Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Clarissa as Feminist Heroine?

Is that why Virginia Woolf gave Mrs. Dalloway the first name of Clarissa?

Increasingly (I have read about 20 percent of the book) it seems to me that Clarissa's real tragedy was to be an extremely bright person, perhaps smarter than everyone around her, trapped in the body of a beautiful young woman in a time and a place that had no real use for intelligent women. Her verbal dexterity unsettles everyone; this is essentially why she is locked up. Though forbidden to write letters, of course she keeps doing so; finally pen, ink and paper are taken away from her (though she has hidden some of each, fortunately, since the plot would come to a standstill if not).

She accepts the limits put on women in her world, and yet demands to be accepted as a rational creature with free will, a stance which is outraging nearly everyone, especially her increasingly deranged and creepy brother. And what, I have to wonder, was Samuel Richardson thinking about when he created this character?

Jane Austen's tragedy is also to be brighter than everyone around her, in a time and place that afforded but little outlet for her genius. Yet she took this problem -- at least in the world of her creation, her novels and her letters -- and made it funny.

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