Inner Feeling Versus Outer Reality in Virgina Woolf

    Virgina Woolf is often noted for her mark on feminist writing and literary criticism. For this reason, I thought it would intriguing to examine a few of her female characters. Over time I began to notice a common thread between them. Many of the the women in Woolf's novels seem to face some inner turmoil in regards to inner feeling versus outer reality. Often times this goes hand in hand with the women putting on facades or some sort of public spectacle. Particularly, I noticed this in both Mrs. Dalloway and The New Dress.
    Mrs. Dalloway is a tale that follows a day in the life of the title character, Clarissa Dalloway, as she prepares for a party that is to be thrown that evening. The theme of the inner versus outer perspective is thread throughout the piece and is even featured in its opening lines which read, “how fresh, how calm, stiller than this of course, the air was in the early morning; like the flap of a wave; the kiss of a wave; chill and sharp and yet (for a girl of eighteen as she then was) solemn, feeling as she did, standing there at the open window, that something awful was about to happen.” This passage contrasts peaceful, beautiful outside appearance with internal distress. The juxtaposition of the two implies Clarissa is experiencing a feeling of discontent amongst a more general air of harmony. Again, this sense of being the odd man out or examining things from the outside in is echoed by Clarissa looking through the “open window”.
    From here the question is then raised if Clarissa is actually alone in this feeling as it would appear or if others are also experiencing the same kind of thing. The novel approaches this in two contrasting ways which provide equally contrasting answers. In one part, the novel focuses on those directly related to Clarissa's get together including her husband, Richard, former flame, Peter, and childhood crush, Sally. Peter is frequently showing musing over Clarissa and at one point thinks to himself:
    And of course she enjoyed life immensely. It was her nature to enjoy (though goodness only knows, she had her reserves; it was a mere sketch, he often felt, that         even he, after all these years, could make of Clarissa). Anyhow there was no bitterness in her; none of that sense of moral virtue which is so repulsive in good             women. She enjoyed practically everything. If you walked with her in Hyde Park now it was a bed of tulips, now a child in a perambulator, now some absurd little     drama she made up on the spur of the moment. (Very likely, she would have talked to those lovers, if she had thought them unhappy.) She had a sense of comedy         that was really exquisite, but she needed people, always people, to bring it out, with the inevitable result that she frittered her time away, lunching, dining, giving     these incessant parties of hers, talking nonsense, sayings things she didn't mean, blunting the edge of her mind, losing her discrimination.
In this passage Peter does not hesitate to assert that Clarissa is overjoyed with her life, almost in a over the top sense. He even goes to such extremes as to say things such as, “There was no bitterness in her,” and, “She enjoyed practically everything.” However, while the rest of  the novel leaves room for argument on how satisfied Clarissa is with her life, it is clear that there is at least some discontent. The approach of saying that everything in her life is going perfectly is flawed, yet serves its purpose. Here, significance can be found in the fact that this is told through Peter's perspective and that he is a party guest. This continues the connection between the parties that Clarissa throws as a facade of put together, happiness. Peter also commented on this in saying, “ She had a sense of comedy that was really exquisite, but she needed people, always people, to bring it out, with the inevitable result that she frittered her time away, lunching, dining, giving these incessant parties of hers.”
    The next aspect of the novel is a parallel storyline which centers around a character, Septimus, who suffers from PTSD. Septimus is followed through therapy and ultimately his suicide. However, the character does not have any close association with the party that Clarissa is throwing, besides briefly being the topic of gossip. When Clarissa hears of his story, she physically separates herself from the party and the following occurs:
    She went on, into the little room ... Perhaps there was somebody there. But there was nobody... There was nobody. The party's splendor fell to the floor, so              strange it was to come in alone in her finery.
    
    What business had the Bradshaws to talk of death at her party? A young man had killed himself. And they talked of it at her party--the Bradshaws, talked of death.     He had killed himself--but how? Always her body went through it first, when she was told, suddenly, of an accident; her dress flamed, her body burnt. He had              thrown himself from a window. Up had flashed the ground; through him, blundering, bruising, went the rusty spikes. There he lay with a thud, thud, thud in his         brain, and then a suffocation of blackness. So she saw it.
As the title of the novel is Mrs. Dalloway, it is initially curious that the story of Septimus is included as it is seemingly unrelated. In this part though, Clarissa seems to find a connection to him. She visually pictures herself as Septimus and draws on parallel feelings of aloneness. This is particularly intriguing as she leaves the party and is by herself as she reflects on this event. She even notes that, “The party's splendor fell to the floor,” as to completely separate the two worlds. Only in complete disconnect from the party is she able to experience and ponder on her melancholy inner thoughts.
    To examine this idea of inner feeling versus outer reality further, another one of Virginia Woolf's works, The New Dress can also be broken down. The book has many similarities to Mrs. Dalloway, and makes note of this connection by including Clarissa as a character. However, in this novel, it is a character, Mabel, who is battling these two concepts. The first parallel is the ominous opening sequence where her uneasiness is expressed which reads:
    Mabel had her first serious suspicion that something was wrong as she took her cloak off and Mrs. Barnet, while handing her the mirror and touching the brushes     and thus drawing her attention, perhaps rather markedly, to all the appliances for tidying and improving hair, complexion, clothes, which existed on the dressing     table, confirmed the suspicion — that it was not right, not quite right, which growing stronger as she went upstairs and springing at her, with conviction as she         greeted Clarissa Dalloway, she went straight to the far end of the room, to a shaded corner where a looking-glass hung and looked. No! It was not RIGHT. And at     once the misery which she always tried to hide, the profound dissatisfaction — the sense she had had, ever since she was a child, of being inferior to other people     — set upon her, relentlessly,     remorselessly, with an intensity which she could not beat off.
Similarity between the two stories continues as, like Clarissa, Mabel sees herself as an outsider in comparison to a more uplifted group of others. This expressed when it says, “But she could not see them like that, not other people. She saw herself like that — she was a fly, but the others were dragonflies, butterflies, beautiful insects, dancing, fluttering, skimming, while she alone dragged herself up out of the saucer.” The two are also connected in that the depicted outsiders, so to speak, do not see the inner turmoil that the central character faces. Just as Peter had in Mrs. Dalloway, Rose sees the dress which Mabel is distressed over to be more than fine. This is found in the text when it says, “'But, my dear, it’s perfectly charming!' Rose Shaw said, looking her up and down.”
    With the two texts being so alike it is easy to question why there is a need to read both texts. The pairing of the two, however, allows for a large statement to be made in The New Dress even though it is written in short story format. Together the novels depict several facades that women utilize to create a positive, seemingly happy outer reality despites inner depressive feelings. The women stick to their vices, Clarissa to her parties and Mabel to her clothing, to save face and give off the appearance that they are sticking to the status quo just fine.
    Before wrapping up the discussion of how inner emotion is pitted against outward reality, it must be looked at which of the two wins out. This is fittingly addressed in the final lines of Mrs. Dalloway. The passage, which is discussing Peter, reads, “What is this terror? what is this ecstasy? he thought to himself. What is it that fills me with extraordinary excitement?
    It is Clarissa, he said.”  These lines acknowledge both the bad and the good, the inner emotion and the outer happenings, the “terror” and the “ecstasy”. It concludes that both of these things are found within Clarissa and that these create a person who elicits, “extraordinary excitement.” In this case, it seems important that “ecstasy” is addressed last and seems to be a final nod to outer factors being most defining of a person. In The New Dress, this is addressed in the lines, “And one word of praise, one word of affection from Charles would have made all the difference to her at the moment. If he had only said, “Mabel, you’re looking charming to-night!” it would have changed her life.” Which makes the argument that through her clothes, or the parties in the case of Mrs. Dalloway, the women are brought into the positive outer reality. In this way, they become one with the outside other which they both initially muse on and bridge the battle between the two.
    The novel Mrs. Dalloway and the short story The New Dress by Virginia Woolf address through their lead female characters, Clarissa and Mabel respectively, the struggle between inside feeling and outside reality. The women find themselves questioning their feelings inwardly, yet take on external projects and objects to fit in with the seemingly at peace other world from which they feel separated. They ultimately find that they fit best in with the outside crowd through the approval of others. It is likely that Woolf thought this was a worthwhile topic to discuss as she was concerned with feminist agendas and this is still an idea that is commonly found amongst women in society.




                                                                    Works Cited
Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. eBooks @ Adelaide. 2006. <http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/woolf/virginia/w91md/>Web.
Woolf, Virginia. The New Dress. eBooks @ Adelaide. 2006.<http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/woolf/virginia/w91h/chapter7.html> Web.