Mrs Dalloway And To The Lighhouse By

Virginia Woolf Essay, Research Paper

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.

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