Clarissa Dalloway

Clarissa Dalloway

Clarissa Dalloway

Clarissa Dalloway

Excerpt

Virginia Woolf conceived of Mrs. Dallowayas a pattern in which "every scene would build up the idea of Clarissa's character." Since Clarissa Dalloway, in subtle ways, is founded upon Woolf's sense of her own consciousness, we would have a kind of psychic self-portrait except for Woolf's intense aesthetic wariness. That wariness works so as to universalize certain aspects of Clarissa's character, which is implicitly presented as a study in a woman's developments, rather than a great woman writer's unfolding. Coming as it does out of the era in which Freud's case histories first appeared in English, and through the efforts of the Woolf circle, Mrs.Dalloway might seem to court the danger of being something of a case history itself. But, in aesthetic matters, Virginia Woolf was never doom-eager. Like her "absent father," Walter Pater (to adopt Perry Meisel's term for Pater's relation to Woolf), the author of Mrs. Dalloway perfected the art of evasion, of wavering with exquisite skill so as to avoid falling into patterns of overdetermination.Clarissa Dalloway, like her ultimate name‐ sake, the Clarissa Harlowe of Samuel Richardson's great novel Clarissa, is finally a heroine of the Protestant will. This is well worth remarking at our critical moment, when interpretations stressing gender, class, and race are likely to make fictional heroines into victims. Clarissa Dalloway is nobody's victim, and her individuality transcends the social pressures that would deform or repress it.

"There was an embrace in death," Clarissa reflects as she reacts to the suicide of her dark daemon and psychic brother, Septimus. Is it Clarissa's association, or ours, or both together, if such an embrace is allied to "the radiance burnt through, the revelation, the religious feeling" of having kissed Sally Seton some thirty years before? Was such an embrace a little death for Clarissa, or is it that male embraces are death when compared to that lost radiance? I do not believe that Woolf's superb novel allows us to answer such questions.Clarissa Dalloway's world allows no Lovelace; only Peter Walsh and Richard Dalloway and Dr.Bradshaw. If Woolf has a severe aesthetic limitation as a novelist, it is that a strong male character can be admitted only if, like Mr.Ramsay in To the Lighthouse, his vitality can be seen as essentially self-maimed.

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