This blog is a combination of information compiled as an element of a seminar course revolving around Virginia Woolf.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Mrs. Dalloway and Religion

As this is my second time reading Mrs. Dalloway, I made a conscious effort to locate specific details I had not noticed while previously reading the novel. Although many new thoughts and ideas emerged, one instance in particular constantly revealed itself. The presence of religious undertones seemed to be an impending force within the work. Although subtle, the inclusion of religious references does add an ironic twist to the already chaotic nature of the novel. In a way, I think Woolf presents challenges to the beliefs and ideals of the Christian doctrine through the character of Septimus. Through this comparison, she is able to desensitize the reader’s emotions to the idea of spirituality, and heighten their emotions to the idea of reality. In an essence, the comparison of Septimus to Jesus and the inclusion of additional religious references such as the voice of an omniscient narrator and homosexual encounters work as literary techniques designed to eradicate extraneous influences other than one’s own personal self. The self as the ultimate source of satisfaction is a theme that emerges when thinking of Mrs. Dalloway and its religious implications.

My first thoughts concerning Christianity came to life when Woolf describes Septimus as ‘the most exalted of mankind’ and ‘lord who has gone from life to death’ (94).These descriptions are ironic within the text because they are presented in a moment during which Septimus seems to be going through a bout of insanity. The narrator’s lines describing Septimus present his character as enlightened through the use of words such as lord, exalted, poet, and victim because they serve to emphasize the other character’s inability to understand Septimus. He is different than others and while he is not seen within the work as the superior by the other characters, the description highlights his superiority over the other characters to the reader. Like Jesus, the leader of the Christian doctrine, Septimus is removed from society and feels as if human nature has ultimately led to his downfall. The narrator states,” He had committed an appalling crime and had been sentenced to death by human nature” (94). Human nature condemns Jesus through whipping and crucifixion on the cross while human nature condemns Septimus by judging and condemning his actions as different and somewhat mental. No person seems to realize Septimus’ true feelings and the depth to which his soul reaches. Like Jesus, Septimus eventually dies as a result of human nature. He has to escape the confines of Dr. Holmes and is making a dramatic approach to the windowsill as Jesus made a dramatic march with the cross while being tormented and taunted to his crucifixion. Although this small comparison of Jesus and Septimus is not enough to say that Christianity is completely mocked in Mrs. Dalloway, the realization of this parallel contributes to one’s thoughts concerning Septimus’ suicide. It helps the reader understand Clarissa’s willingness to accept the suicide.

Aside from the comparison of Septimus and Jesus, there is an omni-present and all-knowing narrative voice within the work. The narrator seems to be inside not only Mrs. Dalloway’s head, but also inside every other character’s mind included within the novel. This all-knowing narrator is much like an all-knowing God in which the Christian religion believes. Through the use of an all-knowing narrator, this novel destroys the established Christian belief that God is the centralized controller of the universe because the characters have the ability to think and act upon their own accord. The narrator does not control them. Septimus flings himself out of a window, Clarissa fantasizes over a woman, and the upper tier of society judges and torments to the point of ripping different characters mentality into separate pieces. If God were an all-powerful and mighty God then he would not allow these actions to happen; therefore, Mrs. Dalloway undermines religion by displaying characters who act out against established moral actions.

The last reference degrading the Christian religion seems to be Clarissa’s homosexual tendencies regarding Sally Seton. Although she does seem to reminisce regarding her relationship with Peter, Clarissa describes that the most exquisite moment of her life was when Sally kissed her at a young age (35). Sally has a greater influence on Clarissa than any other character. Their homosexual tendencies may serve to demonstrate the breaking barriers of religion by showing that true happiness can result from an activity that is condemned by the Christian religion. Happiness for Clarissa and Septimus seems to come in spurts during moments when they are remembering Evans and Sally.

Overall these ideas may be a little far-fetched, but I thought the presence of religious overtones was significant within the novel so I wanted to bring a few of my ideas regarding the subject to the attention of other readers. Overall I think Woolf has a great deal to say about the Christian doctrine and Mrs. Dalloway may be her first attempt to break down religious beliefs.

1 comment:

  1. Hi,
    I'm writing an article about Mrs. Dalloway and hints of Woolf's agnosticism present throughout, and your post made some great comments about Septimus that I didn't see before.
    Is it all right if I reference you?