IRJE: Mrs. Dalloway

In Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, Clarissa Dalloway is living in a post-WW1 society. This novel lets us peer into the life of an aristocratic woman in the 1920s, by  showing us a day in her life. While Clarissa is enjoying an early morning walk in London, she reminisces about her younger self, and her past friendships. Peter Walsh, who’s proposal was later rejected by Clarissa, shared very surprising insights regarding societal standards, pressure, and conformity. In this following passage, Clarissa recollects a conversation between herself and  Peter.

How he scolded her! How they argued! She would marry a Prime Minister and stand at the top of a staircase; the perfect hostess he called her (she had cried over it in her bedroom), she had the makings of the perfect hostess, he said. (p. 6)

When I began reading Mrs  Dalloway, I wasn’t sure what  to expect. I was aware of Virginia Woolf’s feminist undertones in literature, which is why I was originally intrigued. However, I was also skeptical, because it was written in a much different time, with significantly different societal values, beliefs and stereotypes. I was anticipating defined gender roles, that entailed a working husband who provided for a family, and a wife who stayed at home and  supported the husband in doing so. What I didn’t anticipate, however, was a man such as Peter Walsh, being critical of Clarissa’s conformity to those aforementioned gender roles. I was pleasantly surprised that in a piece of literature written so long ago, the man has ideals supporting feminism. Peter was using that typical housewife/hostess stereotype as an insult, because he thought she could do better, and be better. Although using these attributes in a derogatory way isn’t necessarily a morally sound or acceptable thing to do, it’s refreshing that he recognizes the flaws of their sexist society.