Rosa Rodia

Spring 2011

Question of Self: Mrs. Dalloway and other novels by Virginia Woolf

I am so excited to be able to finally share this essay with the public. I love this website. I wrote this essay back in college when I was finishing up my undergrad degree in English. I hope you like it.

In Virginia Woolf’s novels there exists a common theme of the question of “self”

Her main characters continue to question whether they made the right decisions in life, and have they become the right person or form of their selves. These same characters struggle through the novels with different forms of self( and which one is their “true self”), if this even exists. People can possess many different forms of self, depending on what setting they are put into and what types of characters they are confronted with. The self can also develop different forms depending on what experiences one goes through, during their life. Teresa de Lauretis speaks about the process of experience in her essay titled, Semiotics and Experience, in which she explains that through the process of experience,

“One places oneself or is placed in social reality, and so perceives and comprehends as subjective (referring to, even originating in, oneself) those relations-material, economic, and interpersonal-which are in fact social and, in a larger perspective, historical. The process is continuous, its achievement unending or daily renewed. For each person, therefore, subjectivity is an ongoing construction, not a fixed point of departure or arrival from which one then interacts with the world. On the contrary, it is the effect of that interaction-which I call experience; and thus it is produced not by external ideas, values, or material causes, but by ones personal, subjective, engagement in the practices, discourses, and institutions that lend significance)values, meaning, and affect) to the events of the world.” (Schleifer, David 298)

It is all these forms, put together as one that creates who someone truly is, or what their

“true-self” really is. If this is all true, then one can question whether or not, within these different forms of “self” does a central self exists or need to exist in order to hold the other forms of self together?

In the novel, Mrs. Dalloway there exists a central character who goes by the first name of Clarissa. However most of the people around her, throughout her single day view her and know her to only be, Mrs. Dalloway. When Clarissa looks at herself, her reflection reveals itself to be Mrs. Dalloway, the women that she has become, but within her she is still Clarissa. The name she was given when she was born. This aspect of Clarissa brings up the concept of “self and other”. As Lacan states in Michael Warner’s essay titled, Feminism and Gender Studies “Language in general brings about forms of difference and norms of reciprocity and thus allows the subject the negativity with which to consider his or her identity in the role of another. Yet no absolute break with narcissistic identification has occurred, since the subject’s ability to do this continues to be regulated by the ego ideals.”(634) Within ourselves, there is an inner self which is stored within our mind and our body, that we hide from others and then there is an exterior self, which is one that we allow others to see. This is where the relationship between the self and other exists; the one that you share between the inner and outer self and the one that exist between you and other people. In Clarissa’s case I believe that she possess many different forms of “self” in which she has acquired throughout her life and depending on what setting she puts herself into or what characters have summoned her or have become a part of her life, is the determinate of which one she allows herself to reveal.

Within the novel Mrs. Dalloway, Clarissa is presented to the reader as many different versions, as in the name, what she is called and the person whom she acts as. Throughout the novel she acts as her original self, which is Clarissa; as well as Clarissa Dalloway, Mrs. Dalloway, and Mrs. Richard Dalloway. It is when the self of another human being, that of Richard Dalloway is added to her life, that all these other forms of Clarissa start to exist. The novel gives the main character different names, and although the novel starts with the name Mrs. Dalloway, her life begins with the name Clarissa. When Mrs. Dalloway is thinking about her past it is about the life that existed when all she was known to be was Clarissa, who exists mostly within her thoughts rather than in her reality. This form of herself, was care free, liked to have fun and was vibrant and energetic. She was not pressured by another or her outside world of society to be someone other then Clarissa. It is evident in the novel, that although Clarissa may thrive upon the superficiality and frictions of society, it is when she is in solitude that she sinks into a state of consciousness which is the basis for the meaning that she cannot discover in any other aspect of her life. ( Apter 63) It is when she is in this state that this form of herself is visible to the reader, as well as strong within her mind. It seems as if she desires to go back, but when she tries to please others her original self is masked by the desires and needs of them and cannot perform the role of Clarissa when she is within the society that her reality exists in.

“She will not say herself “I am this, I am that” either, yet she longs to look into the mirror and see herself as unified, coherent, as “Clarissa Dalloway; of herself”. When she looks in the mirror, however, she can only see herself as parts together”. She “tried to be the same always, never showing a sign of all the other sides of her”, but she can only attempt to convey this self to others through performing a role. The role of the perfect hostess is to serve as a substitute for what she refers to as her “incompatible” self so that

“she alone”, she says, may acknowledge her split self and may instead project to the outside world the image of one who possesses the much-coveted, Victorian conception of the self.” (Forbes 40) Clarissa’s role as hostess becomes a sociological and ideological aspect of herself. She puts herself in this role in order to impress and fit in with the others around her, who became a part of her life when she married Richard Dalloway. She also performs the hostess role as a way to feed her ego and feel as if she has become the person that has developed into Richard’s wife.

Clarissa struggles with both the fact that she does not possess a cohesive self and that she finds herself forced to deal with the unhappy aspects of the life that she chose when she became the wife of Richard Dalloway. (41)

In becoming this other person her name transformed from Clarissa to Clarissa Dalloway. When she married Richard, she gained a last name and a life that she had always desired. The last name that is given to the main female character of the novel is that of, Mrs. Richard Dalloway. As Clarissa transitions between each name or self it is when she is referred to or read as Mrs. Richard Dalloway that her original form is lost. The name Clarissa is not even seen within it this last form. The Mrs., symbolizes that she is female but the rest of it is that of her husband. It is as if he has taken over who she originally was. By adding on the life of his own, Clarissa as a self becomes weakened. However Clarissa chooses this role because it is the only version that would be socially accepted, she chooses Richard because of that. She is also aware that she has what she has because of him. “Moments like this are buds on the tree of life, flowers of darkness they are, she thought (as if some lovely rose had blossomed for her eyes only); not for a moment did she believe in God; but all the more, she thought, taking up the pad, one must repay in daily life to servants, yes, to dogs and canaries, above all to Richard her husband, who was the foundation of it…” (Woolf, page. 28–29) Richard has wealth and security and with him she can create a form of self on the outside, which would force her original self to stay within her thoughts.

Although she was still Clarissa she had the added influence of the life of another. As a result her new name changed her original self into another form. The pressures and expectations, in a way forced her to put the single self of Clarissa, the self that was spontaneous outspoken and sexy aside in order to become Clarissa Dalloway, the wife of Richard Dalloway. In an essay titled, Psychology and Psychoanalysis, Laura Mulvey speaks about this issue as she compares two films which open with women being the object of the combined gaze of spectator.

“She is isolated glamorous, on display, sexualized. But as the narrative progresses she falls in love with the main male protagonist and becomes his property, losing her outward glamorous characteristics, her generalized sexuality her show-girl connotations; her eroticism is subjected to the male start alone. By means of identification with him, through participation in his power, the spectator can indirectly possess her too.”

(Schleifer, David 453)

Clarissa loses her “self” to the image that being with Richard Dalloway creates for her. As Mulvey states about the women falling in love with the main male, Clarissa does this and in doing so becomes his property. She begins to identify herself with him instead of with herself. Almost as though it is not good enough for the life she now possesses. In another essay by Laura Mulvey titled, Visual Pleasure and

Narrative Cinema, she states,

“In contrast to woman as icon, the active male figure (the ego ideal of the identification process) demands a three dimensional space corresponding to that of the mirror recognition, in which the alienated subject internalized his own representation of his own imaginary existence.” (Schleifer, David 452)

Clarissa Dalloway is the one that internalizes her own representation of her own imaginary existence. She pretends to be something she is not and is not aware of herself until she looks into the mirror and daydreams about her past existence.

“She had just broken into her fifty second year. Months and months of it were still untouched. June, July, August! Each still remained almost whole, and as if to catch the falling drop, Clarissa (crossing to the dressing table) plunged into the very heart of the moment, transfixed it, there — the moment of this June morning on which was the pressure of all the other morning, seeing the glass, the dressing table, and all the bottles afresh, collecting the whole of her at one point (as she looked into the glass), seeing the delicate pink face of the woman who was that very night to give a party, of Clarissa Dalloway; of herself.” ( Mrs. Dalloway 36)

Clarissa does not spend much time thinking about herself, instead she thinks about what others may think of her.

“How many million times had she seen her face, and always with the same imperceptible contraction! She pursed her lips when she looked into the glass. It was to give her face point. That was herself — pointed; dark like; definite. That was herself when

some effort, some call on her to be herself, drew the parts together, she alone knew how

different, how incompatible and composed so for the world only into one centre, one diamond, one woman who sat in her drawing room and made a meeting point, a radiance no doubt in some dull lives, a refuge for lonely to come to….” (Mrs. Dalloway 36)

When Clarissa is seeing herself in this moment of the novel I don’t think she is seeing Clarissa I think she is seeing “Mrs. Dalloway”. This is who Clarissa is when she is socializing with others. It is also the title of the novel, which gives it the role of being the “central self” or the center of all the others forms. This name symbolizes a married woman, who holds her husband’s last name. It would not be able to exist without him. She lets that name define who she is. Clarissa is absolutely defined in terms of the role she has chosen to perform. The title of the novel is a curious one. Clarissa is introduced as “Mrs. Dalloway” a name closely signifying her chosen role. A different title-”Clarissa’s Party,” “Clarissa Dalloway,” or even “Clarissa”- would suggest that her identity comprises more than this role and that her identity is not contained exclusively within this role, but the title indicates what Clarissa’s stream of conscious articulates. (Forbes 39)

“This she held herself well was true; and had nice hands and feet; and dressed well, considering that she spent little. But often now this body she wore) she stopped to look at a Dutch picture), this body, with all its capacities, seemed nothing at all. She had the oddest sense of being herself invisible, unseen; unknown; there being no more marrying, no more having of children now, but only this astonishing and rather solemn progress with the rest of them, up Bond Street, this being Mrs. Dalloway; not even Clarissa anymore; this being Mrs. Richard Dalloway.” (Mrs. Dalloway 10)

Clarissa struggles with each of these versions of self through a single day, while getting ready for her party. Clarissa throws these parties as a way to validate that she can exist as Mrs. Dalloway, Richard’s wife, but at the same time she still struggles with her past, so it is as if while trying to be this certain self for others she does not know who to be for herself. Parties are absolutely essential to Clarissa’s sense that she has any self at all. Moreover Clarissa attempts to convince herself that she has a unified, ordered, and stable self because she gives parties.(Forbes, page 43–44)

Although Clarissa seems to have many different forms of self she would not be who she is without each of them, especially that of Mrs. Dalloway.

This brings me to the central self, who not only brings all forms of self together as a whole, but also brings people together in one space. When I think of the central self, it is the version that is Mrs. Dalloway that acts as this. She is the one that creates the parties and brings everyone from her society together within these parties. All these forms or “versions” of Clarissa creates her central self that is Mrs. Dalloway. It ironic that the novel begins with Mrs. Dalloway “ MRS. DALLOWAY SAID she would buy the flowers herself” (Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway 3) and ends with Clarissa, ”It is Clarissa, he said..” (Woolf 190) because her life starts off as the single self of Clarissa and develops into a unified collections of selves, as Mrs. Dalloway. One “self” cannot be complete without the “other” ,which is also evident within another novel by Virginia Woolf, called The Waves.

There is a character in this novel, which goes by the name of Bernard who also struggles with his identity. Woolf creates five other characters that are all a part of Bernard as a way to complete his “self“. Just as Mrs. Dalloway is the central self of each version that Clarissa creates, Bernard plays the same role in The Waves. The novel introduces these “other” characters as friends of Bernard but in actuality they are other versions of his own self. He has created them within his thoughts as a validation to who is truly is. In his mind they are all so strong that they continue to exist throughout his life. They would not be able to “exist” without him and he wouldn’t be able to “completely” exist without them. As the novel develops each version of Bernard dies and he begins to feel that he cannot function or exist without a self. So can a self exist without many different forms or versions? Would Clarissa be able to be just that?

Bernard expresses his feelings toward the end of the novel when everyone is dead. He questions his existence and describes himself as “ A man without a self.”….”How can I proceed now, I said, without a self, weightless and visionless, through a world weightless, without illusions?”(Woolf, The Waves 285) These “other” characters in the novel were illusions created by Bernard, but because he continued to believe that they were real, they became reality in his life. He creates a narcissistic self, in which the life he exists in is all about him. When they died he felt as though life no longer existed. As Clarissa throws her parties to validate who she is, Bernard creates the others in order to validate that his life exists. They are a unity of one mind. Bernard soon realizes the connection between each version and that he is the central self of them all.

“ ‘Who am I?’ I have been talking of Bernard, Neville, Jinny, Susan, Rhoda and Louis. Am I all of them? Am I one and distinct? I do not know. We sat here together. But now Percival is dead, and Rhoda is dead; we are divided; we are not here. Yet I cannot find any obstacle separating us. There is no division between me and them. As I talked I felt, ‘I am you.’ This difference we make so much of, this identity we so feverishly cherish, was overcome”……”Here on my brow is the blow I got when Percival fell. Here on the nape of my neck is the kiss Jinny gave Louis. My eyes fill with Susan’s tears. I see far away, quivering like a gold thread, the pillar Rhoda saw, and feel the rush of the wind of her flight when she leapt.”…..I try to escape-shadows of people one might have been; unborn selves.” (Woolf 288–289)

Once Bernard comes to terms with himself and realizes that the “others” were different

versions of him, he feels like all there is left to do is die. He cannot exist or be “self”

without the “others”. Bernard goes through the same circumstances as Clarissa does in Mrs. Dalloway. The realization becomes visible that one cannot exist on their own. There has to be a cohesiveness that exist between each form of self to create or make someone complete in their life.

Another one of Virginia Woolf’s novels in which the self is questioned is within Orlando. Woolf creates Orlando as a representation of her female love interest, Vita Sackville West. Orlando struggles with the question of self throughout the novel, in regards to gender. The novel begins with Orlando as gender male but soon is transformed into the gender of female. This transformation alters many aspects of Orlando previous self, but the former self continues to exist within the mind of the self that has now been created. This is similar to Mrs. Dalloway in the fact that Clarissa continues to exist within the thoughts of Mrs. Dalloway, even though Richard has changed Clarissa’s self into that of another. Though Orlando’s gender has changed, her soul stays the same always. “No one showed an instant’s suspicion that Orlando was not the Orlando they had known. If any doubt there was in the human mind the action of the deer and the dogs would have been enough to dispel it, for the dumb creatures, as is well known, are far better judges both of identity and character than we are.”( Orlando 126) As the novel continues through many centuries, Orlando develops a sense of comfort within the gender self that is female. Her illusions are changing as new ones are created. “I am growing up,” she thought, taking her taper. “I am losing my illusions, perhaps to acquire new ones, “and she paced down the long gallery to her bedroom. It was a disagreeable process, and a troublesome. But it was interesting, amazingly, she thought, stretching her legs out to her log fire(for no sailor was present), and she reviewed, as if it were an avenue of great edifices, the progress of her own self along her own past. (Orlando 129) Orlando realizes in herself that although her gender may have changed and her life had been altered that her central or true self still remained within her and that it had not change and would remain this way. Her outer self and her inner self combined to create a unified self.

“She had been working at it for close on three hundred years now. It was time to make an end. And so she began turning and dipping and reading and skipping and thinking as she read how very little she had changed all these years.. She had been a gloomy boy, in love with death, as boys are; and then she had been amorous and florid; and then she had been sprightly and satirical; and sometimes she had tried prose and sometimes she had tried the drams. Yet through all these changes she had remained, she reflected, fundamentally the same. She had the same brooding meditative temper, the same love of animals and nature, the same passion for the country and the seasons.” (Orlando 173)

Just as Clarissa ultimately discovers and excepts her life as Mrs. Dalloway, and Bernard comes to the realization that his self and the others are in the same one person, Orlando discovers that throughout her life as both the gender self of male and female she performed different roles but all combined have made her who she is. She has discovered the true version of herself.

The Narrator in Orlando speaks about the self and how there can be more than one self, depending on what is presented, in terms of experience or different people. When one self is not needed or not wanted another may be useful. “Come, come! I’m sick to death of this particular self. I want another. Hence, the astonishing changes we see in our friends. But it is not altogether plain sailing, either, for though one may say, as Orlando said (being out in the country and needing another self presumably)….these selves of which we are built up, one on top of another….call them what you will (and for many of these things there is no name) so that one will only come if it is raining, another in a room with green curtains, another when Mrs. Jones is not there, another if you can promise it a glass of wine-and so on; for everybody can multiply from his own experience the different terms which his different selves have made him…” (Orlando 225–226) The self can therefore exist as many different version or as many different forms of self. It is not possible to exist as “self” without “other. Orlando has many selves to call up and had many selves who once existed that ultimately formed who Orlando now is. “For she had a great variety of selves to call upon, far more than we have been able to find room for, since a biography is considered complete if it merely accounts for six or seven selves, whereas a person may well have as many thousand…..all these selves were different and she may have called upon any one of them.” (Orlando 226) Also within the many selves lies the one self that is central and pulls everything together, as existed within the novels of Mrs. Dalloway and The Waves. The speaker in Orlando continues to speak about the self in regards to the “true-self” the leader of them all.

Perhaps; but what appeared certain (for we are now in the region of ‘perhaps’ and ‘appears’) was that the one she needed most kept aloof, for she was, to hear her talk, changing her selves as quickly as she drove-there was a new one at every corner-as

happens, when for some unaccountable reason, the desire, wishes to be nothing but one self. This is what some people call the true self, and it is, they say, compact of all the

selves we have it in us to be; commanded and locked up by the Captain self, the Key self,

which amalgamates and controls them all.” (Orlando 227)

Throughout one’s life many selves will continue to exist, some may disappear or

become weak, as with the self of Clarissa, and new ones may develop and become stronger, as with the female self of Orlando, and the central self of Mrs. Dalloway, but within each person, there will continue to be an existence of that “central self” that keeps them all together and unified.

Works Cited

Apter, T.E. Virginia Woolf A Study of Her Novels. New York: New York University Press, 1979.

Davis, Robert Con and Ronald Schleifer. Contemporary Literary Criticism. New York: Longman, 1998.

Forbes, Shannon. “Equating Performance with Identity: The Failure of Clarissa Dalloway’s Victorian “Self” in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway.” The Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association (2005): 38–50.

McLaurin, Allen. “Virginia Woolf and Unanimism.” Jounal of Modern Literature (1981–1982): 115–122.

Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. Orlando: Harcourt, 1925.

— . Orlando.London: Harcourt, 1928.

— . The Waves. London: Harcourt, 1931.

I am so happy I get to share this essay with the public. I wrote it in 2011 while I was completing my Undergrad in English. I hope you enjoy it.


Rosa Rodia

Spring 2011

In Virginia Woolf’s novels there exists a common theme of the question of “self”

Her main characters continue to question whether they made the right decisions in life, and have they become the right person or form of their selves. These same characters struggle through the novels with different forms of self( and which one is their “true self”), if this even exists. People can possess many different forms of self, depending on what setting they are put into and what types of characters they are confronted with. The self can also develop different forms depending on what experiences one goes through, during their life. Teresa de Lauretis speaks about the process of experience in her essay titled, Semiotics and Experience, in which she explains that through the process of experience,

“One places oneself or is placed in social reality, and so perceives and comprehends as subjective (referring to, even originating in, oneself) those relations-material, economic, and interpersonal-which are in fact social and, in a larger perspective, historical. The process is continuous, its achievement unending or daily renewed. For each person, therefore, subjectivity is an ongoing construction, not a fixed point of departure or arrival from which one then interacts with the world. On the contrary, it is the effect of that interaction-which I call experience; and thus it is produced not by external ideas, values, or material causes, but by ones personal, subjective, engagement in the practices, discourses, and institutions that lend significance)values, meaning, and affect) to the events of the world.” (Schleifer, David 298)

It is all these forms, put together as one that creates who someone truly is, or what their

“true-self” really is. If this is all true, then one can question whether or not, within these different forms of “self” does a central self exists or need to exist in order to hold the other forms of self together?

In the novel, Mrs. Dalloway there exists a central character who goes by the first name of Clarissa. However most of the people around her, throughout her single day view her and know her to only be, Mrs. Dalloway. When Clarissa looks at herself, her reflection reveals itself to be Mrs. Dalloway, the women that she has become, but within her she is still Clarissa. The name she was given when she was born. This aspect of Clarissa brings up the concept of “self and other”. As Lacan states in Michael Warner’s essay titled, Feminism and Gender Studies “Language in general brings about forms of difference and norms of reciprocity and thus allows the subject the negativity with which to consider his or her identity in the role of another. Yet no absolute break with narcissistic identification has occurred, since the subject’s ability to do this continues to be regulated by the ego ideals.”(634) Within ourselves, there is an inner self which is stored within our mind and our body, that we hide from others and then there is an exterior self, which is one that we allow others to see. This is where the relationship between the self and other exists; the one that you share between the inner and outer self and the one that exist between you and other people. In Clarissa’s case I believe that she possess many different forms of “self” in which she has acquired throughout her life and depending on what setting she puts herself into or what characters have summoned her or have become a part of her life, is the determinate of which one she allows herself to reveal.

Within the novel Mrs. Dalloway, Clarissa is presented to the reader as many different versions, as in the name, what she is called and the person whom she acts as. Throughout the novel she acts as her original self, which is Clarissa; as well as Clarissa Dalloway, Mrs. Dalloway, and Mrs. Richard Dalloway. It is when the self of another human being, that of Richard Dalloway is added to her life, that all these other forms of Clarissa start to exist. The novel gives the main character different names, and although the novel starts with the name Mrs. Dalloway, her life begins with the name Clarissa. When Mrs. Dalloway is thinking about her past it is about the life that existed when all she was known to be was Clarissa, who exists mostly within her thoughts rather than in her reality. This form of herself, was care free, liked to have fun and was vibrant and energetic. She was not pressured by another or her outside world of society to be someone other then Clarissa. It is evident in the novel, that although Clarissa may thrive upon the superficiality and frictions of society, it is when she is in solitude that she sinks into a state of consciousness which is the basis for the meaning that she cannot discover in any other aspect of her life. ( Apter 63) It is when she is in this state that this form of herself is visible to the reader, as well as strong within her mind. It seems as if she desires to go back, but when she tries to please others her original self is masked by the desires and needs of them and cannot perform the role of Clarissa when she is within the society that her reality exists in.

“She will not say herself “I am this, I am that” either, yet she longs to look into the mirror and see herself as unified, coherent, as “Clarissa Dalloway; of herself”. When she looks in the mirror, however, she can only see herself as parts together”. She “tried to be the same always, never showing a sign of all the other sides of her”, but she can only attempt to convey this self to others through performing a role. The role of the perfect hostess is to serve as a substitute for what she refers to as her “incompatible” self so that

“she alone”, she says, may acknowledge her split self and may instead project to the outside world the image of one who possesses the much-coveted, Victorian conception of the self.” (Forbes 40) Clarissa’s role as hostess becomes a sociological and ideological aspect of herself. She puts herself in this role in order to impress and fit in with the others around her, who became a part of her life when she married Richard Dalloway. She also performs the hostess role as a way to feed her ego and feel as if she has become the person that has developed into Richard’s wife.

Clarissa struggles with both the fact that she does not possess a cohesive self and that she finds herself forced to deal with the unhappy aspects of the life that she chose when she became the wife of Richard Dalloway. (41)

In becoming this other person her name transformed from Clarissa to Clarissa Dalloway. When she married Richard, she gained a last name and a life that she had always desired. The last name that is given to the main female character of the novel is that of, Mrs. Richard Dalloway. As Clarissa transitions between each name or self it is when she is referred to or read as Mrs. Richard Dalloway that her original form is lost. The name Clarissa is not even seen within it this last form. The Mrs., symbolizes that she is female but the rest of it is that of her husband. It is as if he has taken over who she originally was. By adding on the life of his own, Clarissa as a self becomes weakened. However Clarissa chooses this role because it is the only version that would be socially accepted, she chooses Richard because of that. She is also aware that she has what she has because of him. “Moments like this are buds on the tree of life, flowers of darkness they are, she thought (as if some lovely rose had blossomed for her eyes only); not for a moment did she believe in God; but all the more, she thought, taking up the pad, one must repay in daily life to servants, yes, to dogs and canaries, above all to Richard her husband, who was the foundation of it…” (Woolf, page. 28–29) Richard has wealth and security and with him she can create a form of self on the outside, which would force her original self to stay within her thoughts.

Although she was still Clarissa she had the added influence of the life of another. As a result her new name changed her original self into another form. The pressures and expectations, in a way forced her to put the single self of Clarissa, the self that was spontaneous outspoken and sexy aside in order to become Clarissa Dalloway, the wife of Richard Dalloway. In an essay titled, Psychology and Psychoanalysis, Laura Mulvey speaks about this issue as she compares two films which open with women being the object of the combined gaze of spectator.

“She is isolated glamorous, on display, sexualized. But as the narrative progresses she falls in love with the main male protagonist and becomes his property, losing her outward glamorous characteristics, her generalized sexuality her show-girl connotations; her eroticism is subjected to the male start alone. By means of identification with him, through participation in his power, the spectator can indirectly possess her too.”

(Schleifer, David 453)

Clarissa loses her “self” to the image that being with Richard Dalloway creates for her. As Mulvey states about the women falling in love with the main male, Clarissa does this and in doing so becomes his property. She begins to identify herself with him instead of with herself. Almost as though it is not good enough for the life she now possesses. In another essay by Laura Mulvey titled, Visual Pleasure and

Narrative Cinema, she states,

“In contrast to woman as icon, the active male figure (the ego ideal of the identification process) demands a three dimensional space corresponding to that of the mirror recognition, in which the alienated subject internalized his own representation of his own imaginary existence.” (Schleifer, David 452)

Clarissa Dalloway is the one that internalizes her own representation of her own imaginary existence. She pretends to be something she is not and is not aware of herself until she looks into the mirror and daydreams about her past existence.

“She had just broken into her fifty second year. Months and months of it were still untouched. June, July, August! Each still remained almost whole, and as if to catch the falling drop, Clarissa (crossing to the dressing table) plunged into the very heart of the moment, transfixed it, there — the moment of this June morning on which was the pressure of all the other morning, seeing the glass, the dressing table, and all the bottles afresh, collecting the whole of her at one point (as she looked into the glass), seeing the delicate pink face of the woman who was that very night to give a party, of Clarissa Dalloway; of herself.” ( Mrs. Dalloway 36)

Clarissa does not spend much time thinking about herself, instead she thinks about what others may think of her.

“How many million times had she seen her face, and always with the same imperceptible contraction! She pursed her lips when she looked into the glass. It was to give her face point. That was herself — pointed; dark like; definite. That was herself when

some effort, some call on her to be herself, drew the parts together, she alone knew how

different, how incompatible and composed so for the world only into one centre, one diamond, one woman who sat in her drawing room and made a meeting point, a radiance no doubt in some dull lives, a refuge for lonely to come to….” (Mrs. Dalloway 36)

When Clarissa is seeing herself in this moment of the novel I don’t think she is seeing Clarissa I think she is seeing “Mrs. Dalloway”. This is who Clarissa is when she is socializing with others. It is also the title of the novel, which gives it the role of being the “central self” or the center of all the others forms. This name symbolizes a married woman, who holds her husband’s last name. It would not be able to exist without him. She lets that name define who she is. Clarissa is absolutely defined in terms of the role she has chosen to perform. The title of the novel is a curious one. Clarissa is introduced as “Mrs. Dalloway” a name closely signifying her chosen role. A different title-”Clarissa’s Party,” “Clarissa Dalloway,” or even “Clarissa”- would suggest that her identity comprises more than this role and that her identity is not contained exclusively within this role, but the title indicates what Clarissa’s stream of conscious articulates. (Forbes 39)

“This she held herself well was true; and had nice hands and feet; and dressed well, considering that she spent little. But often now this body she wore) she stopped to look at a Dutch picture), this body, with all its capacities, seemed nothing at all. She had the oddest sense of being herself invisible, unseen; unknown; there being no more marrying, no more having of children now, but only this astonishing and rather solemn progress with the rest of them, up Bond Street, this being Mrs. Dalloway; not even Clarissa anymore; this being Mrs. Richard Dalloway.” (Mrs. Dalloway 10)

Clarissa struggles with each of these versions of self through a single day, while getting ready for her party. Clarissa throws these parties as a way to validate that she can exist as Mrs. Dalloway, Richard’s wife, but at the same time she still struggles with her past, so it is as if while trying to be this certain self for others she does not know who to be for herself. Parties are absolutely essential to Clarissa’s sense that she has any self at all. Moreover Clarissa attempts to convince herself that she has a unified, ordered, and stable self because she gives parties.(Forbes, page 43–44)

Although Clarissa seems to have many different forms of self she would not be who she is without each of them, especially that of Mrs. Dalloway.

This brings me to the central self, who not only brings all forms of self together as a whole, but also brings people together in one space. When I think of the central self, it is the version that is Mrs. Dalloway that acts as this. She is the one that creates the parties and brings everyone from her society together within these parties. All these forms or “versions” of Clarissa creates her central self that is Mrs. Dalloway. It ironic that the novel begins with Mrs. Dalloway “ MRS. DALLOWAY SAID she would buy the flowers herself” (Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway 3) and ends with Clarissa, ”It is Clarissa, he said..” (Woolf 190) because her life starts off as the single self of Clarissa and develops into a unified collections of selves, as Mrs. Dalloway. One “self” cannot be complete without the “other” ,which is also evident within another novel by Virginia Woolf, called The Waves.

There is a character in this novel, which goes by the name of Bernard who also struggles with his identity. Woolf creates five other characters that are all a part of Bernard as a way to complete his “self“. Just as Mrs. Dalloway is the central self of each version that Clarissa creates, Bernard plays the same role in The Waves. The novel introduces these “other” characters as friends of Bernard but in actuality they are other versions of his own self. He has created them within his thoughts as a validation to who is truly is. In his mind they are all so strong that they continue to exist throughout his life. They would not be able to “exist” without him and he wouldn’t be able to “completely” exist without them. As the novel develops each version of Bernard dies and he begins to feel that he cannot function or exist without a self. So can a self exist without many different forms or versions? Would Clarissa be able to be just that?

Bernard expresses his feelings toward the end of the novel when everyone is dead. He questions his existence and describes himself as “ A man without a self.”….”How can I proceed now, I said, without a self, weightless and visionless, through a world weightless, without illusions?”(Woolf, The Waves 285) These “other” characters in the novel were illusions created by Bernard, but because he continued to believe that they were real, they became reality in his life. He creates a narcissistic self, in which the life he exists in is all about him. When they died he felt as though life no longer existed. As Clarissa throws her parties to validate who she is, Bernard creates the others in order to validate that his life exists. They are a unity of one mind. Bernard soon realizes the connection between each version and that he is the central self of them all.

“ ‘Who am I?’ I have been talking of Bernard, Neville, Jinny, Susan, Rhoda and Louis. Am I all of them? Am I one and distinct? I do not know. We sat here together. But now Percival is dead, and Rhoda is dead; we are divided; we are not here. Yet I cannot find any obstacle separating us. There is no division between me and them. As I talked I felt, ‘I am you.’ This difference we make so much of, this identity we so feverishly cherish, was overcome”……”Here on my brow is the blow I got when Percival fell. Here on the nape of my neck is the kiss Jinny gave Louis. My eyes fill with Susan’s tears. I see far away, quivering like a gold thread, the pillar Rhoda saw, and feel the rush of the wind of her flight when she leapt.”…..I try to escape-shadows of people one might have been; unborn selves.” (Woolf 288–289)

Once Bernard comes to terms with himself and realizes that the “others” were different

versions of him, he feels like all there is left to do is die. He cannot exist or be “self”

without the “others”. Bernard goes through the same circumstances as Clarissa does in Mrs. Dalloway. The realization becomes visible that one cannot exist on their own. There has to be a cohesiveness that exist between each form of self to create or make someone complete in their life.

Another one of Virginia Woolf’s novels in which the self is questioned is within Orlando. Woolf creates Orlando as a representation of her female love interest, Vita Sackville West. Orlando struggles with the question of self throughout the novel, in regards to gender. The novel begins with Orlando as gender male but soon is transformed into the gender of female. This transformation alters many aspects of Orlando previous self, but the former self continues to exist within the mind of the self that has now been created. This is similar to Mrs. Dalloway in the fact that Clarissa continues to exist within the thoughts of Mrs. Dalloway, even though Richard has changed Clarissa’s self into that of another. Though Orlando’s gender has changed, her soul stays the same always. “No one showed an instant’s suspicion that Orlando was not the Orlando they had known. If any doubt there was in the human mind the action of the deer and the dogs would have been enough to dispel it, for the dumb creatures, as is well known, are far better judges both of identity and character than we are.”( Orlando 126) As the novel continues through many centuries, Orlando develops a sense of comfort within the gender self that is female. Her illusions are changing as new ones are created. “I am growing up,” she thought, taking her taper. “I am losing my illusions, perhaps to acquire new ones, “and she paced down the long gallery to her bedroom. It was a disagreeable process, and a troublesome. But it was interesting, amazingly, she thought, stretching her legs out to her log fire(for no sailor was present), and she reviewed, as if it were an avenue of great edifices, the progress of her own self along her own past. (Orlando 129) Orlando realizes in herself that although her gender may have changed and her life had been altered that her central or true self still remained within her and that it had not change and would remain this way. Her outer self and her inner self combined to create a unified self.

“She had been working at it for close on three hundred years now. It was time to make an end. And so she began turning and dipping and reading and skipping and thinking as she read how very little she had changed all these years.. She had been a gloomy boy, in love with death, as boys are; and then she had been amorous and florid; and then she had been sprightly and satirical; and sometimes she had tried prose and sometimes she had tried the drams. Yet through all these changes she had remained, she reflected, fundamentally the same. She had the same brooding meditative temper, the same love of animals and nature, the same passion for the country and the seasons.” (Orlando 173)

Just as Clarissa ultimately discovers and excepts her life as Mrs. Dalloway, and Bernard comes to the realization that his self and the others are in the same one person, Orlando discovers that throughout her life as both the gender self of male and female she performed different roles but all combined have made her who she is. She has discovered the true version of herself.

The Narrator in Orlando speaks about the self and how there can be more than one self, depending on what is presented, in terms of experience or different people. When one self is not needed or not wanted another may be useful. “Come, come! I’m sick to death of this particular self. I want another. Hence, the astonishing changes we see in our friends. But it is not altogether plain sailing, either, for though one may say, as Orlando said (being out in the country and needing another self presumably)….these selves of which we are built up, one on top of another….call them what you will (and for many of these things there is no name) so that one will only come if it is raining, another in a room with green curtains, another when Mrs. Jones is not there, another if you can promise it a glass of wine-and so on; for everybody can multiply from his own experience the different terms which his different selves have made him…” (Orlando 225–226) The self can therefore exist as many different version or as many different forms of self. It is not possible to exist as “self” without “other. Orlando has many selves to call up and had many selves who once existed that ultimately formed who Orlando now is. “For she had a great variety of selves to call upon, far more than we have been able to find room for, since a biography is considered complete if it merely accounts for six or seven selves, whereas a person may well have as many thousand…..all these selves were different and she may have called upon any one of them.” (Orlando 226) Also within the many selves lies the one self that is central and pulls everything together, as existed within the novels of Mrs. Dalloway and The Waves. The speaker in Orlando continues to speak about the self in regards to the “true-self” the leader of them all.

Perhaps; but what appeared certain (for we are now in the region of ‘perhaps’ and ‘appears’) was that the one she needed most kept aloof, for she was, to hear her talk, changing her selves as quickly as she drove-there was a new one at every corner-as

happens, when for some unaccountable reason, the desire, wishes to be nothing but one self. This is what some people call the true self, and it is, they say, compact of all the

selves we have it in us to be; commanded and locked up by the Captain self, the Key self,

which amalgamates and controls them all.” (Orlando 227)

Throughout one’s life many selves will continue to exist, some may disappear or

become weak, as with the self of Clarissa, and new ones may develop and become stronger, as with the female self of Orlando, and the central self of Mrs. Dalloway, but within each person, there will continue to be an existence of that “central self” that keeps them all together and unified.

Works Cited

Apter, T.E. Virginia Woolf A Study of Her Novels. New York: New York University Press, 1979.

Davis, Robert Con and Ronald Schleifer. Contemporary Literary Criticism. New York: Longman, 1998.

Forbes, Shannon. “Equating Performance with Identity: The Failure of Clarissa Dalloway’s Victorian “Self” in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway.” The Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association (2005): 38–50.

McLaurin, Allen. “Virginia Woolf and Unanimism.” Jounal of Modern Literature (1981–1982): 115–122.

Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. Orlando: Harcourt, 1925.

— . Orlando.London: Harcourt, 1928.

— . The Waves. London: Harcourt, 1931.