For my close reading I will focused on a short paragraph about marriage. I’m a sucker for love stories, even failed love stories, so one of the most intriguing parts of the novel for me was Clarissa’s relationship and history with both Richard and Peter. I love the complexity of the relationships, romantic or otherwise, in Mrs. Dalloway. They tend to be fluctuating and ambivalent, which is an excellent reflection of human nature and the way we ourselves interact with one another.
The following passage is on page 2223:
“And there is a dignity in people; a solitude; even between husband and wife a gulf; and that one must respect, thought Clarissa, watching him open the door; for one would not part with it oneself, or take it, against his will from one’s husband, without losing one’s independence, one’s self-respect—something, after all, priceless.”
This passage does an excellent job of summing up some of the significance of the novel. Woolf wants to show the shared experiences between people (the entire narrative is created by the unknowing links that people have) and yet the “solitude” or the “gulf” they feel as a result of being unable to connect in the conscious, tangible ways that they desire. Despite any closeness these people might share, they are still very much stuck in their own bodies and their own concerns. They will never be able to know what the other is thinking or feeling despite the curiosity and even eagerness they sometimes experience. Each character seems to feel the weight of the human experience as an individual one. When reading this book this gulf that they are all unable to cross has a palpable presence.
The preceding passages include Richard determined tell Clarissa he loves her, out of jealousy of her past relationship with Peter Walsh. As he walks through Green Park (page 2220) he thinks to himself “For he would say it in so many words…Because it is a thousand pities never to say what one feels.” But once he arrives he is only able to give her flowers and assures himself she “understood without his speaking”, having no clue earlier she was questioning the choices that led her there.
Clarissa’s missed connection with Peter, followed by a too brief to be satisfying moment with her husband, causes her to contemplate solitude in a marriage and even justify it to herself. I mentioned earlier in class that I believe Clarissa is restless, and trying to assure herself of her ordinariness and contentment with life. This is yet another section in the text where Mrs. Dalloway rationalizes her restless loneliness (loneliness seen through her jealousy involving Richard and Elizabeth, and her interaction with Peter). It appears to be true that she highly values her independence, and is suggested at various points throughout the text that this influenced her decisions in the past. On page 2221 Richard acknowledges that she married him for support, and this could arguably be seen as support so she has her independence, the opposite of the life fidgety, intimate, and unpredictable Peter offered. But that also doesn’t change the fact that Clarissa is lonely in a marriage characterized by a gulf, highlighted by her passionate ambivalence towards Peter.
It is not only revealing about her marriage, but also her character. Clarissa views this separation or gap between people as “dignity.” It is dignifying to expect and allow space between people. Any relationship, even a marriage, to Clarissa, should not be characterized by claustrophobic intimacy. Her “self-respect” is “priceless,” her identity and sense of self is all she really has and she is unwilling to jeopardize that. It is suggested that even for love, the loss of freedom was not worth it. So while her marriage with Richard might be lacking, he afforded her the independence that she views as crucial to her survival. She is an admirable character in her resolve; Mrs. Dalloway knows her priorities and accepts her circumstance despite any dissatisfaction (though I was still hoping maybe she’d change her mind and leave with Peter).
Since Clarissa values her privacy so highly, she “would not part with it,” perhaps the discontent I sense stems not from her solitude but rather her inability to escape it. She has the space she desires, but consequently that also seems to be all she has. Her daughter is growing up and preoccupied, her husband has his career and social standing, and all her old friends (until the evening of the party) were far away, so she craves the social reassurance of lunch dates or political parties to fill the gap.
Woolf, Virginia. “Mrs. Dalloway”. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. F. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 2012. 2155-2264. Print.