Sunday, September 19, 2010


Having read Jacob’s Room as well as Mrs. Dalloway, I found that the two novels have a certain common tendency: fleshing out of modern alienation, the gap between people, modern aloneness. In Jacob’s Room, this is predominantly visible with the character of Jacob, although it is definitely true for all characters. After all, someone – I am not sure whether it was Leonard or Strachey or maybe someone else – described all the characters in the novel as ghosts. This is certainly true and even Woolf supports this notion by a once previously mentioned quote, “Nobody sees any one as he is, let alone an elderly lady sitting opposite a strange young man in a railway carriage. They see a whole – they see all sorts of things – they see themselves…” This means something close to a permanent, inevitable alienation – if we don’t see other people as they are, but we see ourselves in them, the world is full of us, a vast I am, ever-present. Does this ever allow any kind of real connection with anyone else? Jacob’s Room does not really answer this question positively. Ever since the beginning of the novel, someone is always searching for Jacob, but at the end, all that is found are Jacob’s old shoes, his room, his things. Both Clara and Bonamy and even Florinda are left longing for Jacob, but at the end of the novel, the gap is materialized – Jacob is dead and cannot be reached anymore in any way. Everyone is alone – Bonamy without Jacob; Clara, even though with her dog and an older man companion, tangled in her thoughts; Florinda, sitting alone, with distance between her and the supposed father of her child – a child that does not necessarily bring any hope; Mrs. Wentworth Williams, looking out at her (and presumably Jacob’s) child; Jacob’s mother engulfed in her thoughts of her dead husband; the Captain’s invalid wife, abandoned by him. Even the brothers Archer and Jacob are never portrayed as having a real relationship, not even with their mother. As Virginia Woolf explores the notion of the human mind, she unsettles – it is almost as if everyone is locked inside their own mind, without the ability to really be open with another person.

In Mrs. Dalloway, it is a similar case. Here, Woolf once again presents the reader with characters permanently locked in their aloneness. Clarissa and Richard, as a married couple, should be able to have some sort of connection, but in the end, despite his sudden passion and rushing home thinking “my Clarissa”, flowers in his hands, meaning to tell her he loves her, Richard fails to relate his feelings to his wife. Woolf leaves her response quite ambiguous – we do not know whether Clarissa really understands without Richard saying it out loud, or whether Richard hopes/believes her to understand, without having to say anything. Mrs. Dalloway’s relationship with her daughter is similarly superficial – she presents her at her party like an object and the reader never sees any kind of affection, aside from pangs of jealousy that have to do with Miss Kilman. All of these relationships are sterile, empty, lonely.

It is similar with Peter Walsh. Even though it is evident that there was something between them, both Clarissa and Peter cannot communicate very well. She is sitting, mending her dress, annoyed at Peter’s constant fidgeting with his pocket knife, while Peter sits and ridicules Clarissa’s hostess life in his mind. The words they say to each other do not reflect what they truly think or feel. Perhaps only “don’t forget my party” means something more, a “don’t forget me”, but this is still enclosed within something else, Clarissa cannot say out loud what she really wants and thinks and neither can Peter. Even though they may have loved each other and perhaps still do, the reader questions the depth of their relationship, the depth of any relationship and how far that depth can ever reach. The epitome of this aloneness, to me, has always been Peter’s thought, “and that is being young” (hence the address of the blog) when he sees Septimus and Rezia at the park, at a very turbulent and sad moment in their relationship. Peter interprets it completely differently, seeing himself in the situation, the youth he still wants to associate with, even though he completely misinterprets the event. At the same time, does the fact that he does misinterpret it even matter? Does it matter that we see ourselves in others and thus, misinterpret them, unable to know them? That point, after all, serves Peter only in the progression of his thoughts and has no implications. But it still tells a lot about human relationships and this particular feeling of alienation permeating this work. There is no hope of knowing your loved ones, let alone complete strangers.

Finally, there is Rezia and Septimus, each one locked in their own fantasy – for Rezia, it is one of a normal life and for Septimus, the horrors of the Great War. Once again Woolf presents a marriage unable to communicate (perhaps an influence of her own mental illness and the role, if any, it played in her marriage to Leonard?) and locked within their own separate minds. Rezia talks of birds and flowers, remembers her life in Italy, longing for it all over again, trying to convince herself and Septimus that everything is all right. Septimus, on the other hand, recedes further and further into himself, into the psychological turmoil the War had caused, unable to understand Rezia and her situation. Rezia cannot understand him, not participating in the War herself, and desperately locked in her own desire for a normal life.

This is only two novels so far, therefore I cannot really say if this pattern continues in Woolf’s other works. However, even in Kew Gardens, this is a bit evident – with the married couple, separated from each other by their pasts; the old and young men separated by experience; even the young couple seems a bit distant from each other, perhaps wanting different things; the women chattering, separated by language. All of these are little glimpses, impressions, of the ways people in modern London and, of course, beyond, can be lonely, even in these large cities, with thousands of people surrounding them. I’m not sure whether this would be a suitable topic for the final paper, but, aside from the role of Laura, the invalid sister of Virginia, in Woolf’s works, this is certainly something I am interested in exploring.

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