Ambiguous Discourse: Feminist Narratology & British Women Writers

By Kathy Mezei | Go to book overview

cance of his action, his death can not be dismissed as the final pathetic display of his madness. She recognizes him as both a potential genius and as a victim, forcing us once again to draw connections between the possibilities of the poetic, madness, and tyranny: "Or there were the poets and thinkers. Suppose he had had that passion, and had gone to Sir William Bradshaw, a great doctor yet to her obscurely evil . . . but capable of some indescribable outrage--forcing your soul, that was it--if this young man had gone to him, and Sir William had impressed him, like that, with his power, might he not then have said (indeed she felt it now), Life is made intolerable; they make life intolerable, men like that?" (181). It is because Clarissa has felt her own soul forced to comply with the dictations of the patriarchal drumbeat that she can empathize with Septimus Smith. Divided though they are by sex, age, class, and experience, the two are united throughout the novel by their struggle to protect the "privacy of the soul" from the thwarting intrusions of "human nature." 23 It is thus that Clarissa interprets Septimus's suicide as a preservation of "a thing there was that mattered" and hopes that he died "holding his treasure" (280-81).

Throughout this passage, while Clarissa's thoughts hop like a bird from one branch to another, she returns again and again to the old woman opposite, reminding us not only of the connections between subjects in the text--those "odd affinities"--but also of the significance of this old woman as a symbol of celebrated (and unthreatening) difference, the "supreme mystery" of here one room and there another. The old woman is preparing for bed, and as Clarissa watches her--this reflection of herself-- she seems to have come to an acceptance of her own inevitable decline, an awareness that she too will put out her light "with all this going on." Life-- "with its varieties, its irreticences"--will continue, while this old woman goes quietly to bed. Such is the nature of the spiral. Like Septimus, the old woman reminds Clarissa of the inevitability of death, but at the same time, her presence in the room opposite is an affirmation of life--the joy of life that Clarissa has experienced with a vague intensity throughout her day: "in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment of June" (5).


NOTES
1.
That women and men are culturally relegated to different positions in relation to the letter "I" is humorously depicted in The Years when Peggy encounters an "egegotist" at a party: "'I, I, I' he went on. It was like a vulture's beak pecking, or a vacuum-cleaner sucking. . . . I, I, I. . . . He noted her lack of sympathy. . . . 'I'm tired,' she apologized. 'I've been up all night,' she explained. 'I'm a doctor'--the fire went

-181-

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