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Explore the Ways in Which Woolf Presents Hidden Anxieties in Mrs Dalloway

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In the early twentieth century, the main purpose for a woman was child-bearing; thus. when the menopause – or “little death” – came upon them it was to be “feared as much as insanity” (Elaine Showalter). With this mindset it easy to comprehend why Mrs Dalloway feels as if she is “nothing at all… invisible” as she makes “solemn progress, with the rest of them”. This excerpt suggests a wave of ageing with the implied, inevitability of ageing. Furthermore, she feels that she is incapable of “even being Clarissa anymore” as “Clarissa” suggests youth and as this has faded from her she is now only “Mrs Dalloway” and nothing more. Ironically, however, she seems to admire the “skin of crumpled leather” which is adorned by “Lady Bexborough” in such a regal manner. This description seemingly juxtaposes her fear of ageing; it is, however, the way that Lady Bexborough “elegantly moved into menopause” that she truly admires. Therefore, her underlying fears of ageing are amplified through her inability to do so gracefully.

A crucial expression of the hidden anxieties embedded in Mrs Dalloway is through Woolf’s portrayal of Mrs Dalloway’s own fears of menopause and ageing – which has been exacerbated by her illness leaving her hair “as pale as snow”. This link between illness and menopause, in the twentieth century, was quite common as many viewed the menopause as an illness in itself. The illness which has turned her hair white and left her a kind of nun is a metaphor for the loss of fertility, for the “unnameable ‘women’s ailments’ of her generation” (Elaine Showalter). The effect of her illness is also reinforced by the colour of women’s attire in the novel which is almost always green as if the menopause is “a kind of leafing or natural exfoliation of the female body” (Elaine Showalter) which implies a new life to be lived following the event but Clarissa sees it is the end of her youth and her inevitable creeping closer to death. Almost in an attempt to emphasise the age of Mrs Dalloway her daughter, Elizabeth, is “like a hyacinth, sheathed in glossy green”, unlike her mother who adorns upon herself “old sea-green broaches” highlighting the age gap between the two. Furthering the idea of the menopause being portrayed as a disease is the reaction of doctors at the time who “warned that a menopausal woman’s melancholia could lead her to kill herself” (Elaine Showalter).

Mrs Dalloway has come to her menopause and the description of her bed as “narrow” evokes tomb-like imagery which links to her illness and how she near death and also highlights her view that her prospects have lessened as a result of this development. She no longer sleeps in the same bedroom as her husband, Richard Dalloway. Implying that the sexual life between the two has come to an end and she no longer expects the pleasures of sexual love. To a certain degree, Mrs Dalloway’s lack of sexual desire reflected the change of people’s attitude after the war. This also shows the psychological anxiety World War I brought to people. When one regards Mrs Dalloway as a woman in menopause, her connection with Septimus is more obvious. At first, Woolf had planned for Mrs Dalloway to commit suicide or die at the end of the party. Therefore, in Woolf’s original design, Mrs Dalloway was a very depressed woman with much pent-up anxiety and this basis will have carried across to her finished product. Mrs Dalloway was so sensitive to the pain behind the mask of happy atmosphere that she no longer had sexual desire. Both Septimus and Mrs Dalloway have anxiety about both conventional sex and marriage which highlights the potentially homoerotic emotions of the two.

Another example of hidden anxieties is the exploration of the homosexual undertones which run through Mrs Dalloway. This theme is most apparent between Clarissa Dalloway and Sally Seaton but also feature between Septimus Smith and “his officer, Evans”. An object which holds particular significance in the discussion of Lesbianism in Mrs Dalloway is flowers. As Woolf was surely aware, there has always been a long-standing feminine association with flowers. According to the older generation – Aunt Helena – treating flowers in the way that Sally does implies some corruption of femininity. Perhaps this is a comment on the conservative views toward female homosexuality; the fact that the flowers she picked “had never been seen together” shows her outlandish nature and reminds the reader of her rouge element in the “French blood in her veins” and her refusal to conform to tradition. In addition, Clarissa describes her feeling for Sally as being like “a match that burns in a crocus” and when the two share their kiss “Sally stopped; picked a flower and kissed her on the lips” shows the way in which the flower represent sexuality and love. This revelation of her deep feelings and their attributions to nature shows the passionate love that she felt for Sally. The homosexuality in Septimus’ case



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