Katelyn Brown Engl 103 (X) – John Marsh Woolf Response

Woolf Response “…she paused by the open staircase window which let in blinds flapping, dogs barking, let in, she thought, feeling herself suddenly shrivelled, aged, breastless, the grinding blowing, flowering of the day, out of doors, out of the window, out of her body and brain which now failed…” Virginia Woolf does a tremendous job at addressing the serious human problem of appearance versus reality, contrasting intrapersonal attitudes, in her novel “Mrs. Dalloway”. The novel exposes many, if not all, of the character’s thoughts in opposition to what they appear to the outside world. Woolf’s characters can be seen repressing their true feelings and hiding behind the “masks” of the approved social code. These hidden desires or concealed thoughts can be seen in Clarissa Dalloway and Peter Walsh (among other specific characters), as well as all the townspeople of London. Clarissa Dalloway is a prime example of a character in the story whose true feelings have been masked by the social approval of others. Being an aristocratic woman, Mrs. Dalloway views herself as a hostess, and yet somewhat dreads that life. She imagines what life might have been like if she had married Peter when they were young, and she imagines Sally Seton who “did the most idiotic things out of bravado (34). These are the people she admired, the people who appeared “free”. There are many references in the novel to the sea, which represents a sense of loneliness, but also a sense of freedom for Clarissa Dalloway. She comments, “[I] had a perpetual sense, as [I] watched the taxi cabs, of being out, out, far out to sea and alone…”(8). Later, when she


is mending her dress, more references to the sea are made, “Clarissa, plunging her hand into the softness, gently detached the green dress and carried it to the window… By artificial light the green shone, but lost its colour now in the sun” (37). This sense of loneliness is the “true colour” in Mrs. Dalloway that is rarely exposed to the world (the sun), and that she secretly wishes to be free of her “artificial” societal role as hostess. Not only Mrs. Dalloway, but Peter Walsh also maintains hidden feelings that are unapparent to the outside world. After reappearing some number of years after he left for India, Peter comes to the residence of Clarissa Dalloway, unknowing that he would soon be reminiscing about the past with his former love. He appears to be fine with the whole conversation about the past, however, Woolf comments, “Then, just as happens on a terrace in the moonlight, when one person begins to feel ashamed that he is already bored, and yet as the other sits silent, very quiet, sadly looking at the moon, does not like to speak, moves his foot, clears his throat, notices some iron scroll on a table leg, stirs a leaf, but says nothing – so Peter Walsh did now” (42). This feeling is hidden, however, by the fact that he decides to tell Clarissa that he has fallen in love, “And with a curious ironical sweetness he smiled as he placed her in this ridiculous way before Clarissa” (45). Peter deliberately tries to provoke a response from Mrs. Dalloway because he is trying to hide the fact that she is actually the woman that he is in love with. Peter knows, however, that he has nothing to offer Clarissa Dalloway and “she would think me a failure, which I am in their sense, he thought; in the Dalloways’ sense… compared with all this – the inlaid table, the mounted paper knife… - he was a failure!” (43). Peter is also hiding behind a “mask” by not telling Mrs. Dalloway his true feelings for her as opposed to telling her that he is “in love with a girl in India” (45).


Not just the specific characters, but also the townsfolk of London are also susceptible to the label of “hidden”. The people are so caught up in trying to be something they are not, they almost forget the importance of being an individual. For example, when the mysterious car drove into sight, everyone put their daily lives on hold in order to view this spectacle, which no one really knew whether it was it was a spectacle or not. Woolf comments: The motor car with its blinds drawn and an air of inscrutable reserve proceeded towards Piccadilly, still gazed at, still ruffling the faces on both sides of the street with the same dark breath of veneration whether for Queen, Prince, or Prime Minister nobody knew…greatness was passing, hidden, down Bond Street, removed only by a hand’s-breadth from ordinary people who might now, for the first and last time, be within speaking distance of the majesty of England… (16) These people almost tried to pretend that they were someone of importance for whom this car should be stopping. Of course they know that this occurrence will probably be the only time they will ever be close enough to feel the importance they feel right at that moment. Even the “men of robust physique, well-dressed men… stood straighter, and removed their hands, and seemed ready to attend their Sovereign, if need be, to the cannon’s mouth, as their ancestors had done before them” (18). These men thought nothing of themselves until they saw the motor car pass, then their social appearance significantly improved. These people of London, as well as Clarissa Dalloway and Peter Walsh, all fall into a problem of social appearance versus the reality of what they feel. These two aspects are rarely parallel in the characters of “Mrs. Dalloway,” but this attitude contradiction allows readers to analyze themselves to determine whether or not they, too, have fallen into the problem.