You are on page 1of 8

Emma Ciccotti Professor Shaup English 181 April 9, 2014 Woolf Borrows But Bends Baudelaires Modern Man:

Self-Imposed Inclusion or Isolation in Mrs. Dalloway In Virginia Woolfs novel Mrs. Dalloway the overt actions and hidden thoughts of several city-dwellers are examined over a twenty-four hour period. The characters errands, revelations, and conclusions to their June 1923 day all reflect the effect the modern city has on the individual. Although the sociologist Georg Simmel stresses in his essay The Metropolis and Mental Life that the economic grind of the city greatly affects the mind of the individual, turning it towards rationality and away from small town emotion, or otherwise spitting it back out again broken and unsuccessful, Woolf disagrees. Rather than basing all city inclusion or isolation on ones ability to adapt to this essentially intellectualistic character of the mental life of the metropolis (Simmel 12), Woolf echoes Baudelaire and his notion of a modern man (Berman 159) and flneur (Baudelaire 9) to describe success in the city. Specifically, Woolf uses the modern mans maneuverability or adaptability and the flneurs love of partaking in a crowd to describe those thriving in the modern metropolis. Interestingly, though, Woolf strays from the strictly male example that older Baudelaire believes in, and instead provides a more contemporary revision with a modern woman in Clarissa. Woolf, therefore, borrows that city characters thrive or succumb to isolation based on their conscious decision to enjoy adeptly partaking in the crowd or avoiding the crowd,

respectively. Woolf argues for this self-imposed inclusion or isolation and also bends Baudelaires gender biases by contrasting with fiery imagery Clarissas decision to avoid the flames of loneliness and unite herself with others in socializing efforts, and Septimuss choice to burn away alone. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, Baudelaire writes extensively on the effect the new city, its crowds, and stimulations have on the individual. Marshall Berman in his work All That Is Solid Melts Into Air explains Baudelaires notion of an archetypal modern man that has evolved to adapt to the agglomeration of mass and energy that is heavy, fast and lethal in the city (159). Baudelaire describes how the key to thriving in the city is not shutting off emotion, but rather focusing on stretching ones resources. In order to cross the moving chaos, he must attune and adapt himself to its moves, must learn to not merely keep up with the bresaults and mouvements brusques, at a sudden, abrupt, jagged twists and shifts and not only with his legs and his body, but with his mind and sensibility as well. (Berman 158) The modern man must adapt this skill of maneuverability and exercise it daily in the city to survive and thrive. In Mrs. Dalloway, Clarissa has made a life for herself in the city by especially honing her mental and social twists and shifts (Berman 158). Specifically, when she unites the metropolis in her home with a party, she adeptly jumps from one moving conversation to the next in a beautiful swirl of chaos. Woolf is quick to liken the party to the city and strengthen this argument with her comparing juxtaposition of the hosts of peopledancing all night that will be at Clarissas party and the quintessential chaos of the city: the wagons plodding past to market; and driving home across the park (9). This linguistic decision shows that the obstacles that a city dweller must attune and adapt to mirror the mastered movements Clarissa demonstrates in hosting

her party. Accordingly, Woolf illustrates Clarissa speaking reminiscently to Mrs. Hilbery about her mother, and then suddenly, alas, she must go (176) to speak with Prof essor Brierly. She interrupted but she must speak to that coupleLord Gayton and Nancy Blow (177-78). Yet again, abruptly, alas, she must leave themthere was old Miss Parry, her aunt (178). The language throughout this party scene is heavily fragmented and abrupt to directly reflect Clarissas skill in crossing the chaos of the party and shifting her mind, sensibility and conversation at any given moment to unite with her guests. Unlike how Clarissa molds herself to Baudelaires moving modern man, Septimus neither learns these movements of survival, nor wants to after his experience in the war. In particular, out in the London streets, finding himself surrounded by city traffic and pedestrians decoding a passing planes path, Septimus is anxiously frozen. Directly opposing Clarissas dexterity, Septimus, ravaged by PTSD, is overwhelmed by the crowd and modern world, which after the war he apprehensively always assumes has raised its whip and is waiting to bring it down (14). Woolf describes Septimus as horror[ified] by the masss gradual drawing together of everything (15). Woolf goes so far as to create the antithesis of Baudelaires modern man in this character by describing him as weighted there, rooted to the pavement (15). In this way, we can easily compare Clarissas modern man success of movement, which she love[s] and finds satisfying (Woolf 174), to Septimuss smoldering stagnation, avoiding the ebbs and flows of the wavering world that constantly threatens to burst into flames (Woolf 15) around him.

In addition to the modern man of Baudelaire being able to suddenly twist and shift, he also appreciates this metropolitan movement and feels united or at home in it (Baudelaire 9). Baudelaire explains that the city has adapted many a modern man into a flneur, whose passion and profession are to become one flesh with the crowd (Baudelaire 9). For the perfect flneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and infinitive. To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at homethe lover of life makes the whole world his family. (Baudelaire 9) Much like how the flneur overwhelmingly enjoys connecting with the masses, so too does Clarissa seek to unite the London city-dwellers as one group of life-loving citizens. Most notably, on her walk to buy flowers, Clarissa pleasurably soaks up the energy of the city, reveling in life; London; this moment in June, and explains that even the homeless are caught up in loving life (Woolf 4). She says that, the veriest frumps, the most dejected of miseries sitting on doorsteps (drink their downfall) do the same; cant be dealt with, she felt positive, by Acts of Parliament for that very reason; they love life (Woolf 4). Clarissas comparison of the lowly homeless and her socially elite self successfully unites the most extremes of the city, making them family just as the flneur hopes to. Also, this city scene among the London crowds demonstrates through her repetitive use of the word love how passionate she is about being one flesh with the world. Clarissa embodies the Baudelaires modern flneur, therefore, in Woolfs Mrs. Dalloway and creates a more apparent antithesis to the unsuccessful and isolated Septimus.

Unlike how Clarissa chooses movement over stagnation and uniting with the crowd rather than avoiding it, Septimus opts not to acquire an aptitude in adaptability or an affinity for his fellow city-dwellers as a result of his unfortunate post-war anxieties. Septimus especially opposes Clarissas insatiable appetite for the non-I (Baudelaire 9) when he explains how adverse and paranoid he is around others. Septimus does not look for love in others like Clarissa, but instead states that people are wicked and can see them making up lies as they pass on the street (Woolf 66). The crowd appears to intimidate him, even threaten him, just as an enemy in war might. Moreover, he furthers this self-imposed isolation from the crowd when he likens being alone even from the closest person to him, his wife, to being free. Their marriage was over, he thought, with agony, with relief. The rope was cut; he mounted; he was free; as it was decreed that he, Septimus, the lord of men, should be free; alone he, Septimus, was alone. (Woolf 67) This quotation helps to show how opposed to interaction Septimus is because even the brief pain of losing his wife is triumphed by multiple metaphors of content. In particular, the visions of successfully cutting a rope, breaking free, mounting an obstacle, and finally feeling liberated all speak to how Woolf linguistically seeks to both oppose Baudelaires modern flneur with this character and break the gender mold of the successful city inhabitant. Indeed, Septimuss loneliness is self-imposed as a result of his PTSD-based preference for isolation over inclusion. Woolf uses Mrs. Dalloway to explore the effects of the city on individuals. Her focus on uniting and enjoying the crowded city, rather than changing ones mentality towards rationality and a lack of emotion demonstrates her argument for Baudelaire

rather than Simmels theory of modern metropolises. In addition to borrowing Baudelaires archetypal modern man and flneur and bending them to accommodate women, Woolf also creates a foil character in Septimus that serves as an antithesis to this successfully social protagonist. While Clarissa flawlessly moves among the masses and is drawn to them in a familial way, Septimus avoids the wicked (Woolf 66) crowds that have been tainted for him by the war and, therefore, self-imposes isolation. Linguistically Woolf magnifies this comparison by filling their thoughts with fire and flames. Clarissa feels the pull of the flames, but always stays clear of their burn. Moreover, she embraces the fear of burning as motivation to keep socializing. Specifically, she stresses over her unifying party and wonders, why seek pinnacles and stand drenched in fire? Might it consume her anyhow? Burn her to cinders! (Woolf 1678). And yet she justifies the risk of twisting, shifting, and socializing by saying that its better [to] brandish ones torch and hurl it to earth than taper and dwindle away (Woolf 168) for fear of being burned. Indeed, the dangers and difficulties of being a modern man and flneur and avoiding these flames were much worth the intoxication of the moment, that dilatation of the nerves of the heart itself she loved [that] and felt it tingle and sting (Woolf 174). In opposition, Septimus, who is hindered socially by postwar PTSD, prefers isolation and is, therefore, engulfed in the flames of loneliness. Throughout the book, he screams that he is falling down, down into the flames (Woolf 141), but never decides to pull himself back up. Instead, Septimus finally flings himself willingly into death. Ultimately these two characters are faced with the fiery risk of adapting into the modern man, and both make conscious decisions regarding it. In this way, Woolf clearly argues for self-imposed inclusion or isolation by contrasting

Clarissas decision to avoid the flames of loneliness and unite herself with oth ers in Baudelaire-type socializing efforts, and Septimuss choice to burn all alone.

Works Cited Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. San Diego: Harcourt, 1981. Print. Simmel, Georg. "The Metropolis and Mental Life." 1903. The Blackwell City Reader. Ed. Gary Bridge and Sophie Watson. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2002. 11-19. Print. Berman, Marshall. All That Is Solid Melts into Air. New York: Penguin Group, 1988. Print. Baudelaire, Charles. The Painter of Modern Life. Trans. Jonathan Mayne. London: Phaidon, 1995. Print.