Essay: Defying Gender in Mrs Dalloway

Happy Publication Birthday, Mrs Dalloway! First published on this day, May 14th, in 1925 by the Woolfs’ publishing house, Hogarth Press; this new Penguin Vintage Classics edition has the most beautifully abstract cover and you can click to buy it (as I’m about to) here!

gender in mrs dalloway

In her 1925 novel Mrs Dalloway, Virginia Woolf defies contemporary expectations of gender with an unfearing portrayal of homosexual relationships, especially between Clarissa and Sally and Septimus and Evans. The publication of sexologist Havelock Ellis’s Sexual Inversion in 1897, whilst suggesting for the first time in Victorian medical study that homosexual behaviour was the ‘manifestation of an instinct which to [those] persons who possess it frequently appears natural and normal’[1], underscored the actuality that ‘in a country like England […] all our traditions and all our moral ideals, as well as the law, are energetically opposed to every manifestation of homosexual passion’[2]. Ellis notes the existence of a ‘compact social force which on every side constrains the individual into the paths of heterosexual love’[3], and this study will analyse how Woolf shapes, explores and strays from those pathways through Clarissa and Septimus’s same-sex interactions, their interruptions by the opposite sex, and the presence – or absence – of parenthood, as well as charting the effect changing feminist ideologies may have had on the 1925 novel, from the relative erasure of lesbianism and femininity in early studies of homosexuality to ‘post-First World War antifeminism’[4] with the ‘laud[ing] of motherhood’[5] in the 1920s. Continue reading “Essay: Defying Gender in Mrs Dalloway”