Essay, Research Paper: Mrs Dalloway And To The Lighhouse By Virginia Woolf

Literature: World War

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In her writings, Virginia Woolf wanted to capture the realness of life, as one
would live it. In turn, Woolf’s shared the significant elements of her life in
her poetic prose novels, Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse, as a relative
self-portrayal. In these books Woolf captured the life as she had lived it,
performing this task in three different layers of depth. For a general sense, by
allowing the characters to live in a similar society as her own, Woolf depicted
her society in her writing. In a deeper sense, many of Woolf’s family members,
relationships, and characteristics were symbolically illustrated through the
minor literary characters on a more personal level. Moreover, Woolf displayed
her views, beliefs, and personal events through the conscience of the main
characters. Commonly, people believe that Woolf had an ideal family. Born into
an aristocratic family, her father, Sir Leslie Stephen, was an eminent editor,
journalist, and a biographer; her husband, Leonard Woolf, also was an aristocrat
writer, who had a membership in an intellectual circle, Bloomsbury Group, along
with Virginia Woolf. Similarly, Woolf planned both Mrs. Dalloway and To the
Lighthouse to be the stories of two aristocratic families. Virginia Woolf lived
from the late Victorian Era until the beginning of King George VI’s reign,
through both the climax of Britain’s prosperity and political supremacy and
the decline of such political power which was due to the First World War. Yet,
in these transitions of Britain’s political status, new ideologies, such as
feminism, were developing. From the late Victorian Era to the end of First World
War marked a period in which the people attempted to accomplish the new beliefs
and ideologies, usually resulting in effective movements. Most of these ideas
were an antithesis of prewar traditions that were led by Modernist, the
questioners of tradition, in literary movements. Feminism was one of the popular
new ideologies, which generally began through writers, artists, and women of the
aristocracy, for they were the ones who were politically aware of what was going
on in Britain and on Continent. Furthermore, people, especially the middle and
the upper classes, enjoyed enormous prosperity that was brought in by
imperialism and the Industrial Revolution. Prosperity drew people to capitalism
and investments in foreign countries, for people loved money and were very
avaricious. In her writing, Woolf addressed these Victorian political
characteristics through the meeting of Richard Dalloway, Hugh Whitbread, and
Lady Bruton in Mrs. Dalloway, where Lady Bruton proposes “a project for
emigrating young people of both sexes born of respectable parents and setting
them up with a fair prospect of doing well in Canada.” Lady Bruton’s strong
independence as a leader shows the movement towards tolerance of women being in
power. This scene also portrays people’s cupidity, since this project was
designed to bring in a substantial amount of profit. In addition, the Victorian
Era was an age of doubt, question, and skepticism towards God, mostly due to
Darwinism. Friction was created between morality and newly developing ideologies
and beliefs. Although a majority of people still attended church, many writers
and artists, especially Modernists, tended to be more agnostic. Likewise Woolf
showed the opposing sides, believers and idealists, through the repulsion of
Mrs. Dalloway against Miss Kilman, as Mrs. Dalloway has noted, “Had she [Miss
Kilman] even tried to convert any one herself? Did she not wish everybody merely
to be themselves? Let her... if she wanted to; let her stop; then let
her...There was something solemn in it–but love and religion would destroy
that, whatever it was, the privacy of the soul. The odious Kilman would destroy
it.” Britain faced a phase of decline due to the First World War which brought
many changes to people’s lives, although the aristocrats were not as affected
by the war. Some post war effects were loneliness, mental and emotional
disorders, and disintegration usually suffered by middle and lower classes. In
Mrs. Dalloway, the Dalloway family is planning a party while Septimus Smith, a
middle class veteran, is suffering from mental and emotional disorders. Mrs.
Dalloway is suffering from loneliness. However, in To the Lighthouse, the Ramsay
family, also aristocrats, are suffering from the war due to the death of their
veteran son, Anthony Ramsay. Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse are filled with
symbols, notably those that represent or suggest vital people in Woolf’s life.
For example, from her childhood, her father had great influence in Woolf’s
life, for it was because of him that Woolf began to write. Woolf exemplified her
father through Mr. Ramsay in To the Lighthouse. Like Leslie Stephen, Mr. Ramsay
was portrayed as an aristocratic intellectual. Furthermore, Woolf went to the
extreme of details to share the possessions of her father that were significant
to her such as her father’s library, the place where she received education,
and his summerhouse on the Hebrides Islands, the place where her family had
fellowship. Likewise, Mr. Ramsay possessed an excellent library, a place that
symbolically has a different atmosphere from rest of his summerhouse on the Isle
of Skye. If there was one other person who made difference in Woolf’ life,
then Leonard Woolf cannot be excluded. He was part of the left wing in the
Parliament and known for his male chauvinistic characteristics; however, with no
doubt, he was noted as a husband who loved his wife very much to take care of
her, even through her mental breakdowns. Woolf portrayed her husband’s role in
her life through both Mr. Richard Dalloway and Mr. Ramsay. Mr. Dalloway
represents the political aspect of Leonard, considering that he was part of the
left wing in the Parliament. In the other aspect, Mr. Ramsay portrays the side
of Leonard that was very dominating and male chauvinistic. Nonetheless, both Mr.
Dalloway and Mr. Ramsay play the role of husbands who love their wife yet have
much difficulty expressing that love. As for Richard Dalloway, he feels that
“the time comes when it can’t be said; one’s too shy to say it, he
thought...to say straight out in so many words (whatever she might think of
him), holding out his flowers, ‘I love you.’ Why not?...Here he was
walking...to say to Clarissa in so many words that he loved her.” Bloomsbury
Group was not only an intellectual circle, but also a second family for Woolf
because it was composed of some of her family members and close friends. Many of
the her Bloosmbury Group colleagues are illustrated through the minor literary
characters with the exception of Vanessa Bell, her sister, her best friend, and
an artist. Her characteristics show comparison to the characteristics of Lily
Briscoe in To the Lighthouse who also is an artist, very close to Mrs. Ramsay.
Regardless of parallelism between Lily Briscoe and Vanessa Bell, many other
members are depicted through the minor characters. The character Peter Walsh, a
government official who works in India, suggests a close friend of Leonard and
Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes. Keynes was an economist who worked in the
India Office and in government economics during the World War I. Although not
constant in opinion, many suggest that Thoby Stephen, Virginia Woolf’s brother
who died in Greece, is implied in the character Anthony Ramsay, who dies in
World War I, since they share in common an untimely death. Nonetheless, if her
novels were to be portrayed as somewhat of autobiographical writings, then
without delivering her beliefs, views and personal events, the novels are simply
empty shells. Accordingly, Woolf delivered her characteristic to the audience
through the main characters of each novel. In Mrs. Dalloway Woolf accomplishes
such a feat through the main characters, Mrs. Dalloway and Septimus Smith, who
are in many ways parallel characters. In a like manner, this was done through
the co-main characters, Mrs. Ramsay and Lily Briscoe. Woolf publicized her
inner-most personal views and beliefs which in general sense ensued from the new
ideologies and beliefs of late Victorian Era. Woolf was a Modernist, and like
most Modernist she was an atheist. This characteristic parallels Mrs. Dalloway
who opposed religion. Furthermore, as feminism was becoming popular during her
days, Woolf partook in its movement. She believed that women could be in charge
and that women were not inferior to men. Lily Briscoe openly displays Woolf’s
belief of women for she, who as an independent woman sees the big picture and
enjoys life without dominating men around her life. Although done in an implied
sense, Mrs. Dalloway and Mrs. Ramsay each represent how impressive of a leader
woman can be as a social and emotional leader of a household. Homosexuality had
played a major component in Woolf’s life. Bloomsbury Group composed of many
homosexuals, including Virginia Woolf herself. Woolf had a homosexual affair
with a journalist by the name of Vita Sackville West. However, Woolf tried to
keep this affair a secret because she was fearful of the society’s criticism.
In this same way Mrs. Dalloway and Sally Secton share a homosexual relationship
which Mrs. Dalloway wants to keep concealed. In a lesser degree this is also
shown in To the Lighthouse through Lily Briscoe and her affection towards Mrs.
Ramsay, although they do not share any sexual relationship: “Was it, once
more, the deceptiveness of beauty, so that all one’s perceptions, half way to
truth, were tangled What art was there, known to love or cunning...Could loving
as people called it, make her and Mrs. Ramsay one? for it was not knowledge but
unity that she desired...intimacy itself.” There was one major burden that
Woolf had carried throughout her life, anorexia and depression. Perhaps it was
caused due to the sexual abuse that she received as a child by her stepbrother,
perhaps it was something else; however, by all means, this disorder was severe.
Sometime after her first mental breakdown, three suicides were attempted by
Virginia Woolf, with latter attempt resulting in death, were believed to be due
to this disorder. This perspective of Woolf is paralleled in Septimus Smith who
suffers from mental illness and depression as a post-war effect. Septimus
undergoes two mental breakdowns and commits suicide in his third mental
breakdown. Because there is so much parallelism between Woolf and her characters
some believe that Woolf was preparing for her suicide. Many great writers such
as Emily Dickinson and Oscar Wilde voice their opinion through their writings.
Likewise, Woolf shared her opinion, beliefs, and her life through Mrs. Dalloway
and To the Lighthouse. What Woolf believed, the people who she was near to, and
her society made her who she was. In these two novels, Woolf attempted to
address the problems of her generation as social criticism, while addressing the
loneliness of each individual and their reason to find their selves and a lover
or a friend. Thus, Woolf addressed the feminism of the society, the difference
between two social classes, her father, her husband, her homosexual partner, and
her mental disorder through her characters and the setting. To present the whole
picture, Woolf’s society, her family members, and her personal beliefs and
happenings are paralleled in her novels’ societies, minor, and main
characters, respectively; display the picture of her novels in three great
layers of depth.

Bibliography
“Beneath A Rougher Sea Virginia Woolf’s Psychiatric History.” Online.
Available http://ourworld.compuserve. com/homepages/malcolmi/vwframe.htm,
February 28, 1999. Auerbach, Erich. “The Brown Stocking.” Twentieth Century
Interpretations of To the Lighthouse. Ed. Thomas A. Vogler. Englewood Cliffs:
Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1970. 39-52. Damrosch, Leopold et al. “The New
Writing.” Adventures in English Literature. Orlando: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich
Publishers, 1985. 680-682. -------. “Virginia Woolf 1882-1941.” Adventures
in English Literature. Orlando: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers, 1985. 714.
Donnelly, Kathleen V. “Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group (1907-1915).”
Online. Available http://www.lm.com/ ~kaydee/Bloomsbury.html, February 28, 1999.
Fleishman, Avrom. Virginia Woolf a Critical Reading. Baltimore: The John Hopkins
University Press, 1975. Landow, George P. “Movements and Currents in
Nineteenth-Century British Thought.” Online. Available http://www.stg.brown.
edu/projects/hypertext/landow/victorian/religion/thought.html, March 6, 1999.
-------. “The Reality of Victorianism.” Online. Available http://www.stg.brown.edu/projects/hypertext/landow/
victorian/vn/victor7.html, March 6, 1999. -------. “Victorian and
Victorianism.” Online. Available http://www.stg.brown.edu/projects/hypertext/landow/
victorian/vn/victor4.html, March 6, 1999. Majumdar, Robin. Virginia Woolf: An
Annotated Bibliography of Criticism 1915-1974. New York: Garland Publishing,
Inc., 1976. Rojas, Maria. “Victorian Doubt in God.” Online. Available
http:// stg.brown.edu/projects/hypertext/landow/victorian/vn/ victor5.html,
March 6, 1999. Palmer, R.R., and Joel Colton. A History of the Modern World. 8th
ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1995. Vogler, Thomas A. “Introduction.”
Twentieth Century Interpretation of To the Lighthouse. Ed. Thomas A. Vogler.
Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1970. 1-16. Woolf, Virginia. Mrs.
Dalloway. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1925. -------. To the
Lighthouse. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1927.
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