A LIFE VIRGINIA WOOLF SHARED
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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