Virginia’s Violent Verbalizations

I’ll start by apologizing for the alliteration, I’m not a fan of it myself but it fit so well with such an odd letter that… well… I had to.

Down to business! I’ve decided to have a look at a particular paragraph from Mrs. Dalloway which I found very exciting. I’ve left my textbook at school, so I’m using a PDF copy of the book (which I’ve cited at the bottom of this post, if anyone wants to pull it up, just go to the link and download the PDF), so my citations will not match up with the textbook (clearly).

I’m looking at this paragraph (pp 9 in the PDF):

“It rasped her, though, to have stirring about in her this brutal monster! to hear twigs cracking and feel hooves planted down in the depths of that leaf-encumbered forest, the soul; never to be content quite, or quite secure, for at any moment the brute would be stirring, this hatred, which, especially since her illness, had power to make her feel scraped, hurt in her spine; gave her physical pain, and made all pleasure in beauty, in friendship, in being well, in being loved and making her home delightful rock, quiver, and bend as if indeed there were a monster grubbing
at the roots, as if the whole panoply of content were nothing but self love! this hatred!”

I know I’m not supposed to put the passage down, but I think this is probably easier since I’m using a different version.

What is it that makes this passage amazing? For me, the beauty of this passage is in the diction and the metaphor. For me, this passage defines Woolf’s writing.

The dark word choice in this passage makes the image of hatred which she’s trying to describe come to life. Words like “rasping,” “brutal,” “scraped,” and “monster” all carry very violent and vivid (there’s that alliteration again…) connotations with them. Since she is describing hatred in this passage, Woolf has opted to liken the feeling to an all-consuming monster, which is also a violent image, and she has used these words to back up and strengthen her point. And her likening the soul to a forest, a dark and distressed one at that, what with it being full of horses and (in my imagination) dead leaves and twigs scattered about, made the hatred metaphor sink even deeper. The reader can almost feel the depth of darkness and evil that arises in the soul when such true hatred is felt.

I absolutely love when she uses these kinds of metaphors. If anyone has read another of her works, A Room of One’s Own, specifically the section “Professions for Women,” you will be familiar with her metaphor of violently murdering the angel in the house in order for the woman to have the freedom to embrace her voice as a person. This is an equally powerful metaphor, and just as violent.

The depth and power of this paragraph captured me while I was reading it. How she can make such a small thing, like an emotion, feel so all-consuming, violent, and ultimately real through such a simple thing as word choice is truly amazing. Every time I read her work, this is what draws me into the piece and what keeps me absorbing her work.


Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. 1925. Goodreads. Web. 19 Mar. 2013. <>.

Woolf, Virginia. “Professions for Women.” The Broadview Anthology of Expository Prose. Ed. Laura Buzzard et. al. 2nd ed. Toronto: Broadview, 2011. 100-04. Print.

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5 Responses to Virginia’s Violent Verbalizations

  1. npelletier says:

    What a great post! It was very fun to read. I do have to agree with you on how beautiful the word choice is that Woolf uses. There is something so powerful in the way she describes Mrs. Dalloway’s mental illness but also in the way she describes many other instances. I think the way she describes Septimus’ post traumatic stress is so beautiful in the way he sees the leaves on the trees swaying with the grass when he is out in the park. I think the word choice she uses to describe the memories of both Mrs. Dalloway and Peter are so vivid that it makes everything seem real and you forget that you are going back into the characters memories. I believe that word choice is so important when it comes to conveying images and ideas, and Woolf is very gifted and obviously chose her words very thoughtfully depending on which image she wanted to describe. I too have been thoroughly enjoying her work in Mrs. Dalloway.

  2. jcdegner says:

    I thought you chose an excellent passage to analyze! I completely agreed with you when you said that you liked Woolf’s word choice in this section. It really emphasizes the hatred and anguish that Mrs. Dalloway is feeling at this point in her life. I was thinking that perhaps this section could apply to her feelings towards her own husband, in a sense. She feels traps by the life he has provided for her, and longs to be more free in her actions. Mrs. Dalloway may have been able to have gained this freedom if she married Peter; maybe that’s what she is considering in this section as well. I was especially considering the quote “never to be content”. She is clearly not happy in the life he and Richard have built, and perhaps hates herself for the choices she has made regarding her own happiness.

  3. Ali Bayne says:

    I like how you describe this style of verbalization as ‘all-encompassing’, because that really is exactly how Virginia Woolf writes. Almost every sentence is so saturated with emotion that it’s almost too over-dramatic for my taste. Although it is definitely aesthetically pleasing, I found it relatable to what we talked about in class: the fluff that one might use to extend a work. Now, I don’t think that this was what Woolf was trying to do, but it seems that every word is so full to the brim with drama that sometimes I find myself getting lost in that instead of deciphering reason. It just seems like every time Mrs. Dalloway reflects on her life and what might have been, it is something like the example you have used. It’s an absolute “arrow sticking in her heart, the grief, the anguish; the horror…” every time she thinks about it. Her passion is beautiful, and it is understandable that everyone might feel this way sometimes, but it seems that if the pain of her every day life is really so intense, it doesn’t really make sense that she hasn’t killed herself. Her dwelling seems unbearable. If this isn’t the case, I think she might simply be exaggerating.

  4. daynaaasen7 says:

    I think Ali’s point is really interesting about how “if the pain of her every day life is really so intense, it doesn’t really make sense that she hasn’t killed herself”. Word choice is an incredible thing. The emotions you can evoke from a reader just by stringing specific words together is actually unreal. To think that words on a page can be filled with so much sorrow, angst, and hopelessness really shows the power of great diction, and I think that we can all attest to Virginia Woolf’s diction as being revolutionary. When I read this paragraph, the first thing that popped into my head was Virginia Woolf’s bipolar disorder. Her ability to channel so much pain into her writing makes me wonder if she was reaching into a pool of her own pain and using her fictional characters as an outlet. People with bipolar disorders often relate the dark side of themselves as a monster. Maybe the monster inside Woolf was the one choosing all of the vividly real and painful diction?

  5. mkennedy says:

    This post captures the wonderful nature of language. You could describe the same scenario in so many different fashions, evoking many different emotions and feelings, just by the choice of words used to describe it. Woolf has an incredible ability to make words bend to her will and paint vivid pictures with them for her readers. This chosen passage is an excellent example of her talent. The violence of the words she uses to describe the pain being felt, along with the imagery she provides makes the reader understand the pain that much easier. I think Woolf’s writing is so enrapturing because she describes the most simple instances in ways that mean so much more, or shed light on something bigger. Small bits of our day that would pass by unnoticed she focuses upon, and makes so much more. A car passing in the street, the way flowers smell. Her writing style brings her stories to life, and allows the reader to feel that they are there with the characters for even what should be the most mundane moments (alliteration again!). But with Woolf, there is no mundane!

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