Commentary on Reginald Abbott's What Miss Kilman's Petticoat Means: Virginia Woolf, Shopping, and Spectacle
MFS Modern Fiction Studies, Volume 38, Number 1, Spring 1992, pp. 193-216 (Article
In his critical essay concerning Virginia Woolf and the aspects of commodity culture, Reginald Abbott opens the reader’s eyes to underlying values of shopping and the influence of commodity exchange in Woolf’s work. Primarily discussing Mrs. Dalloway, Abbott depicts Woolf’s ability to subtly comment on the emergence of department stores in the England. By analyzing the distinction between upper and lower class influences on or from commodity, Abbot shows readers the way in which commodity varies between classes. While the Dalloway’s have a control over their spending habits, lower class individuals such as Miss Killman do not. They are inferior to the exchange of commodity.
Throughout the course of Abbott’s commentary, one notices his very specific attention to detail. Very small moments in Mrs. Dalloway illuminate the core of Abbott’s argument; therefore, he shows the reader the in-depth research he has done to support his argument. Small instances such as Rezia and Clarissa’s reactions to the queen, illuminate larger issues for the reader that may have gone unnoticed without Abbott’s description. Abbott should be praised for his ability to pull specific details from the text.
Similarly, Abbott should be praised for his application of the novel to external life contexts. Many critical articles seem to address the work in relation to itself rather than an outside source, but by including historical information such as the development of Oxford Street over time Abbott justifies his argument concerning the “boom” of commodity spectacle. Abbott says that in Woolf we see then tension and excitement of commodity spectacle without the blatancy of actual commodities” (209). Because Abbott includes historical developments to trace this notion, one can see the article as a more reliable piece of literature. In addition, Abbott also includes the insight of other scholars to help make the work seem more applicable and justified.
The only qualm I have with Abbott’s article is his inability to discuss the subject in common terms. Often times he uses scholarly terms that may have be substituted for a more approachable term. Similarly, at points, Abbott seems to get ‘bogged down’ in the meat of his subject. Not giving the reader enough credit to understand his argument leaves a lot of room for confusion when he adds too much detail. Also, many of his sentences are a little wordy and confusing. Although there are small qualms, the article as a whole offers a fresh view of Mrs. Dalloway. Having read the novel three times, I have heard the same interpretations over and over again, but this was a new way to approach the reading. Personally, I appreciated the article and would praise Abbot for his insight into how Mrs. Dalloway illuminates aspects of commodity exchange as a whole.