Ambiguous Discourse: Feminist Narratology & British Women Writers

By Kathy Mezei | Go to book overview

the terror and the ecstasy

The Textual Politics of Virginia Woolf's

Mrs. Dalloway patricia matson

While contemplating the writing of a prototypical male novelist, Virginia Woolf, with her usual wit and irony, recognizes the textual dominance of the masculine subject as a phallocentric construct, designed to place/define woman as other/absence:

It was delightful to read a man's writing again. . . . It indicated such freedom of mind, such liberty of person, such confidence in himself. One had a sense of this well-nourished, well-educated, free mind. . . . But after reading a chapter or two a shadow seemed to lie across the page. It was a straight dark bark, a shadow shaped something like the letter "I." One began dodging this way and that to catch a glimpse of the landscape behind it. Whether that was indeed a tree or a woman walking I was not quite sure. Back one was always hailed to the letter "I." One began to be tired of "I." ( Woolf, Room of One's, Own,95)

For Woolf, this rigid masculine "I" coincides with the oppression inherent to the patriarchal dyad: woman in patriarchy is relegated to the background of his/story (is that "a tree or a woman walking"?); she occupies the position of passive, objectified other. 1

As many of Woolf's feminist critics have suggested, deconstructing patriarchal ideology and foregrounding woman's subjectivity are central to the textual politics at play in Woolf's fiction and essays. 2 My focus here will be Mrs. Dalloway, which was published four years before A Room of One's Own and yet foreshadows and encapsulates many of the ideas expressed in the essay. In Woolf's vision, if women are going to begin to foreground our desires, to write ourselves out of absence/silence, then the construction of

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