Virginia Woolf was born in 1882, the youngest daughter of the large and talented Stephen family. Her father Leslie Stephen was a critic, biographer, and philosopher. Her mother, Julia Stephen, was a daughter of the novelist William Makepeace Thacker. So, Virginia Woolf was destined to be a writer. Although at these times only the boys were allowed to have the formal education, she was lucky to take advantage from her father’s rich library. Besides, Virginia Woolf was a manic-depressive; primary cause is that she couldn’t tolerate the absurdity of life and she was under the influence of the psychological stress caused by war. She feared that her madness would return and she would not be able to continue writing. Woolf committed suicide by drowning herself in a river in March 1941. Virginia Woolf is a pioneer of feminism. Since her death, she is acknowledged as one of the major novelists of the 20th century, and best known for her “stream of consciousness” method, which gives readers the impression of being inside the mind of the character and an internal view, that she had used in her novel “Mrs. Dalloway”.
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Mrs. Dalloway originally published in 1925, is a novel containing the themes; war, death, communication and especially feminism -the pressure on women and the roles of women of the time period-. It is clear that Virginia Woolf was aware of the problems and loss of the modern life and Mrs. Dalloway criticizes the patriarchal culture. Actually 1920’s brought new and exciting cultural innovations that shifted women’s attention from politics into social life. Shannon Forbes mention this in her article as; “The concept of performance is key to understanding the way gender for Woolf is a social construct stemming for women from their struggle to identify and simultaneously oppose the Victorian ideology forcing them to equate their identity with a corresponding and acceptable Victorian role”(Forbes, 50). She portrayed different types of women in various contexts. She opened women’s eyes on their inferior status and provided them with a female tradition to rely on. The novel is very successful showing the intellectual commitment to political, social and feminist principles. The story takes place in just one day of the life of Clarissa Dalloway, who is thinking about her true feelings, her past life, her decisions, the pressure that the society enforces on her and the women roles while planning a party for the evening.
The feminist tone is established from the very beginning of the novel. On this day Peter Walsh, the most important love-story of Clarissa’s life, comes unexpectedly. Clarissa cannot prevent herself from thinking about Peter and the old days before her marriage. They used to love each other’s but their relationship ended with a failure. Peter was always trying to dominate and have a total control in Clarissa’s life, however Clarissa want a little freedom in their relationship, she believes that the privacy is an indispensable element in a relationship and without it psychologically she could not afford a marriage. That’s why she rejected Peter’s marriage proposal. She gives reasons for rejecting him and marrying Richard like; “For in marriage a little license, a little independence there must be between people living together day in day out in the same house; which Richard gave her, and she him (where was he this morning, for instance? Some committee, she never asked what.) But with Peter everything had to be shared, everything gone into” (7). Clarissa rejected Peter because his love was too possessive and domineering. Furthermore, Peter could not provide the gentleness and the love that Clarissa need and deserve. Dialogues between herself and Peter in Clarissa’s memories, shows that although he loved her, he did not conceal his feelings, but he would humor her; “It was the state of the world that interested him; Wagner, Pope’s poetry, people’s characters eternally, and the defects of her own soul. How he scolded her! How they argued! She would marry a Prime Minister and stand at the top of a staircase; the perfect hostess he called her (she had cried over it in her bedroom), she had the makings of the perfect hostess, he said”(7). Although Clarissa is portrayed as a suppressed women character who has no intellectual interest but knows very well how to succeed in social relationships and how to welcome guests, the big decision about not to marrying Peter who did not give her independence and sufficient love, strongly indicates that she is a powerful and quite intelligent women. Hereby Clarissa may seem by society like a classical women of the 1920s, perfect wife and mother who welcome guests in her lovely house, supports her happy family, pleases her husband, but once in the novel enters her mind with the stream of consciousness” method and made the reader learn her true feelings and thoughts, it is understood that she is much more than a house wife, she has her own feelings, ideologies and beliefs.
Later on, Sally Seton who is an old friend -and lover- of Clarissa, exists mostly just as figure in her memory in the novel, appears at Clarissa’s party. She is a modern woman who does not care about the customs, traditions and classic social role of women. Throughout the novel it is stated that she smokes, runs naked in the corridors of cottages, and travels by boat in midnights in other words lives in the way that she wants. She is also against the bourgeoisie and the noble class further she always depends freedom for women; so she has her own political views and ideologies that she does not fear to express. She is an anti-patriarchal woman. She asserted herself as a woman and demanded equal rights for women. Sally was Clarissa’s inspiration to push her to think beyond the walls of Bourton, read and philosophize. “There they sat, hour after hour, talking about life, how they were to reform the world. They meant to found a society to abolish private property”(33). Ä°n the novel, Sally Seaton is the symbol of the feminism ideology. She defends the women rights and rejects the patriarchal culture.
There are indications in the novel that some women were beginning to take on roles of power in those days. For instance, Lady Bruton was a lady in a position of power. She is a sixty-two years old woman, who is famous with the passion for politics. She speaks like a man, acts with tough attitudes. She is also represented as a selfish, noble, strong, brave and proud woman. Lady Bruton’s strong independence as a leader shows the movement towards tolerance of women being in power. With the characterization of Lady Bruton, it is denoted that being strong and independent as a women is not impossible and is not a crime.
In Mrs. Dalloway, the dark picture of patriarchal society is portrayed through Septimus – Rezia relationship. The sense of a wife’s duty is also demonstrated in the character Rezia wife of Septimus Smith the mentally disturbed soldier returned from the war. Rezia, although she loves her husband very much, and cannot imagine living without him, feels the burden of having to care for her ill husband. The terrible influence of patriarchy is effectively portrayed through the presentation of Rezia’s lives. She is a victim of the cruelty of the social and political doctrine of the English society and their only guilt is that they are merely women. What is really tragic about Rezia is not her husband’s death, but the unfriendly manner in which the world treats her. Once again, Woolf describes the inequalities of life and the pressures that society puts on women.
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Another example of the unconventional woman is portrayed through the character of Elizabeth Dalloway, the daughter of the Dalloway family. In the novel she is descripted as a very beautiful girl and many boys in London like her. But Elizabeth is extremely angry with the men’s attitude toward her. She prefers to be recognized with her intelligence rather than her beauty. Unlike her mother, she does not care about the tea parties, dinners and meetings. “With a sudden impulse, with a violent anguish, for this woman was taking her daughter from her, Clarissa leant over the banisters and cried out, ‘Remember the party! Remember our party to- night.’ But Elizabeth had already opened the front door; there was a van passing; she didn’t answer”(130). Elizabeth has ambitions to have a career and a professional life. She has planned to be a doctor, farmer, or to go into Parliament. She is important in the novel since she is like the delegate of the new generation’s feminism and she represents the future life that women and men have equal places in the society.
Ä°n conclusion, there are many female characters in the book. Some of them seem like weak woman and some are strong in a male dominated society. However with the deep examinations of all of them, it is explicated that they all have strong feelings and ideas. Every human is a mixture of his/her concepts, memories, emotions; still, that same human being leaves behind as many different impressions as there are people who associate with that person. Furthermore, Woolf evokes in her journals the following question: “If everyone’s impression of another is just a fragment of the whole, what is the “real world” like?”(57)
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