In her short story “Mrs. Dalloway in Bond Street” Virginia Woolf explores the various roles of women in the work force. Early on when she bumps into Hugh, Mrs. Dalloway seems to value a sense of intellectual progress in women. She asks questions such as, “How then could women sit in Parliament?” This implies that women can indeed work in parliament and she, and other women apparently, loves that certain men, like Hugh, can respect such choices. In other readings and writing from this time period we begin to see a struggle in women to find their proper role in society. Do they seek equality with men or do they become the angel of the house? Is Virginia Woolf a member of the equality camp or the domestic camp?
The next person or thing she sees after bumping into Hugh is “Victoria’s billowing motherliness.” Woolf assigns two very contradictory adjectives to Victoria, “ridiculous” and “sublime.” Woolf then sees the domestic life as good and bad. She associates such virtues with the Queen. The Queen “went to hospitals” and “opened bazaars” and she was loved by the poor and the soldiers. So maybe Woolf sees the poor wife and the wife of the soldier filling the role of the Angel in the house. Both of these types of women have to use their strength to help the family. While the men are either out begging for money or risking life and limb, the job of maintaining the family falls onto the lap of the woman.
In other families that are not poor and are not military, the women should strive for equality then, right? Woolf introduces us to another queen-like figure in Lady Bexborough. This time she is described as a tournament winner and raised above the rest. Like the women who seek equality, Lady Bexborough is daring to live above the domestic life of a poor woman, yet her cause is hopeless. It would seem that no matter how hard she tries to participate in politics she cannot make things happen. This statement could be taken in two ways. The misogynistic approach to this would be that women have no place in politics. On the other hand it could be that the men just refuse to listen to her ideas thus causing Mrs. Dalloway to cry because ultimately unless the men also change the women can never attain this equality.
Ezra Pound, in his poem “Salutation”, describes a fisherman’s family after bashing the choices of the younger generation. First, Pound describes the new generation as “smug” and “uncomfortable”. This seems as though it might be written yesterday. Many look on our generation and see our self righteous, entitled attitudes, but I digress. The most puzzling images in the poem were when Pound describes the happy, poor family. He first calls them “untidy”, which definitely does not have a positive connotation upon first reading the word. I mean, who wants to be referred to as “untidy”? I think we can all agree that this has a negative connotation, especially if you started reading the poem from the third line.
After calling them “untidy”, he describes “their smiles full of teeth” and describes their laughter. Wait a minute, how can untidy people be this happy? Okay, maybe this is my OCD self coming out, or maybe I am of the generation that is “smug” and “uncomfortable”. I don’t exactly understand how a messy family can be so joyous. So, after examining lines 3-6 (completely ignoring the beginning of the poem), I decided to go back to the beginning of the poem. Pound is talking about the wealthy people in society. They are “smug” and “uncomfortable”. They are uncomfortable even though they have everything they need in life to be comfortable. The fisherman’s family is happy even though they are messy.
After thinking this through, I think Pound uses contradictions when describing the fisherman’s family to show that the fisherman’s family is happier. It is important that they are untidy/unkempt because it shows that they have a reason to possibly be unhappy, yet they find happiness in each other. On the other hand, Pound uses the word “uncomfortable” to describe the financially well off people to show that they really are not happy and even though they live a comfortable lifestyle, they are not comfortable with their lives and relationships.
The gloves in Virginia Woolf’s short story are important for the overarching theme of memory. However, what is the purpose of gloves? The very first line of the short story is “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the gloves herself.” Though the very introduction of the short story alludes to her reason for being outside, the very beginning is all about walking the streets of London, where the past meets the present. If the first sentence is supposed to be that which we frame the entire tale, does this run through of Piccadilly Square or Buckingham Palace act as a way of how we as readers are to view the gloves themselves?
Then there is the time period. With the story taking place in June, what is the purpose for going to buy gloves? It seems a little too hot to do so. Do the gloves represent her femininity? Do the gloves represent old feminine expression or social expectations? Do the gloves themselves represent a distant memory?
Why are they new instead of being old? Wouldn’t it make more sense to have a physical comparison of old to new, or is the whole point that the quality of the old gloves are derived from a memory? Because there is no physical comparison between the old gloves and the new ones Mrs. Dalloway is looking at, the representation of the gloves in her memory can easily be misrepresented. For example, what if I was shopping for shoes? If I found a new pair and compared them to those I had seen in Italy, were the ones I had seen there really as good as I imagine them to be, or are they represented as idyllic and better because the ones I see here in the United States do not match up to the expectations of what I am looking for? What her Uncle William said about gloves and shoes comes from an older time, and from the voice of the previous generation. So, likewise, is Mrs. Dalloway idealizing her memories, or is it just that what she is looking for now does not meet her own expectations?
In Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market,” two sisters live together near a market run by goblins. These two girls are very different, although their names are so similar it’s easy to mix them up while reading this long poem. Lizzie is the goody-goody who tries to convince her sister to run away, plug her ears, and ignore the calls of the goblin tricksters. “No, no, no; /Their offers should not charm us, / Their evil gifts would harm us” (stanza 3). Laura is curious about their wares, and wants to taste of the forbidden fruit although she has no money. As her sister runs away, Laura sells a lock of her golden hair to the goblins to eat the fruit.
“She suck’d and suck’d and suck’d the more
Fruits which that unknown orchard bore; …
And knew not was it night or day
As she turn’d home alone. “
Although Laura immediately tells Lizzie how good the fruit was, and how she will return to buy more, she does not seem greatly changed. They nestle together to sleep and wake up in the morning to do their chores together, as seems to be their normal routine.
“Talk’d as modest maidens should:
Lizzie with an open heart,
Laura in an absent dream”
This is not out of character for Laura, although the reader suspects that the cause of her abstraction lies in her desire for more fruit.
Lizzie cries out while they are out at the brook doing chores, “O Laura, come; I hear the fruit-call but I dare not look,” but Laura can not hear the goblins anymore. It is not until Laura realizes that she can no longer hear the calls of the goblins to “Come buy!” that she has a major meltdown. “Laura turn’d cold as stone / To find her sister heard that cry alone.”
This contradiction is very interesting. The reader expects for the sin that causes the great sickness in Laura to be the act of eating the fruit, but if that was the case then she would have been ill the first night. It is only when she recognizes that she is now deaf to the cries of the goblins that she becomes ill.
“Must she then buy no more such dainty fruit?
Must she no more such succous pasture find,
Gone deaf and blind?”
It’s the desire that drives her towards her death, not the initial sin. “Then sat up in a passionate yearning, / And gnash’d her teeth for baulk’d desire, and wept / As if her heart would break.”
It can’t be the fruit that causes her illness, because the fulfillment of her desire for more fruit is what heals her. I’m puzzled by what “sin” Rossetti was attempting to point out in this passage, desire or poisonous fruit. It does not seem to be made clear for the reader.
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
I remember the first time I encountered Ezra Pound’s poem, “In a Station of the Metro.” It appeared on a single slide of a powerpoint in a high school English class. The two lines that fit on the slide intrigued me with its imagery, and I was interested in reading the rest of the poem to explore the ideas and the author’s commentary on the brief glimpse I had of the scene. But there was nothing more. Just an image, a picture, which although beautiful at the time despite its obscurity in meaning, left only the lasting impression of lack of substance.
Allan Rodway discusses what he calls the “necessary evil” if imagist poetry. The movement from abstract and empty ideas to concrete images were necessary to gain a new grasp of the meaning conveyed in words of the English language. Imagists presented the thing itself in poetry, without the fluff of remoteness and generalization. However, Rodway argues that as a result, “they can only convey moods, and sense-experiences, not ideas, arguments, points of view” (97).
As exemplified by Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro,” Imagists presented a sensory window of life, a single snapshot of the world they saw in that moment. But there is no context, no information about what it means or why the poet found it important. As Rodway explains about a historical event of the time, “Imagist poetry could say nothing about this. At most is could obscurely reflect a mood of horror” (97).
I suppose it’s obvious at this point that I am still just as frustrated at Imagist poetry as when I first encountered “In a Station of the Metro” in high school. As far as first impressions go, I appreciate how the poetry makes me see and sense the world around me. I appreciate the style that encourages directness, economy, musical rhythm. I agree with Rodway, at the time this poetry was necessary. But it “probably did as much harm as good – though less harm in proportion as it relaxed its principles” (102). For the sake of conveying a thing through the concrete senses, abstract thoughts and ideas are sacrificed.
As we journey through London with Mrs. Dalloway and her stream-of-consciousness observations, we move quickly from one subject matter to another. Since we are essentially inside her head, we as readers follow her fleeting thoughts. However, unlike with her other fleeting thoughts and scenes she describes, Mrs. Dalloway seems to spend a great deal of time—roughly half a page—describing particular monuments in London. The length of this focused discussion seems somewhat out of place within the context of her stream-of-consciousness style of narrative, so why does Mrs. Dalloway draw so much attention to these London monuments?
Leading up to her discussion of the monuments, Mrs. Dalloway comments on how the Great War has affected British citizens in different ways. While she mentions in general terms, “How people have suffered,” she also notes how Mrs. Foxcroft’s reaction to war fatalities differed from others (44). She seems to suggest that the memory of the war itself was felt differently by different people. This lack of solidarity in memory and remembrance may have contributed to the post-war identity crisis that Mrs. Dalloway seems to comment on throughout the piece.
The London monuments and memorials that Mrs. Dalloway observes are physical objects that consecrate memory. However, not every person attaches the same emotions or memories to these monuments. The Admiralty Arch was built in memory of Queen Victoria, and it inspires Mrs. Dalloway to think of “Victoria’s billowing motherliness, amplitude and homeliness, always ridiculous, yet how sublime” (45). However, she recognizes that the monument and even Queen Victoria herself meant different things to different people. She notes that, “it matters so much to the poor…and to the soldiers (45), as if to suggest their experience with the monument was different than her own. She reiterates this when she comes upon the South African War memorial statue and reminds herself, “It matters.”
The memorials, then, are physical representations of how various people can come away from a single event or experience, but feel its effects entirely differently. I think the memorials of Queen Victoria and the South African War are a parallels to the memory of the Great War. Just like how people can view the monuments differently based on their own experiences, people remember and react to the devastation of the Great War in different ways as well. I think the purpose of spending so much time discussing the memorials is to create this parallel, and to emphasize how these varying reactions to the Great War may also represent a greater post-war identity crisis in Britain.
[Note: The irony of the timing of my post does not escape me and I am sorry for the cheesy-ness that results]
In E.M. Forster’s The Point of It we watch our narrator, Michael, travel through life after watching Harold pass away. Harold told Michael that Michael will understand the point of it all “some day” before suddenly dying in the boat they were rowing (17). Before this point in the story we read an aside, likely spoken about Michael, that states that the young have no use for thankfulness. “He did not formulate his joys, after the weary fashion of older people. He was far too happy to be thankful” (16). With this line in mind, the narrator doesn’t seem to fault Michael for not being thankful for his lot, he is young and knows nothing but strength and blessings.
As the story continues, we are told of Michael’s beautiful long life. He is blessed with a wife, Janet, who gave him a respected career at the British Museum. “It was really the inherent sweetness of his nature at work, turned by a woman’s influence towards fruitful ends” (19). He became a minor author, was knighted, and had three healthy children. And yet, when he lay on his death bed, he is not amazed by the gathering of his three children and learning of his own grandchildren. “Sir Michael,” with all of his blessings so fresh in his mind, “grew cold with rage” (23).
While in his youth, Michael was innocently unaware of everything he had around him and Harold seemed to follow that same path. But Michael was blessed with a long and pleasant life. Forster is careful to show that Michael had everything that could have been wanted, and yet we never see a man grateful. The key to life and truly enjoying it, is being thankful for everything that surrounds you. Upon Michael’s death he finds himself in a barren wasteland and remarks that “How long had he lain here? Perhaps for years, long before death perhaps, while his body seemed to be walking among men” (23). Just as Moses and the Israelites were doomed to wander the desert for their lack of thankfulness for God and his blessings, so was Michael in a wasteland by his own actions. here is only a dry, miserable land awaiting the fellow who does not appreciate the oasis when he has it.
Originally, I had thought that reading Mrs. Dalloway’s every thought brought me closer to her character. After discussion on Tuesday, I became aware of the fact that it wasn’t that I knew who Mrs. Dalloway was, but what I thought being in someone’s head should feel like. When readers are exposed to a character’s thoughts, we have a tendency to feel like we know them. But, if we really look at what Mrs. Dalloway is thinking, we don’t really understand her, especially because we don’t have any context.
Halfway through the story, as she’s walking along Bond Street, Mrs. Dalloway thinks, “Why should a girl of that age paint black around her eyes?” (46). That entire paragraph is heavy with judgment. I found this to be troubling, and it became one of the reasons why Mrs. Dalloway feels so distant to myself. She’s elitist. Mrs. Dalloway thinks she’s better than everyone else.
I wondered why Virginia Woolf would write a character that way, and it brought me back to our discussion in class. We know the Bloomsbury group to be educated and elite. We also discussed key thinkers during that time period, Freud being one of them. Freud believed in unconscious thinking. Though, I think unconscious thinking seeps into every writer’s work, perhaps, Woolf intentionally used this belief in unconscious thinking to create the character Mrs. Dalloway. Virginia Woolf and her literary companions were elite, so her characters became elite.
When I first read Virginia Woolf’s story “Mrs. Dalloway in Bond Street,” the line, “From the contagion of the world’s slow stain,” which appears several times throughout the story, did not stand out to me in any particular way. It just seemed like another random, confusing thought in Mrs. Dalloway’s already fragmented and hard-to-follow stream of consciousness.
When Dr. Pond pointed out the line for my group to analyze in class, we came up with the fairly obvious and surface way of reading it—that it absolutely encompassed the idea of the Great War that was happening at the time, which, of course, was “contagious” in the way that it spread throughout the world, and was a “stain” because it was so terrible.
Although I still think that this is a correct way to read the line, when I sat down to write my blog post, I revisited this particular sentence and discovered that the surface way of reading it—that it was a perfect description of the first World War—was not the only purpose of the line. The fact that it keeps appearing in Mrs. Dalloway’s thoughts is actually meant to make the line come alive, as a kind of “contagious slow stain” that will not go away no matter how hard Mrs. Dalloway tries to think about other trivial things, such as buying gloves.
It is actually incredibly important to read the line this way because it more thoroughly and honestly describes the effect the war had. Even somebody like Mrs. Dalloway, who, in general, had very simple thoughts about non-important things, is so deeply influenced by the war that her stream of consciousness is interrupted by its “contagious” nature.
The war, therefore, is not something that is just happening on a physical level, although that is the way it looks on the surface. It is something that invades the thoughts of even the most seemingly unaffected people, making it even more powerful than it would be if we looked at its influence on the surface level. The “slow stain” of the war is so pervasive that it becomes something that is mentally unable to be pushed away, as well as something that will not end physically.
While reading Virginia Woolf’s instructions on how one should read a book, aptly named “The Love of Reading”, I was thrown off by one thing, one word to be specific, in particular. When Woolf mentions the author, she explicitly refers to the author as a “he”. And when she references other famous authors and their contributions to the literary world, Woolf does include her fellow female writers, but the examples she pulls from are overwhelmingly male. Why would such a profound and successful female writer utilize a male voice as the embodiment of her craft?
There is the obvious answer that since in Woolf’s time, authorship was a majorly male ruled line of work. But if we read further, Woolf divulges more. I was also intrigued when Woolf said that to properly read, one must “compare book with book” as we compare buildings with one another such as barns to pig stys to cathedrals. Which begs me to ask: Did Woolf’s society view her work as a barn or as a cathedral?
Woolf delves into the importance of the duty readers have to authors. A duty to criticize their work in a fair and friendly manner so that the quality of books in general would push forward and excel. So while Woolf opposingly states the necessity to “allow Defoe to be Defoe” I took this passage to be Virginia Woolf’s own way of calling out for people to criticize her work so that she could one day hope to be revered like all the famous authors aforementioned. Woolf degrades those who read “for the love of reading, slowly and unprofessionally… and if by our [active readers] means books were to become stronger, richer, and more varied, that would be an end worth reaching”
Woolf doesn’t appear to be as confident in the genius of her own work as she is in that of the established great writers of the time, but she believes that she has what it takes and is determined to reach her goals while motivating others to do the same.
Time plays a significant role in “Mrs. Dalloway in Bond Street”. The time motif is one of Woolf’s mechanisms of modernism. Time is used to give the reader a feeling of length and boredom so that they can better understand the hopelessness that modernists found in existence as a whole.
In the first paragraph alone, Woolf mentions that it was “11 o’clock”, that the day was “fresh” as “children on a beach”, and the ticking of an enormous clock called “Big Ben”. This notifies the reader than time is an important aspect of the story. The final full paragraph closes the story with time at the opposite end of the spectrum. It describes an “elderly” woman, with “brown spots on her arm”, who “crawled like a snail”. Clarissa could not bear to “sit” there “all morning”.
The significance of time in the story is to emphasize the futility of life. Mentioning the ticking of the clock, the mention of various periods of life, hours in the day, and months in the year all in successive order gives the story the feeling of the passing of a lifetime. However, throughout the story, nothing really happens. The ostensible point is glove buying. Contrasted with “thousands of young men had died that things might go on”, the story begs the question: what exactly are all of these young men dying for? What important things must go on? If the purpose of the soldiers’ lives is to keep people like Clarissa alive, what is the purpose of Clarissa’s life?
The use of time in “Mrs. Dalloway in Bond Street” is a very clever device that labors the futility of life that some modernist writers perceived. The modern time period was fraught with world wars that tore people away from trusting institutions. Without those institutions to adhere to, it was difficult for them to find purpose in life. The use of time in the story makes the reader feel frustration in the passing of time that reinforces the story’s deeper meaning.
Let’s first hear the answer from Virginia Woolf’s The Love of Reading : “We must allow Defoe to be Defoe and Jane Austen to be Jane Austen as freely as we allow the tiger to have his fur and the tortoise to have his shell” (416).
What I want to suggest here is that there is a bit contradicting idea in her essay. Woolf emphasizes how readers should leave the writer as he/she is and “not impose our design upon” them (416). Additionally, in the first few lines of the essay, she continues to underscore the idea that “we must not try to make him conform his will to ours” (416). But then, in the rest half of the essay, she mentions, because reading is a “complex art,” criticizing and judging is required. Can criticizing and judging a writer be an act of allowing the tiger have its own original fur and a turtle have its own shell on the back? Wouldn’t it be plucking the tiger’s fur and a turtle having a snail’s shell? Even though the readers are not changing the whole story from its original, by criticizing and judging, the readers are coming up with new idea, new definition, and new interpretation to the original “complex art.” As Woolf mentions in her essay, the book has a shape, therefore, it has a being and “this shape, this being, can be held in mind and compared with the shapes of other books and given its own size and smallness by comparison with others” (416). Is this allowing “Defoe to be Defoe and Jane Austen to be Jane Austen?” (416).What if, through process of criticizing and judging, the writer’s nuance is neglected? By doing it so, it may give us a new insight through variety of perspectives. However, to me, act of criticizing and judging is giving a new negative aspect to it; it is not allowing a writer to be him/herself. I mean, it may help us to find the true meaning of the writer, but still, we cannot oust a possibility of its original meaning becoming dim through it. Then, how should we read a book? As Woolf mentions in her essay toward the end, we should get pleasures from it. She suggests that “one should be an accomplice with the writer in his act, whether good or bad” (416).
Is E. M. Forster mocking the notion of the idealized Victorian woman in “The Point of It?”
In this short story, the main character, Michael, exposes his disappointments and incongruities in his marriage to Janet. When they get older, Forster reveals Janet aged more quickly than Michael, thereby discounting the image of an always youthful, jubilant bride; Janet also becomes “querulous, disputing with other ladies about the names of flowers” (20). Forster seems to be doing two things at once: one the one hand, contrasting Janet with the typical Victorian wife, and on the other hand, poking fun at the trivial thoughts of women.
In other parts of the story, Janet is described in a more positive light. She possessed “a morality that he himself lacked” and had “no patience with the sentimentalist who shelters from the world’s rough and tumble” (18). She even helped her husband in his intellectual pursuits (which would not have been a socially acceptable practice of the good Victorian wife). Michael admits she helped him write only things about which he felt strongly and truly (19). I found myself confused by Forster’s dichotomous characterization of Janet. What purpose did this serve in his story or in his work as a whole?
Rosner explains that the Bloomsbury group of which Forster was a member left many legacies. In particular, the group is associated with envisioning a different kind of domestic life—one that was “more flexible, radical, and experimental than that of its Victorian predecessors” (3). With this in mind, I wonder if Forster created Janet to serve as an in-between. She clung to certain Victorian ideals such as being the moral head of the household and being concerned with aspects of the home, but she also had a sharp mind that exerted power over her husband’s career and intellectual pursuits. Janet was, perhaps, a modern woman in the making.
This all sounds likely and hopeful until one considers the fate of Janet and Michael. In the story, the love-seeking Michael and the truth-loving Janet both end up in hell. Forster’s point in them both ending up in hell for the time being is to dispel what he would call the falsely held belief that one must become soft or hardened emotionally as he or she ages. Since this is what the world tells us, it turns into a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy—and Michael and Janet apparently bought into it and consequently landed themselves a spot in hell. If neither side of Janet proves worthy enough for heaven, I wonder how Forster would characterize the ideal woman? Or is his point that there is no such thing? Maybe he would argue one should try to seek both sentimentality and stern truths at the same time.
As I read Rosner’s Introduction on the Bloomsbury Group, I couldn’t stop myself from imagining the characters of Downton Abbey flipping the tables of convention and deciding to live in very loose terms, possibly because the show is set in the same interwar period, or possibly because it would be outrageous. And outrageous it was, the Bloomsbury Group, especially the Stephen children who constructed “a household far less formal and conventional than the one they had left behind, where the family had dressed for dinner every night and social niceties took priority above nearly all other activity.” They did away with minute things like folding napkins in the shapes of flowers and spent more time on their creative work, which seemed to be much more fruitful.
Instead of holding their tongues, debates were often sparked, which lead to an explosion of opinions and publications for all audiences, usually political in nature. “The argument… was always tossed into the middle of the party… One had glimpses of something miraculous happening high up in the air. Often we would still be sitting in a circle at two or three in the morning… One could stumble off to bed feeling that something very important had happened.” Though it sounds like a very intense and somewhat uncomfortable lifestyle, these new-aged British folk refused to hold their ideas back like those before them. They were pioneers, grazing subjects like homosexuality, philosophy, and other “taboos.”
Though there were political consequences to their actions, the group stayed committed to pacifism and challenging “social mores,” and for that, we in the literary world are thankful. Their “omnivorous intellect” shaped modern thought, art, beauty, and much more.
In reading Virginia Woolf’s “The Love of Reading”, she mentions that “if we are good readers we thus judge not only the classics and the masterpieces of the dead, but we pay the living writers the compliment of comparing them as they should e compared with the pattern of the great books of the past” (417). My question came out of this passage. As readers, should we compare the writers of today to those of the past? Is this really fair to authors of today?
In understanding this question, I turned towards looking at history and what was going during the time period in which Woolf is writing. She was writing in a time in which more people had access to literature and the expansion of libraries across Britain. There was a spread of a mass literary culture created huge social and cultural changes (152). The move from Victorian era into Modernism affected all of society and changed how people saw the world around them. The stories that came out the Bloomsbury circle focused on “individualism, heterodoxy, and creative experimentalism which had characterized the work of the Modernists yielded to a contrary impulse toward collectivism, social realism, and political engagement in the writing of the younger generation” (D’Aquila, 234). The older members of the Bloomsbury group welcomed younger members. These beginning writers could gain importance within the group and contribute new ideas. The Bloomsbury circle seemed to be all about newness and experimenting with new things.
Returning to Woolf’s article, she mentions the transform in the first paragraph, “at this late hour of the world’s history books are to be found in every room of the house” (415). She seems to mean that because of the changes that are taking place socially and culturally that people are starting to understand their history and the world around them better. Woolf seems to argue that the reader must allow “Defoe to be Defoe and Jane Austen to be Jane Austen” (416). So even though, we get pleasure from reading, as readers we must always be the judge of what we are reading and comparing what we read to what writers of other centuries written. Woolf argues that we should compare writers of the past to today because the readers helped mapped what the writer is writing. She states, “we are fulfilling our share of the creative task- we are stimulating, encouraging, rejecting, making our approval and disapproval felt; and are thus acting as a check and a spur upon the writer” (417). In doing so, Woolf seems to answer my question as: yes, we should compare writers of the past to those of the present because we are helping in the creative process of reading for pleasure. This act alone will thus help change the world in which we live.