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Paving the Way for Mrs Dalloway

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Published in Gómez Reus, T. Inside Out: Women Negotiating, Subverting, Appropriating Public and Private Space. Amsterdam: Rodopi. 2008, vol. 4, p. 149-166
Collection Spatial practices; 4
Abstract …When the desire comes upon us to go street rambling the pencil does for a pretext, and getting up we say: “Really I must buy a pencil,” as if under cover of this excuse we could indulge safely in the greatest pleasure of town life in winter – rambling the streets of London. Space, whether private or public, is undoubtedly a prominent concern in Virginia Woolf's writing. Most closely associated with the metaphysical inner recesses of consciousness or with physical interiors, rooms to call one's own, Woolf also had plenty to say about women's relation to urban space. From Mrs Dalloway's delight in leaving her domestic interior, ‘I love walking in London…Really, it's better than walking in the country” to the aptly-titled essay, “Street Haunting: A London Adventure', one senses an exhilaration in Woolf, a liberating impulse which only the streets of the city can satisfy. Clearly throughout the eponymous novel Mrs Dalloway is not the only character who enjoys the metropolis. Peter Walsh, in particular, relishes the opportunities that the streets and parks of London offer, but his is primarily a traditional stance – the male flaneur observing and fantasising about the women he sees. Elizabeth Dalloway, perhaps less at ease than her mother, found ‘London … so dreary compared with being alone in the country with father and the dogs,', and yet she, too, prefers to ‘dally a little longer'. ‘It was so nice to be out of doors. She thought perhaps she need not go home just yet. It was so nice to be out in the air. So she would get on to an omnibus … .' A few decades earlier, however, such apparently simple pleasures, aimlessly experiencing the life of the city, would have been rather more limited for women, especially of their class. In Victorian Britain gender governed space, or so we have been led to believe. At a pinch a woman of a certain class might become ‘an angel out of the house', doing good works amongst the poor, but as a rule the private and domestic were considered her domain, leaving the public forum for the male of the species, or for women of a lower class. In this paper I would like to examine some of the conflicting ways in which this simple binary divide, perpetuated not only by the Victorians themselves, but also by some twentieth and twenty-first century critics and historians, a few feminists included, was already being contested, particularly by women writers, forerunners of Virginia Woolf, in the latter half of the nineteenth century.
Keywords WomenPublic urban spaceElla Hepworth DixonEliza Lynn LintonGeorge PastonVirginia Woolf
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ISBN: 9789042024410
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FEHLBAUM, Valérie. Paving the Way for Mrs Dalloway. In: Gómez Reus, T. (Ed.). Inside Out: Women Negotiating, Subverting, Appropriating Public and Private Space. Amsterdam : Rodopi, 2008. p. 149-166. (Spatial practices; 4) https://archive-ouverte.unige.ch/unige:23870

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Deposited on : 2012-11-08

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