The third decade of the twentieth century was a rather prosperous time for Great Britain. They had just defeated the First World War, and it seemed as though everything was as it should be. Without question, the roles of women vary significantly from what they are today. Back then, there was a set standard for how appropriate the thoughts and actions of women would be. These borders were not to be crossed. In the book Mrs.
Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, the role of the upper-class woman entails certain behaviours and activities that are of utmost necessity, and is the reason for Clarissa’s reserved behaviour, the choice to marry Richard Dalloway rather than the man of her passions, Peter Walsh, and of course for her homosexual desires for her childhood friend, Sally Seton. In 1923 in higher society, it was expected of women to carry out an everyday routine. Interestingly enough, Clarissa resents this position at one point.
There is the question of propriety evident when Peter Walsh interrupts Clarissa’s process of getting ready, and Clarissa hurries to keep Peter from seeing her dress, “like a virgin protecting chastity. ” In Clarissa’s opinion, seeing her mend this dress would prove to Peter what he respects least – her eagerness to conform and thrive in high class society, as if all that worries her is how perfect her dress will look. Nonetheless, since this is what Clarissa has chosen, it is indeed expected of her to be mending dresses and to be preparing for glamorous parties.
When Clarissa finds out that Richard would be having lunch with Lady Bruton, and she’s not invited, she feels somewhat disappointed. However, she notes that “no vulgar jealousy could separate her from Richard. ” The implication that jealousy could be vulgar indicates that to convey any strong feelings would be to act out of line. It would not be proper to imply any wrong-doing on the man’s part, seeing as a man had the image of infallibility. Since he earned all the money, made all the decisions, he had all the power and would therefore be always wise and correct.
He could not be responsible for such an infamous act as adultery by any stretch of the imagination. The amount of break-ups in history is enormous. Back in the twenties, however, completely different reasons existed for this. “She had the makings of a perfect hostess,” noted Peter at Bourton. The reason this had insulted Clarissa is the connotative meaning of hostess, as if the point of her whole life is merely to oversee the day-to-day duties of the household. Even more so, the truth of this phrase is what truly bothered Clarissa.
She had, in fact, married a conservative husband, in which the passion that would exist between her and Peter doesn’t exist with Richard. When Peter visits Clarissa in the morning, she remembers all the energy and “light-hearted[ness]”, and she notes regrettably that “if [she] had married him, this gaiety would have been [hers] all day! “. The problem for Clarissa in marrying Peter was always how he differed from her conservative Richard. “It was his silly unconventionality … that annoyed her, had always annoyed her… “.
Her relationship with Richard differs greatly, in that their relationship retains many inhibitions, “for in marriage a little license, a little independence there must be between people living together”. With Peter, it would be a relationship that was open and honest, sharing every thought. “But with peter everything had to be shared; everything gone into. ” These days, it may seem very logical to share every thought with one’s other half, but in the twenties, a marriage was not a partnership as much as it was an arrangement, since the man would always bring more to the relationship in terms of money and power.
Women were not allowed to work, vote, etc. , and therefore, it is of no surprise that when Richard had left in the morning to a meeting, she simply knew it was “some committee, she never asked what. ” Clarissa does not find it necessary to inquire of such seemingly pointless details. This distance, reservation is even noticed by others. At the party, Sir Harry notes that “he likes her; respected her, in spite of her damnable, difficult upper-class refinement”. There is also some alliteration in this phrase in the words “damnable, difficult” which is used for effect to convey to the readers that Mrs.
Dalloway is not some free spirit that can easily be unraveled; it is hard to get her to open up, have a conversation that is truly without inhibitions. This can be proven by the earlier quote, in which Clarissa clearly thinks that even between a husband and wife, two people living together, sleeping together for their entire lives must not share every single detail of their lives. Although they are a long way from being universally accepted, homosexual tendencies are much more common these days than they were in the early twentieth century. In Mrs. Dalloway, there is a clear attraction to Sally by Clarissa. … Her relation in the old days with Sally Seton. Had not that, after all, been love? ” This is further proven by the fact that they kissed. However, it does not indicate anywhere in the book the notion of these two women actually initiating some sort of lasting relationship as physical and emotional life partners.
It is as if this idea could not possibly exist, as if it is just some sort of fantasy. I notice that there are multiple mentions of the feelings Clarissa has for Sally (Clarissa again alludes to her love for Sally when she notes that “… nothing is so strange when one is in love … s the complete indifference of other people. “). Clarissa never mentions her embarrassment of her feelings, but she feels that this is all it could ever be, without any doubt! It is indisputable that the world today has greatly developed since that of the 1920s. The role of women in society has not only changed around the world, but especially in England, where there has always been the question of classes. In Mrs. Dalloway, this is evident through her reserved mannerisms, her rejection of true love, and her failure to take action when it comes to her homosexual cravings.