Week 9e (14)

WE HAVE SO MUCH TO DISCUSS. This week, you are:

  • Mulling over your ideas for your thesis so you can finish this semester with a clear sense of your method, your plan, your purpose, your motive;
  • Finishing Mrs. Dalloway, thinking about it in terms of modernism generally and also just in terms of itself. What strikes you as particularly profound here, or beautiful? Let’s set aside some time in these busy weeks to just talk about what’s beautiful. I think we should. If you quote this novel in the future, as I will, what passages will you quote?
  • Reading Martha Nussbaum’s super-influential work on the good of literature. Try this: See if you can identify a passage in her article that a person (possibly you, but not necessarily you) could use as support or counter-argument for their thesis. What seems potentially useful here, in what way?
  • Reading Shelley’s “defence of poetry,” which contains the often-quoted claim that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” What does this mean, in what context?
  • Finalizing the plan for the exam.*

Let’s get this party started, shall we?

*Note that I’ve posted a second blog post for this week, and I invite you to post twice if you like. That could help you materially if you’ve missed a post at some point during the semester; this is an opportunity to make up for that. And, in any case, I invite you to post in either place or both this week, using this space to formulate and share your thoughts.

Also, note this event coming up that may be of interest.

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10 Responses to Week 9e (14)

  1. When I finished reading Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway” it was bittersweet. I felt content that I had finally made it to the dinner party scene that is established initially in the text, but kind of sad the time had come to stop reading about Clarissa and her friends. However, I did find one scene in Woolf’s text to be intriguing that is when the guests learn, “A young man (that is what Sir Williams is telling Mr. Dalloway) had killed himself…Oh! Thought Clarissa, in the middle of my party, here’s death, she thought” (183). Here, I saw how important Clarissa viewed this party to be. She appears to be insensitive to Septimus’s death, and more concerned about her party. I wondered if she didn’t care about his death because Septimus was not a loved one she knew. It’s as if Clarissa is like this man killed himself, but what about my party? But, this is something I would expect Clarissa to think. Moving along now, two quotes that are my favorite quotes in the entire text is when Clarissa recalls how, “Sally went out, picked hollyhocks, dahlias-all sorts of flowers that had never been seen together-cut their heads off, and made them swim on the top of water in bowls. The effect was extraordinary-coming in to dinner in the sunset” (34). When I read this, I felt relaxed because of the image that I saw after I read this. I pictured all these different flowers Sally cut from their stems floating in a bowl of water. Then, I pictured the sunset hitting these flowers and the water in the bowl changing to a nice orange and red color from the light of the sunset coming into the window. Even, when Clarissa notices that these aren’t flowers normally placed together it’s similar to her and Sally’s relationship. These were two women who appeared to have a romantic relationship at a time where their relationship would’ve been scrutinized.

    I wanted to switch gears now to discuss Martha Nussbaunt’s “Poets as Judges: Judicial Rhetoric and the Literary Imagination.” When I read this text, I found it useful how detailed she was about these cases; it’s something I will have to remember to do in my thesis paper. One case that caught my attention was Carr v Allison Gas Turbine Division. It was a case where Sally Carr was sexual harassed by the men she worked with on a plant owned by General Motors. Nussbaunt discussed in detail how Sally Carr was subjected to hear inappropriate remarks from men at work and how these men wrote explicit words on her toolbox. I was convinced that Sally Carr had indeed been sexually harassed at work because of the amount of details and the story she provides us with. Nussbaunt’s text caused me to see not only how important having the right amount of details are, but how convincing these details caused Sally Carr’s case to be.

  2. Venessa says:

    In Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf writes poetically throughout the novel. There are many instances of beauty, and the way she can make something as little as laying down sound beautiful, is truly a sight to behold. The particular passage that was vividly beautiful to me is, “And Lady Bruton went ponderously, majestically, up to her room, lay, one arm extended, on the sofa. She sighed, she snored, not that she was asleep, only drowsy and heavy, drowsy and heavy, like a field of clover in the sunshine this hot June day, with the bees going round and about and the yellow butterflies” (111). How gorgeous is that description of a tired woman laying down to rest? It’s amazing how such an ordinary event is described so extravagantly. The imagery Woolf draws on really connects the reader to experience that hot summer day themselves. This poetic magnetism flows throughout the text. This ties into Shelley’s piece “A Defense of Poetry,” when he says, “Those in ‘excess’ of language are the poets, whose task it is to impart the pleasures of their experience and observations into poems” (2). Woolf is imparting the pleasurable experience of simply laying on a sofa on a hot day, and the beauty that that simple activity could bestow. In regards to Shelley’s, “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world” (2), he is saying that poets give insight into social conditions of their time. Whether it be political, economical, or community related, poets reflect their present conditions through their work. They write in order to educate the masses on conditions that should either be opposed or favored and for what reasons. Because their work has to be broken down and analyzed thoroughly, what they are trying to accomplish through their work, is not always recognized. Their views are expressed through their work, and they strive to express their views through their work.

    In Martha Nussbaum’s “Poets as Judges,” she is expressing a counter argument to Walt Whitman as the basis for her thesis. Whitman’s claim is that “The poet is no capricious whimsical creature, but the person best equipped to ‘bestow on every object or quality its fit proportion,’” (1479). Nussbaum finds a conflict in Whitman’s proposal. She states, “How can he be judgment, if he does not judge ‘as the judge judges’? And what mode of judging is suggested in the strange metaphor of light?” (1479). This sets her counter argument up, as she is questioning the piece and asking how this seemingly contradictory statement makes sense. She gives her position on how Whitman’s statement can be partially agreeable, but not completely when she says, “The judge cannot be simply a poet, or even simply an Aristotelian equitable man. Whitman neglects the institutional constraints on the judge’s role, treating him as free to follow his own fancy; this is surely wrong. But I argue that, properly constrained, the imagining characteristic of a literary artist-and his attentive reader-can often supplement the other aspects of judicial reasoning in a valuable way” (1480). She then goes on to include texts in her debate that are both in favor of and against Whitman’s claims. I think her approach is strong because she backs up her claims with evidence, and expresses both sides of the argument.

  3. Maggie C. says:

    One of the quotes I can find myself remembering, though not using (for sure!) is from Sir Henry when he says “But he liked her; respected her, in spite of her damnable, difficult upper-class refinement, in which made it impossible to ask Clarissa Dalloway to sit on his knee” (175). I think it says a lot about the characters in the book as well as the social class. There’s a guy who clearly feels threatened by this woman’s class. I think that’s a really interesting thing to highlight from an outside perspective. It says a lot about a sense of entitlement. Also, it once more brings us back to the question of Mrs. Dalloway herself. Does her class make her unapproachable–does it make her a snob, removed from the world, or does it isolate her even further? Her remarks about Septimus might make her seem unfeeling and cruel. Or, if he stands as her foil in the novel, merely serves as wishful thinking. Either way, I think Sir Henry’s quote has this very “Outside looking in” perspective where we realize he doesn’t understand Mrs. Dalloway entirely, and perhaps, with everything going on, I’m not sure she wants to be understood.

    In Shelley’s “A Defense of Poetry” I think the line “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world” takes the idea of poetry not quite being political (though it certainly can be) but acknowledges its socialness. He also talks about it “awakening and enlarging the mind” which can sound pretentious, but again, also has a point. With any form of literature we expand our horizons. With fiction we learn an innumerable amount of things from one author or even one book. Poetry is usually about making what isn’t necessarily beautiful, into something that can be read as such and focuses on emotion. I think those two things combined often make something of poetry that can connect people to it. Or, at least when people read it, there’s a sort of meditation from what was known before. For example, reading something like “Howl” would give the readers a huge distinction into the time period of the beat generation. It would also, with some research, help them compare that time to today and show how certain things haven’t changed, or certain problems have persisted despite their being change amongst poverty, identify, and mental illness. I think any piece of literature can do what Shelley argues for poetry in the fact that it expands someone’s world view, especially if it’s literature not found within the U.S. and can help expand the usually Western-centric ideology we have.

  4. Deepika Khan says:

    After finishing Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway,” I was surprised to find that the novel had a happy ending. Given Septimus’ unfortunate demise, and Clarissa’s apparent sympathies for it, I was expecting another horrible death in the book. What strikes me as particularly profound was Clarissa’s thoughts on life and death. Considering death as “an embrace” and “an attempt to communicate” (Woolf 184), Clarissa makes it clear that she has thought about the concept of death many times before. She even thought about dying on her wedding day when she says to herself, “If it were now to die, ‘twere now to be most happy” (Woolf 184). This quote clearly highlights the resistance Clarissa felt about becoming Mrs. Dalloway in society all those years ago. As she hides away from her guests (including Peter and Sally) and big house party, Clarissa thinks about the reasons for Septimus’ death and approves of his passing. As a reader, I got the sense Clarissa wants to end her life too, given the image she has to keep up with in high society, but she decides against it and returns to the party. If I quote this novel in the future, I definitely think I would use the line, “Life is made intolerable” (Woolf 185). I think most everyone would relate to that quote one way or another given how true it is! When we are born, we are completely unaware of how our lives will be shaped by our parents, friends, society, etc. Though we may not know how we will turn out as individuals, one thing is for certain: death. Everybody must die because, in some ways, that is the purpose of life, no matter how sad it is.

    “Poets as Judges: Judicial Rhetoric and the Literary Imagination” by Martha Nussbaum and Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “A Defence of Poetry” both claim poets and poetry serve to provide writers a political platform. A passage in Nussbaum’s article that one may use as support or counter-argument for their thesis could be found on pages 1480-1481. She mentions and defines “three aspects of the literary imagination” that may prove to be potentially useful to someone’s thesis (Nussbaum 1480). “Qualitative differences, individual separateness, and appropriately constrained emotion” may serve as keyterms for someone that is writing a literary paper based on an author’s choices (Nussbaum 1480-81). Shelley’s “A Defence of Poetry” contains the well-known claim that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world,” meaning poets may create change in the societies they live in through their published work. Such change would include making the imagination a reality by creating a poem for people to read. If the words/images remain in the mind, then it’s still a part of one’s imagination. However, if one chooses to write it down or draw it out, imaginative words/images become a reality.

  5. In Mrs. Dalloway, one of the key moments is Septimus’ death in the book. It’s interesting that we never really see Mrs. Dalloway and Septimus together, but we do see his death brought up at her party. In Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, the text states, “What business had the Bradshaws to talk of death any her party?…He had killed himself–but how? Always her body went through it first, when she was told, suddenly, of an accident…so she saw it” (184). In this quote, it’s interesting to see Mrs. Dalloway’s thought process. She’s offended that this conversation is happening at her party. However, though we never really see interaction between these two character’s we could argue that they are parallels of one another in a sense. First, the fact that Clarissa’s status is higher in society than Septimus, and that gives a contrast between the two lives of these characters. However, the parallel between their two lives is the fact that they seem to be dissatisfied in their relationships. Clarissa doesn’t really seem satisfied with Richard as her husband, as she questions, earlier on in the book, why he would attend a meeting without her. Similarly, Septimus feels as if Rezia is not interested in him anymore, especially when he notices that she isn’t wearing her wedding ring. Another parallel between the two characters is the relationships that they have outside of their marriage. Clarissa’s relationship with Sally could be argued as a more intimate relationship, as they do share a moment where they kiss. Similarly, Septimus and Evan’s relationship seems to have an intimacy as well, because Septimus mentions not loving Rezia, and him becoming emotionless when Evans died, which could indicate how much Evans actually meant to him. Both Clarissa and Septimus are parallels to one another because those feelings relating to their sexuality are oppressed. So those are just a few examples as to how Clarissa and Septimus actually mirror one another.

    In Shelley’s “A Defence of Poetry” the text states, “The social sympathies, or those laws from which, as from elements, society results, begin to develop themselves from the moment that two human beings coexist…become the principles alone capable affording the motives according to which the will of a social being is determined to action, inasmuch as he is social..” From this I understand that society is made from what we make of it, the differences that we choose to point out, who has more power over the other, which is interesting to how Shelley chooses to interpret this. However, with Shelley, in regards to poetry, he seems to be saying that the rules begin to change as more and more knowledge becomes available. He seems to be trying to say that as more knowledge is known the more accepting it should be in covering in more areas of topics and ideas. It does remind me of the relationship between Septimus and Clarissa, because Clarissa doesn’t feel the need to know who Septimus is or why he killed himself. However, she does identify with him, and we see that she herself has had similar thoughts.

  6. Jude Binda says:

    After reading Mrs. Dalloway, I asked myself how it was possible that a book that had such little actually happen it made me feel so many things by the end. Whenever a character was going on about a diurnal task, I admittedly wondered about why I should care but those moments added up in a manner of speaking because I became much more invested in what was going on. In a way, there is something profound and beautiful about the way the reader is brought into the story so subtly.

    I, presumably like most other people, was expecting a bit more of a dramatic ending. In the original version of the novel, Woolf had Clarissa kill herself in the middle of the party and Septimus did not even exist. I think I prefer the version we read because it creates, in my opinion, a much more interesting and optimistic character. Clarissa is, instead of a tragic character, one that is realistic and one that we are able to imagine an epilogue about. Even though the ending is not sad or dramatic as we may have expected, I would still say there is something unsettling about it. I feel this way largely because of the way Clarissa reacted to Septimus’ death. When she hears about it, “She felt somehow very like him—the young man who killed himself. She felt glad he had done it; thrown it away. The clock was striking. The leaden circles dissolved in the air. He made her feel the beauty; made her feel the fun.” Perhaps hearing about someone killing themselves has reinvigorated her value of her own life? Maybe she is inspired now to stop spending time doing things that she does not want to do in order to start focusing on endeavors she was never brave enough to seek after? I am still not sure what to make of this reaction. If Clarissa’s reaction is what I think it is, this could also be an example of profoundness because it asks questions about what it means to have motivation and what you use your time on this earth to do.

  7. Khurram says:

    In thinking about Mrs. Dalloway and modernism, I can’t help but come back to motion. Motion is in everything in the novel: the characters, the plot, the setting, the perspective, everything is in motion. Of course, it’s difficult to make the case that this is a modernist construct without comparing the motion in the novel to a work that predated it or took up both the same time and space (that is, era and genre), so I hope some generalities will suffice.

    On perspective: perspective is varied, and angles are abundant. It creates this diverse view of the “day in the life” narrative and overcomes a disinterest in omniscience which, without, so much would go unknown. More impressively, perspective is continually shifting, but it shifts in proximity. It gets handed off. It doesn’t generally flutter over separated points. It makes sense that nearness would be necessary for a novel with clear motion: distance isn’t directionless; distance isn’t motionless. I thought Septimus’s death is dizzyingly reflective of this motion in perspective. He exits the window. His perspective, if he were capable of one at this point, would be spiritual or painful. Instead, a lot of the perspective establishes how characters are affected by the actions of other characters. So we get a line of Septimus’s impact, and then we’re with the people who were there.

    Within perspective, we see the motion of thought. It goes backward (nostalgia, regret), it’s internal (as opposed to external), it has momentum, it has slowing reflection. The motion of thought is fluid; it isn’t breakneck.

    But I think perhaps my favorite representation of motion happens when we come back to Peter on his way to his hotel. It’s thought again, perspective again, but it happens simultaneously with external motion and activity. There’s a moment taken out to explain what he’s doing, but activity doesn’t act as a start or end point of a thought, just as a thought can be interrupted by, say, finding your keys, yet that doesn’t signal the thought is lost. Peter gets his keys, gets letters, goes upstairs, and returns to thinking of Clarissa (156). He thinks of their hypothetical marriage, undoes his boots, and thinks of the marriage again (158). He thinks as he reads (158). The thought is about the same subject, the strain is retained, and the external actions mark linear motion without forcing the thought attached to disband.

  8. Stacey McDonald says:

    Finishing Mrs. Dalloway was fulfilling, but I would be lying if I said that as I approached the end of the final page, I wasn’t suddenly filled with the anxiety that comes when you know you’re seeing a someone for the last time. The death of Septimus in particular really got to me, and it was disappointing to realize that just as Clarissa does not seem to believe that his death is a tragedy, neither does Woolf. The observation that “Death was defiance. Death was an attempt to communicate; people feeling the impossibility of of reaching the centre which, mystically, evaded them; closeness drew apart; rapture faded, one was alone. There was an embrace in death” (Woolf, 184) was especially striking to me, so much so that I went back and read it three times just to fully immerse myself in what Woolf was saying- that death ended the loneliness of life. Of course, Clarissa believes that Septimus simply gave up, and his suicide was a confession of failures, but I do believe that in some way, it was Woolf speaking directly to us in describing how suicide can be appealing to the especially lonely, the ones that feel so tragically misunderstood, the ones like Septimus. As morose as that passage is, to me it is simply beautiful in the way that it is written.
    Allow me to preface my opinions about Martha Nussbaum and Percy Bysshe Shelley by saying that anyone who has taken a class with Professor Cassvan should be an expert on the ways in which poets express their authority in the world of government and politics. For Nussbaum, the idea that “the poet does not merely present abstract formal considerations, he presents equitable judgments, judgments that fit the historical and human complexities of the particular case” (Nussbaum, 1479) shines throughout the entirety of Poets as Judges: Judicial Rhetoric and the Literary Imagination. She believes that the poet’s unique position in society allows for them to play both sides of the coin and use their voices to speak for both sides- for the oppressed and the privileged, for the politician and the country at large. And Shelley’s statement that “There is this difference between a story and a poem, that a story is a catalogue of detached facts, which have no other connection than time, place, circumstance, cause and effect; the other is the creation of actions according to the unchangeable forms of human nature, as existing in the mind of the Creator, which is itself the image of all other minds” seems to speak to the differences between society and its decision makers, that we have little in common to connect us other than the time and space in which we live, but that we must find a way to peacefully co-exist. And as for Shelley’s oft-quoted “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world”, I think that he means that since poets walk such a fine line in their times, they should choose to make their platform one that promotes the the justices in the best interests of the people, of the readers and the voters, for they are the ones that give rise to any and all “power” that either a poet or a politician may every have access to.

  9. After finishing Mrs. Dalloway, I have to agree with many of you here that the ending was bittersweet but also sort of anti-climatic. I didn’t know what exactly I expected (maybe Clarissa and Peter would find their way back to one another?) but honestly, I don’t think that was the point, and overall the simplicity of the ending was able to convey so many emotions.

    When looking at the novel in terms of modernism, I think perhaps the bleakest outlook had within the novel is Clarissa’s reaction to Septimus’ suicide. Although this moment should be a shock to Clarissa, she is annoyed that this conversation has made its way in her party, damping the mood. Insensitively, all Clarissa thinks once she learns of this news is “in the middle of my party, here’s death, she thought” (Woolf 183). Considering how much stress has been placed on this party, I don’t think Clarissa can really get out of her own way to truly grasp the situation. As a reader, we were able to follow Septimus’ journey and we feel the effect of his death, but to Clarissa, he is just merely a young man, a faceless being whose death is is ruining the party that she planned. This puts into perspective how little Clarissa actually thinks of others and demonstrates the issues that arise with multiple perspectives. Although I personally liked having multiple points of view throughout this novel, there was an obvious lack of connection between characters (for the sole reason that they never interacted), and having the death of a major character being reacted to in such a poor manner by the title character presents the limitations or quirks of this style.

    After reading Shelley’s “Defence of Poetry”, I believe the claim that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world” in this context, means that poets are the representatives that the public fails to give credit to. Shelley notes poets are of “the highest wisdom, pleasure, virtue, and glory” (Shelley 27) and yet they aren’t properly given the respect that is deserved. Generally referring back to the text, poets are viewed as the individuals with the most effect on the world, and yet there is a constant habit of overlooking poets due to a very 2-dimensional view of their work and contribution to society.

  10. Zara Diaby says:

    I was mad. The ending of this story was just so upsetting. There was absolutely no reason for septimus to die. I understand that it was his own choice to take his life, however, no matter how one looked at it there was no saving him. I wanted to place the blame somewhere, on someone but I could not. His wife had done everything in her power to help him. The “doctor” calling him that is too far of a stretch, was way over his head when it came to helping anyone but his pockets and his sense of self and Septimus seemed to be way too resigned away from this world to do much of anything but choose death.
    I see comments on this blog disagreeing with the way in which Clarissa reacted to his death, but I do not think it was so strange. People process emotion and death differently, she seemed to recognize it and take the time to process it in all of its gruesome details and glory, “
    She went on, into the little room where the Prime Minister had gone with Lady Bruton. Perhaps there was somebody there. But there was nobody… The party’s splendour fell to the floor, so strange it was to come in alone in her finery. What business had the Bradshaws to talk of death at her party? A young man had killed himself. And they talked of it at her party — the Bradshaws, talked of death. He had killed himself — but how? Always her body went through it first, when she was told, suddenly, of an accident; her dress flamed, her body burnt. He had thrown himself from a window. Up had flashed the ground; through him, blundering, bruising, went the rusty spikes. There he lay with a thud, thud, thud in his brain, and then a suffocation of blackness. So she saw it. But why had he done it? And the Bradshaws talked of it at her party!”
    When we looked at how Peter had referred to her as the perfect hostess, she was stuck between the world of her party and the world she really occupied. Her mind and her being caught between a perpetual state of refinement and bleakness. She and Septimus were/are very similar, who they are and who people expect them to be. We see this through their inner conversations and objections to the world that surrounds them. Septimus chose death over becoming one with the society in which Clarissa aligned and assigned herself to.

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