Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights share similarities in many aspects, perhaps most plainly seen in the plots: just as Clarissa marries Richard rather than Peter Walsh in order to secure a comfortable life for herself, Catherine chooses Edgar Linton over Heathcliff in an attempt to wrest both herself and Heathcliff from the squalid lifestyle of Wuthering Heights. However, these two novels also overlap in thematic elements in that both are concerned with the opposing forces of civilization or order and chaos or madness. The recurring image of the house is an important symbol used to illustrate both authors’ order versus chaos themes. Though Woolf and Bronte use the house as a symbol in very different ways, the existing similarities create striking resonances between the two novels at certain critical scenes.
In Mrs. Dalloway, Clarissa Dalloway undergoes an internal struggle between her love for society and life and a combined affinity for and fear of death. Her practical marriage to Richard serves its purpose of providing her with an involved social life of gatherings and parties that others may find frivolous but Clarissa sees as “an offering” to the life she loves so well. Throughout the novel she grapples with the prospect of growing old and approaching death, which after the joys of her life seems “unbelievable… that it must end; and no one in the whole world would know how she had loved it all; how, every instant…” At the same time, she is drawn to the very idea of dying, a theme which is most obviously exposed through her reaction to the news of Septimus Smith’s suicide. However, this crucial scene r...
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...ng the juxtaposition of order and chaos. The roles that the houses of both stories play in this theme bring to light interesting similarities between the characters and thematic elements as well as revealing differences. Both Woolf and Bronte use the open window as a symbol for the opportunity to see beyond the physical, the ordered, into something less controllable by civilization. However, Catherine seems to be trapped in an unnatural and dangerous cycle of passion and madness that only dissipates after Heathcliff’s death, whereas Clarissa continues with life in society despite her attraction to death and to Septimus. The resonances between the window scenes of these two novels, though simultaneously similar and disparate, shed light on the nature of Clarissa’s and Catherine’s characters as well as on the two authors’ use of the civilization versus wildness theme.
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