The Gulf

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.


Work Cited

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.

About Athena G. Csuti

Third Year in English Honours with Creative Writing & History.
This entry was posted in 2: Close Reading, {G7}. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The Gulf

  1. Ali Bayne says:

    I think this also relates to when Clarissa is talking about what Peter wanted from her in the relationship, that ‘sharing everything’ idea he insists on definitely trespasses on her sacred gulf of ‘self-respect’. It seems to me that her word choice in saying ‘self-respect’ is an easier-to-defend idea than what she might really mean; fear of putting her guard down. She is so afraid to let Peter in and show him her true self (fear of rejection?) that she dismisses the potential for true love in favour of stability. This stability would allow her to embrace a different kind of love for a heightened social standing, to be a figure of nobility and envy amongst her peers.

    Her idea of independence is completely paradoxical, as she trades a notion of emotional independence for financial independence, so she is not really independent at all; instead she mistakes this feeling for loneliness. She is trapped between her dependent desire for Richard in order to remain privileged, and her dependent desire for Peter in order to pursue love. Clarissa’s entire speil about remaining independent is totally contradictory to her situation, because no matter who she might have chosen, she is defining who she is or might have been in regards to one man or another.

  2. bkmilne says:

    Love, lust, or just content?

    Your close reading was an interesting focus, as you said you like love stories.

    I am wondering if either of these relationships can be considered love stories though.

    In the case of Clarissa and Peter, it is obvious she is more fond of him; excited by his passion and adventure, but is it really love? I would almost consider Clarissa’s obsession with Peter a lustful passion.
    Clarissa chose Richrd because he is dependable, whereas Peter is the bad boy she wants, but he is not necessarily the one that got away.

    Richard and Clarissa have adjusted to their relationship, but I still would not consider it love. Hence Richard couldn’t tell her. His silence makes Clarissa understand, but what does she understand, simply that these flowers are a present to say I’m still okay with what we do/don’t have?

    Though all this I then question Richard’s ‘jealousy’ and the portrayal of Elizabeth. Is she simply holding the family together? You rarely see and paternal affection from Richard and Clarissa toward Elizabeth. Why?

  3. jcdegner says:

    I really enjoyed reading your post! I thought you brought up a great point about the distances between two individuals in a marriage. I think that no matter how close you are to your partner in a marriage, it is important to keep a certain amount of individuality. I suppose in this way, I agree with Mrs. Dalloway’s argument about maintaining “dignity”. If you give up everything that is unique about yourself in order to become closer to your husband or wife, I think you are missing out on an extremely important aspect of your marriage. The point of a permanent union such as this is for a husband and wife to support one another in their times of need, but also to demonstrate to your partner exactly who you are. You cannot accomplish this goal if you simply close the “gulf” between yourself and your significant other and give up your true identity. Sometimes in order for an individual to grow, they must work through problems on their own. Marriages in which the partners are too close, in my opinion, may not work out as well as others that have the slight gap you discussed. This is perhaps why Mrs. Dalloway’s marriage is not as wonderful as she originally hoped.

  4. daynaaasen7 says:

    The point you made about Clarissa’s marriage to Richard rewarding her with the independence she deems crucial to survive made me stop and think. Crucial to survive… what is living a life to simply survive? Do we not want to milk everything we can out of this life we have? I think Clarissa hid behind even her own thoughts, forcing herself into believing the security in her marriage to Richard is what she ultimately wanted. In the beginning of the story when Clarissa is walking along Bond Street, her mind naturally wanders to the past and she relives deep feelings and inner conflict that she has suppressed for so long. But then in an instant she is back to thinking about the surface details of her present life, thoughts of gloves and flower shops and party planning. It is as if she is scolding herself for letting her mind wander back there. Your post did a good job of showing reasons why Clarissa justified her marriage to Richard, but like you said, “I was still hoping maybe she’d change her mind and leave with Peter”. Sometimes no matter how hard you think about things, analyze them, and justify them… you just need to go with your heart, and we get that gut feeling that Clarissa should have been with Peter for a reason!

  5. mkennedy says:

    Relationships with others tend to become the focus of our lives, all the money or success in the world often means nothing without someone to share it with. In Clarissa’s case, it seems she has reached a point in her life where she is analyzing her decisions with relationships and often wondering if she made the right ones and prioritized the right things. Her marriage with Richard is good in many ways, it’s comfortable and stable, and outwardly socially pleasing. However, Clarissa looks to her past and remembers the passionate relationships she had with both Peter and Sally. These were more exciting and she remembers the adventurous nature of these relationships especially in comparison with her static relationship with her husband. The ‘gulf’ or ‘solitude’ Clarissa acknowledges between those in even the closest relationships, in her case husband and wife, is an interesting way of viewing them. Of course there will always be some unknowns, and mystery between two people, no matter how close they are. And for Clarissa, she sees this separation as an important element that each individual needs to maintain. Although she longs for the excitement and spontaneity of past relationships, she realizes she made her decisions, and is mature enough to not linger on things that can no longer be had.

Leave a Reply