Female Relationships in Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway

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Female Relationships in Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway

Clarissa Dalloway, the central character in Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, is a complex figure whose relations with other women reveal as much about her personality as do her own musings. By focusing at length on several characters, all of whom are in some way connected to Clarissa, Woolf expertly portrays the ways females interact: sometimes drawing upon one another for things which they cannot get from men; other times, turning on each other out of jealousy and insecurity.

Clarissa interacts with women in both of these ways. Her relationship with Sally Seton, for example, is quite positive. Once upon a time, in their youth, Clarissa admired the individualistic woman and was charmed by her wayward manners; furthermore, the physical experience she enjoys with Sally is something she never equals with a man. On the other hand, Clarissa's contempt of Ellie Henderson reflects her snobbish outlook on social classes, while her feelings toward Lady Bruton represent her inferiority complex. Finally, Mrs. Dalloway's borderline hatred of Miss Kilman stems from her possessive feelings for her own daughter, Elizabeth. Looking carefully at these relationships brings Clarissa's own identity into clearer focus.

The character of Sally Seton is one of the most influential in Mrs. Dalloway, a woman sure of herself and capable of affecting those around her in various ways. Her appearance at the end of the novel proves disappointing, because she has seemingly reneged on her past and conformed to a traditional female role; however, her effect on Clarissa in their younger years is not erased by this conformity.

The ways in which Sally affects Clarissa'...

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...al loathing brought about by mutual lack of self-esteem. Of course, Kilman's poor self-image is not explored until after Elizabeth walks out on her at the restaurant.

Clarissa's relationships with other females in Mrs. Dalloway offer great insight into her personality. Additionally, Woolf's decision to focus at length on Sally Seton, Millicent Bruton, Ellie Henderson, and Doris Kilman allows the reader to see how women relate to one another in extremely different ways: sometimes drawing upon one another for things they cannot get from men; other times, turning on one another out of jealousy and insecurity. Although Mrs. Dalloway is far from the most healthy or positive literary portrayal of women, Woolf presents an excellent exploration of female relationships.


Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1990.
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