer" (53)--and turns to follow a young girl across Piccadilly and up Regent Street. Here, Woolf seems to emphasize the parallels, reaching across national divides, that unite patriarchal and imperialist forms of power.
The nature of Peter's weaknesses, however, has been carefully articulated and documented. Instead, how might Woolf's tropes of travel and movement inform or supplement these traditional readings of Peter? For while Peter stares in reverence at the statue of Nelson or handles his pocket-knife as he crosses Cockspur Street, he is also physically traveling across London streets. But what does it mean that Peter's interior dialogue takes place as he is traveling across London on foot? How do Peter's preoccupations with gender and political power bisect the geopolitical plane? To answer these questions, we need to understand how travel is of fundamental importance to the development of Peter's character and that it has created a deep-seated ambivalence in his attitude toward British imperialist projects and his support of militarism. Peter, who was dismissed from Oxford thirty years earlier, in 1893, for his Socialist radicalism, once had a great love of the abstract principles of science and philosophy. While he still believes that "the future of civilization lies ... in the hands of young men such as he was thirty years ago" (50), Peter cannot maintain this radicalism himself. Indeed, he reflects with amazement that journalists can now write about such subjects as water closets which "you couldn't have done ten years ago" (78). Soon after leaving Oxford, Peter traveled to India, encouraging a love of military power he had as a boy. When Peter comes to Trafalgar Square, he stops in front of a statue of General Gordon, "whom as a boy he had worshipped; Gordon standing lonely with one leg raised and his arms crossed--poor Gordon, he thought" (51). Peter's experience in India and his childhood love of General Gordon have proven stronger than his adventures as a young college rebel, and yet the statue of Gordon, lonely and solitary, serves as a fitting, tragic double for Peter. Gordon's significance, furthermore, reaches beyond an abstract symbol of military might. Deceased, in 1885, Gordon had led the British troops in some of the Empire's most significant foreign wars: the Crimean War, the second Opium War in China and several major conquests in Africa. For British citizens at the time, Gordon represented a powerful emblem of British foreign conquest.
Peter's walk comes to an end, not at his home like Clarissa's stroll, but at a hotel. The hotel plays a significant role in Clifford's transglobal ethnographies, and serves as Peter's domestic space but one from which he feels thoroughly alienated. According to Clifford, he is not the first to theorize the significance of the hotel in modern culture. Conrad, in the opening of Victory,, and Levi-Strauss in Tristes Tropiques write of hotels as symbols of civilization's barbarity. For Frederic Jameson, Portman's Bonaventure hotel symbolizes the (post)modern condition with no visible entrances or exits, this "confusing maze of levels frustrates all continuity--the narrative stroll of any modernist flaneur" (qtd. in Clifford 96). In Woolf criticism, hotels have traditionally been viewed as places of privilege; in The Voyage Out, for instance, the hotel has a decidedly upper-middle class and remarkably British character, despite its "exotic" location. In Mrs. Dalloway, the hotel appears again, but in the far less enchanting and more domestic locale of downtown London. Before Clarissa's party, Peter ponders the nature of hotels. "These hotels are not consoling places," he thinks; "[f]ar from it. Any number of people had hung up their hats on those pegs. Even the flies, if you thought of it, had settled on other people's noses" (155). Peter's implicit dread of 'Other' people can be understood as a general uneasiness with the increased amount of intercultural travel and exchange between England and the rest of the world and a mourning for a time when London was purely English; but Peter also expresses a traveler's sense of loneliness and displacement. He describes "a bareness, [a] frigidity" to his hotel room that cannot be attributed to its cleanliness (155). Starched matrons inspect and meticulous maids
scour [daily] for all the world as if the next visitor were a joint of meat to be served on a perfectly clean platter ... Books, letters, dressing-gown, slipped about on the impersonality of the horsehair like incongruous impertinences. (155)
Peter leaves the hotel quickly, traveling across London to Clarissa's party to which "cabs rush ... like water round the piers of a bridge" (164). The final party scene draws all of the characters together, uniting various and sundry travelers from across London and the globe, as well as joining class, gender and power across divides for a single evening.
In analyzing the ways in which Woolf uses tropes of travel and the metaphor of the traveler, the interplay of gender, race, class, history and power are highlighted in their consistent interpenetration. Clifford's ethnographies of dwelling and travel enable us to see how Woolf's apparently 'domestic' novel is actually in a constant dialectic with 'foreign,' global spaces and concerns. Woolf's awareness of, and artistic sensitivity to, this dialectic goes largely unnoticed among modernist critics; but careful analysis of the ways in which Woolf works with this dialectic provides new and fascinating ways of approaching and understanding her characters. In this way, we are able to move far beyond standard Woolf criticism that limits itself, by and large, to her interests in aesthetic experimentation and feminism. Analyzing closely the figurative and the lyrical, the poetization and poetics of the narrative texts--in the light of new ethnographic theories--a set of new significances surfaces.
(1) See Bradbury and McFarlane, "The Name and Nature of Modernism," 19-55 and "A Geography of Modernism" in Modernism, 95-190.
(2) As Phillips points out, in the midst of writing Mrs. Dalloway in the fall of 1922, Virginia Woolf was reading both Homer's Odyssey and James Joyce's Ulysses, 10.
(3) I am particularly indebted to Susan Stanford Friedman for introducing me to the notion of "Traveling Modernisms," articulated recently in her article, "Uncommon Readings: Seeking the Geopolitical Woolf." See also her articles "Beyond Gynocriticism and Gynesis: The New Geography of Identity and the Future of Feminist Criticism," "Specialization, Narrative Theory and Virginia Woolf's The Voyage Out," and her more recent book, Mappings (1997). See Karen Lawrence and Susan Squier for further feminist discussions of border crossing and the politics of location.
(4) See also Abu-Lughod's essay "Writing Against Culture" in which she argues that the concept of culture, as an anthropological tool, must be abandoned due to its fundamental inequalities, judgments and Orientalisms. Because the "culture concept" relies on differentiating self from other, ethnic "halfies" and feminists--whose identities complicate a clear split between self and other--need a new methodology. Writing "against culture," as Richard Fox explains in his introduction to Recapturing Anthropology, "means writing about everyday life of persons, not the cultural life of a people" (12).
(5) Appadurai and Abu-Lughod's critiques are indeed valuable for new modernist critics; Karen Lawrence makes the point, however, that several non-Western intellectuals have provided earlier more radical critiques of Western ethnography. She recommends Samir Amin, Eurocentrism and V. Y. Mudimbe, The Invention of Africa: Gnosis, Philosophy, and the Order of Knowledge. These and other postcolonial cultural critics have criticized Western ethnography's ties to the larger more pernicious project of imperialism.
(6) For further discussions of Western construction of "primitive" and "modern" see Clifford's The Predicament of Culture; and specifically the chapter entitled "Histories of the Tribal and the Modern," 189-214. See also Marianna Torgovnick, Gone Primitive and Sally Price, Primitive Art in Civilized Places.
(7) I am adapting Frederic Jameson's concept of the political unconscious articulated in The Political Unconscious here.
(8) Conrad's protagonist in The Heart of Darkness, Kurtz, says, enigmatically just before he dies: "The horror! The horror!" (85).
(9) Woolf's expresses present-time as circular motion, always traveling between past-time and future-time. Throughout the novel, the present is intimately interactive with the past and the future as characters and the narrative voice travel back and forth in time, indifferent to chronological, linear time. "Time flaps on the mast" of an invisible ship as Clarissa takes the reader to Bourton, to her childhood, to Sally Seton's kiss (49). In this way, Woolf enables the reader to experience the significance of the past for Clarissa and the other characters mentally traveling to earlier times.
(10) Here, I rely in part on Friedman's reading of the Ramsey marriage in To the Lighthouse ("Uncommon Readings"). The relationship between Clarissa and Septimus, however, travels radically between their disparate class levels, an unusual occurence in Woolf's novels.
(11) Interestingly, insecurities of the kind Peter Walsh exhibits manifest themselves even more directly in the Anglo-Australian character, Lewis, in Woolf's later novel The Waves.
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Publication information: Article title: Moving Tropes: New Modernist Travels with Virginia Woolf. Contributors: Lamont, Elizabeth Clea - Author. Journal title: Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics. Issue: 21 Publication date: Annual 2001. Page number: 161+. © Not available. COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group.
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