Mrs. Dalloway is not Pessimistic But Universal Novel

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      Our first attempt is to examine on what grounds Mrs. Dalloway is a pessimistic novel. The first reading of the novel presents it as containing gloominess, sorrow and sadness. Joan Bennet seems right in pointing out, “The subject of the book no longer appears to be the life story of Clarissa Dalloway, nor of Septimus Warren Smith, but human life itself, its tension between misery and happiness and its inevitable consummation in death. From this point of view, the fabric of the book is spun between the lines

“Fear no more the heat of the sun
Nor the furious winter’s rages.”
“If it were now to die
“Twere now to be most happy.”

      Lines from Shakespeare which are woven into Clarissa’s reflections or those of Septimus unobtrusively, but which evoke their own poetic context and associations. Joan has further said that in Woolf’s novel there is a poetic pattern but on this poetic level there are only love, death and the fast-fading beauty of the world.

      Inspite of this dominance of sorry and gloom and the treatment of isolation, the novel of Mrs. Virginia Woolf does not produce a distressing and depressing effect. A critic Jean Guignet has observed the real effect of her novels: “True the themes of loneliness, of the impossibility of knowing other people or communicating with them, of the futility, frustration and renunciation inherent in existence recur constantly. Nevertheless, the obsessive burden they lay on human beings is lightened, and even vanishes completely at certain privileged moments filled solely with the miracle of life. These perfect moments, as Sartre would say, these moments of vision, to use Virginia Woolf’s own term, left Clarissa, Peter even Septimus, even Richard Dalloway on to the crest of a wave from which everything is made clear and orderly. At such moments, fugitive though they be, life becomes an exciting adventure whose poetry is overwhelming. They make us cling to life in spite of all its bitterness and all its frustrations. Even Septimus, poised on the window-ledge, “did not want to die. Life was good.” And certain people carry within them a sort of power that renders them sensitive to the beauty of life and at the same time makes them mediums through whom other people are sensitized in their turn. Clarissa is one of these, despite her faults, her failing and her lapses. This power is as nameless as it is indefinable. It can be summed up in a single word ‘being’. We recognize here one of the leading ideas of Night and Day; however, it is not merely asserted, it is embodied in the central character. The final sentence of the novel: “For there she was” does not only assert Clarissa’s material presence, it sums up her very presentness as defined by Peter Walsh:

      “...that extraordinary gift, that woman’s gift, of making a world of her own wherever she happened to be. She came into a room, she stood, as he had often seen her, in a doorway with lots of people around her. But it was Clarissa one remembered. Not that she was striking; not beautiful at all; there was nothing picturesque about her, she never said anything specially clever; there she was, however, there she was.

      Finally, every individual, even those most utterly despised and rejected by existence, the Rezia’s and Ellire Hendersons or the old beggar woman singing by the underground station, have one ultimate resource against despair and defeat; memory. The aura of happiness which, throughout the book, surrounds the manifold returns to the past counteracts the pessimism that pervades the present. Life relieved glows with delusive happiness; it is our escape, our victory, over time and space—and perhaps oyer death.”

      But Jean Guiquet also says that though Virginia Woolf does not express a pessimistic view of life, it would be unjustified to think that she draws any optimistic conclusion. Therefore her answers to the problems appear to be inadequate but it can not be said a fault. Joan Bennet has protected Mrs. Woolf’s depiction of life and its problems: “It is the nature of the artist to contemplate and recreate the human scene, not endeavor to change it. She is endowed with what Keats calls “negative capability” without any irritable reaching after fact and reason ....with a great poet the sense of beauty overcomes every other consideration. Virginia Woolf ranks among the series of these poets whom Keats admires, who have no palpable design upon us.”

      Virginia Woolf’s feeling is like Keatsian. She feels sometimes that “there is no worthy pursuit but the idea of doing some good for the world—some do it with their society—some with their wit-some with their benevolence—some with a sort of power of conferring good humor on all they meet and in a thousand ways all equally dutiful to the command of Great Nature.

      It is the inadequacy of the solution that grants a definite human appeal to Mrs. Dalloway. Mrs. Dalloway is probably most universally human. It owes its permanent hold on the public. It achieves a compromise between essentially ‘‘Woolfian” qualities and the traditional need of the novel.

University Questions

Mrs. Dalloway is not a pessimistic novel but the most universally human novels”. Discuss

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