Gender and Femininity in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway

Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway makes it perfectly clear a woman wrote this novel. If you control for all other factors such as age and ethnicity, the male and the female experience differ.

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Biological differences that favored men in hunter-gatherer civilization created a divide in the responsibilities of men and women. The current paradigm has thus been shaped by the advantages men enjoyed. As such, literature reflects those differences. Nevertheless, it would be naive to think of Woolf simply as “”female writer.”” Mrs. Dalloway’s stream of consciousness narrative style of ebbs and flows between the real and the surreal exposes and blurs gender roles wherever necessary. One such example appears in this passage about Peter and Sally:

There was a garden … a walled-in place with rose bushes and giant cauliflowers – he could remember Sally tearing off a rose, stopping to exclaim at the beauty of the cabbage leaves in the moonlight (it was extraordinary how vividly it all came back to him, things he hadn’t thought of for years), while she implored him, half laughing, of course, to carry off Clarissa, to save her from the … “”perfect gentlemen”” who would … make a mere hostess of her…. But one must do Clarissa justice. She wasn’t going to marry Hugh anyhow. She had a perfectly clear notion of what she wanted… and with it all, purely feminine (75).

It is necessary to acknowledge that in lauding the flexibility of the female writer, the male writer is stereotyped and looks comparatively drab and overly succinct. In the above passage, Woolf gives us time to savor the moment. A typical male writer would not afford us that luxury. He would favor to move the plot along and exclude the healthy description of the garden. Woolf instead uses her long-sentenced paragraphs, paused by commas, semicolons and parenthetical annotations to demonstrate a single thought. The annotations act as a glimpse into the character’s mind. For example, in the line “”it was extraordinary how vividly it all came back to him, things he hadn’t thought of for years,”” we get a mental picture of Peter fixed to the ground and recalling the past. Even if just for a moment, we enter his mind. When Sally comments about saving Clarissa, it interrupts Peter’s reminiscence. It drags him away from the surreal (memory) and moves him the real (saving Clarissa).

In Sally’s comment, Woolf also brings to light a complexity of a woman in an early 20th century society. Peter and Sally want to save Clarissa from the “”perfect gentlemen”” as if she were a damsel in distress. However, the heroes in this story respect her “”clear notion of what she wanted”” and tag such behavior as feminine.

Additionally, in a later part of the text, Hugh, Richard and Lady Bruton come together to write a piece for the Times. The conservative Lady Bruton defers to her male counterpart because only they “”knew how to put things; knew what was said”” (109). To Lady Bruton, a woman was incapable of thought worthy of the Times. Woolf’s prowess as a writer confirms to us that these are not the views of the author. Mrs. Dalloway juxtaposes Lady Bruton and Clarissa in this respect: Sally and Peter attribute Clarissa’s freedom as feminine, while Lady Bruton is acquiescent like a traditional society would expected of a woman.

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