The Spirit of Carnival in Mrs Dalloway
“It seemed as if the whole
of London were embarking in little boats …as if the whole place were floating off in
carnival.” Mrs Dalloway
Clarissa’s June day the London season, mentioned with admiration by Peter Walsh, is in full swing (MD 82, 249). It is mentioned, almost incidentally, by Clarissa
Dalloway, Peter Walsh, and Ellie Henderson as well (MD 15, 256). Although the event features highly fashionable social
events, the parties such as the one planned by Clarissa Dalloway are highlights
of the celebrations; among those several events which involve the rituals of
high society there may be less an atmosphere of revelry considering the
proximity of the Great War. Still, there prevails enough festivity for it to be
parodied as a type of carnival or saturnalia, “in which mighty persons were
humbled, sacred things profaned, laws relaxed and ethical ideals reversed”
season implies a foundational concept as suggested by Peter Walsh’s impression
of the carnivalesque, “as if the whole of London were embarking in little boats
moored to the bank … floating off in carnival,” resembling a flotilla of
gondolas in a Venetian carnival (MD
249). The Saturnalia is said to be originally a commemoration of the birthday
of the sun (Sol invictus), according
to Francis Cornford, scholarly colleague of Jane Ellen Harrison, an interval in
which time is fixed by the solar period (Cornford 223). The composition of the
season suggests a traditional theme, or topos
which becomes integral to meaning in the novel itself.
celebrations, somewhat resembling in spirit the carnivals and saturnalias of antiquity,
imply an atmosphere which now exists largely as a literary tradition in modern
times; they follow classical principles often styled as the comedy of manners
in the carnivalization of literature (MD
249). The notion of carnival, occasions normally populated with clowns, fools,
madmen, “the licensed critic[s] of society,” suggests the presence of surplus
information in which the revelry in Mrs
Dalloway will be explored (Welsford 202). Oddly, the line from
Shakespeare’s Cymbeline 4.2.258,
“Fear no more the heat o’ the sun,” a recurring motif in Mrs Dalloway, seems to lend a curiously somber slant to the season,
instilling a type of anti-spirit; such a kill-joy, a refuser of festivity,
contrasts with the celebrations of carnival’s parodic social events arranged
for a few upper-class characters at play. Even the cook, Mrs. Walker, is
unimpressed; “all she felt was, one Prime Minister more or less made not a
scrap of difference to Mrs. Walker” (MD
the conventions of carnival in literature are closely related to those parodies
of civil and religious authority of antique tradition, it is well to explore
its conventions as the world turned upside down in Mrs Dalloway which requires a comparison with that of antiquity and
its less obvious modern manifestations; failing this, much of Mrs Dalloway remains something of a
stylistic riddle. The presence of the specialized context of carnival has
meaning only in relation to its original forms. According to Linda Hutcheon,
“the recognition of the inverted world still requires a knowledge of the order
of the world which it inverts and, in a sense, incorporates” (Hutcheon 74). Violations
of propriety with impunity result as a consequence of Sally’s kiss when
Clarissa’s response is that “the whole world might have turned upside down” (MD 52). Modern carnivals such as the
“London season,” more subdued in contemporary London experience than those
originating among Greeks, Romans and the typical Medieval celebrations when
slaves were feasted and prisoners released, now preserve in numbers of parties
what they may lack in hilarity (Cornford 253).
London season, rules of society are emphasized or even exaggerated according to
its own tradition; in the pageantry of conventional carnival or saturnalia,
however, normal rules of behavioral propriety are suspended, the world turned
upside down, slaves ruling over masters. Since the celebrations of carnival
exist largely as spectacle, commonly observed values of conduct therein are
reversed, rules of polite behavior overruled. In conformity with saturnalian
custom, the discourse of Mrs Dalloway
includes several carnivalistic features such as wit, irony, sarcasm which are
deployed to expose folly recreated in literary form, particularly satire.
Although social events during the London season manifest an atmosphere of
partying in moderation yet with carnival as superficial merriment and
joviality, Mrs Dalloway paradoxically
inverts both the rules of society and the standards of literary form as well;
although usually honored in British literature, conservative literary styles
here transgressed are presented as worthy of a satirical critique. Pointing to
its own sources, this legally subversive art form implies authority and
transgression at once, and, as Hutcheon has it, “the carnivalesque inversion of
to Mikhail Bakhtin, carnival is vitality itself, but shaped according to a
certain pattern of play, a festive life. Carnival celebrates the body, the
senses and various forms of human peculiarities. Extremes intermingle with
opposites. According to the authority of David Danow’s The Spirit of Carnival, the convention which derives from
antiquity, is life-affirming, although there is present, as well, an
anti-spirit of death rather than life; the life-affirming thrives alongside
such negative characteristics, appearing as fissures in the social fabric.
Thus, as for Clarissa Dalloway’s claim, both as participant and spectator,
asserting that “what she liked was simply life,” her parties summarize her
offering to life and encapsulate the spirit of carnival (MD 183).
features of carnival may be manifested in various ways. For example, Clarissa
herself exhibits charming aspects of carnivalistic style which are enumerated
by Danow such as exaggeration, hyperbolism, and excessiveness among her
comments, many of which are clearly out of proportion to the reality. She
states that she and Peter Walsh “might be parted for hundreds of years,”
complains that she is expected to “invite all the dull women in London to her
parties,” feels that the failure of her party is leaving her drenched in fire,
burnt to cinders, and even claims that Professor Brierly “knows everything in
the whole world about Milton” (MD 9,
178, 255, 269; Hoff “Invisible” 25, 26, 177, 223). Clarissa’s further tendency
for histrionic expression, seeing herself as “a single figure against the
appalling night” when in reality it is a “matter-of-fact June morning,” is
typical of her inclination for conforming with seasonal excess. Similarly, appropriately
for carnivals sometimes called “The Feast of the Ass,” her husband, Richard
Dalloway’s harsh comment on Hugh Whitbread, “fatter than ever; an intolerable
ass” is also consonant with the times and the rhythmic flow of the discourse (MD 179). Such foibles as his attitude
offer hints of levity true to the carnivalistic tradition. Carnival provides a
temporary liberation from all forms of propriety.
“Lords, Ascot, Ranelagh and all the rest of it,”
sporting events timed to the season, originally connected with a saturnalian
feast according to Cornford, present an early indication of the life-affirming,
life-enhancing divine vitality in the carnival season that Clarissa loves (MD 6; Cornford 224). Furthermore, the
fat lady in the cab consonant with Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras is reminiscent of
the grotesque body of carnival, bellies distorted with fat, flatus, or fetus (MD 12). There are, besides, the balls,
the celebrations, and the party at the Palace; the doors are off the hinges,
Rumplemeyer’s caterers are coming, and Clarissa, too, is giving a party.
“Clarissa and her social world are one of the objects of satire” (Little 48).
Just as for Rabelais, who “draws much of his material from folk festivals which
had traditionally attacked prevailing social structures,” her party is
similarly a festive gesture mentioned intermittently throughout the day until
we finally see the event that evening in all its subdued glory (Little 5).
Whether its origin is called a carnival, a saturnalia, or the season as “folk
festival,” the figure of the prevailing deity, Saturn as master of ceremonies
is present in the satirical person of Peter Walsh, his pen knife a diminuitive
scythe; he modifies the narrative as the picaresque, sharp-witted Homeric
vagabond, exploring the island as it seemed to him, adventurous but on a rather
small scale (MD 77; see Hoff
Peter’s acknowledged saturnine disposition is
characterized by his surliness and his often mean-spirited criticisms. Clarissa
tasks him for his grumpiness as well as more innocent matters, his smile and
his eyes and his sayings which she recalls (MD
4). Just as Sally Seton remembers his sharp tongue, his speaking cynically of
Hugh Whitbread, “blacking the King’s boots and counting bottles at Windsor” and
of Hugh’s “little job at court,” Clarissa also offers her personal examples of
his derisiveness (MD 7, 288).
Typically over-drawn instances of quarrels according to Clarissa consist of
euphemistic citations of Peter’s comments on “the defects of her own soul. How
he scolded her! How they argued! … the perfect hostess he called her (she had
cried over it in her bedroom)” (MD 9-10).
shared between Peter and Hugh, similar to that expressed by Richard, includes
Peter claiming Hugh has nothing but the manners and breeding of an English
gentleman, “Peter at his worst” according to Clarissa (MD 8). Peter admits to being “a little cranky” and “ furious” with
jealousy, ”uncontrollably jealous by temperament” with his perennial jealousy
as a figure of Saturn (MD 121, 237).
The hour-glass shape of smoke rings from his cigar is reminiscent of Saturn’s
rings, which with his recognition of Big Ben, the bell at Westminster, “ring
after ring of sound,” has similar associations; and with Saturn’s alternative
name, Cronus, sometimes seen as Chronus, he establishes a control over time (MD 84, 74). Less obvious is Peter’s
admission that he had “no sons, no daughters, no wife” as if, like Cronus, he
ate them, “made a mess [a dinner] of things,” described in Hesiod’s Theogony
(MD 289, 161).
The Saturnalia is Saturn’s great
antiauthoritarian festival associated with satire like the literary form,
satire, a Roman invention; it incorporates social criticism with derision,
contempt, and ridicule. The saturnine picture of Peter Walsh features his
satirical outlook on life including social criticism such as his comments on
London society and his friends as well. He considers Richard Dalloway “a bit
thick in the head” (MD 112). At
Clarissa’s party he comments on the snobbery of the English, “Dressing up in
gold lace,” and he views Hugh as a gossip with “a little piece of
tittle-tattle” (MD 262). His most
critical opinions appear in company with Sally Seton (in Clarissa’s absence)
agreeing with her that Clarissa was a snob. His opinion of Sir William
Bradshaw, the eminent medical specialist and his “rather common-looking wife,”
is that “they’re damnable humbugs” (MD
294). His evaluations on people, although never reaching the harshness of
Juvenal’s diatribes, are rather gentle, yet topical, like those satires of the
Roman poet Horace set at the time of the Saturnalia (Satires 2.7 and 2.3).
saturnine role, further, inspires satire in the form of obscenity. Scatological
humor of satire is clearly referenced by Peter Walsh, risking indecency.
Although “the twentieth-century patron must be immune from shock,” says
Virginia Woolf, “he must distinguish infallibly between the little clod of
manure which sticks to the crocus of necessity, and that which is plastered to
it out of bravado” (Woolf CR “The
Patron and the Crocus” 209). According to Northrop Frye, “genius seems to have
led practically every great satirist to become what the world calls obscene”
(Frye Anatomy 235). Reference to
excretion is introduced as Peter strolls down Whitehall. “There was a man
writing quite opening in one of the respectable weeklies about water-closets …
written quite openly about water-closets in a respectable weekly” (MD 108). He refers, of course, to
Leopold Bloom’s memorable visit to the privy, complete with the bravado of
sound effects, in Joyce’s Ulysses.
Similarly, the skywriting aeroplane in Mrs
Dalloway, (and most notably the back-firing
car) with subtle irreverence issuing in smoke words from behind, is accompanied by sound effects comparable to those in
Ulysses: “Rightly far away a horn
sounded,” all suggestive of crepitation (MD
19, 29, 33 emphasis added). In the spirit of carnival reversals, such elements
reflect a stylistic revolt against those fixed values which are more usual in
literary discourse. Elisabeth Ladenson has commented that “Mrs Dalloway, which in many ways resembles Ulysses, would be a very different book if it contained a scene of
defecation” (Ladenson 84).
“is universally and unconditionally humorous, and can be found in virtually all
slapstick comedy”; undoubtedly “the breaking of wind” could be counted on to
raise a laugh “when all else failed” as a sign of boorishness and rusticity, as
harmless fun (Henderson 195). Thus, observance of literary etiquette is overturned
by the great taboo of obscenity, garderobe humor, as jovial and festive fashion,
the carnivalesque being associated with free expression privileged in the
season; the literary license of such free speech in carnival typically violates
popular attitudes of propriety. As the producer of excrement, the comedy of
bodily functioning even in such festal occasions is itself a transgression
(Crane in Dobrov 201). It must be hidden from view by obscurity but may be
subtly recreated for the sake of laughter (Halliwell 15).
There is a comic tone associated with many of
these components which contributes to the subdued hilarity. Nevertheless, Peter
is something more of a malcontent whom Clarissa sees at the party “out of the
tail of her eye … criticising her. … He made her see herself; why always take,
never give” while her party is falling flat; whereupon, presumably under
Peter’s influence, the mood of the party begins to lift (MD 254-255). His opposite, Miss Doris Kilman, equally saturnine, is
the refuser of festivity who presents herself as morally superior. Like
Malvolio in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night,
“the kill-joy who tries to stop the fun,” clearly she is a component of the
morality tale of carnival and English festivity (Frye 176; Bradbrook in Palmer Twelfth Night 234). Malvolio is a
blocking figure who stands in the way of frivolity, behaviors which include
social criticism. He supplies mock dignity by way of grotesque exaggeration.
“The satire of a figure such as Malvolio is traditionally overdrawn and harsh,”
although he has been so popular as a ridiculous character that the play was
originally referred to as “Malvolio,” (Little 56). Malvolio who is “cold,
austere, repelling” bears some similarity to Kilman who also is “opposed to the
proper levities of the piece” (Lamb in Palmer Comedy 39). Richard
Dalloway “had come across her working for the Friends”; both Kilman and
Malvolio are like Puritans being hostile to holiday – in consequence they must
be expelled by laughter (MD 187; Barber
in Palmer Twelfth Night 129-130). Mr.
Whittaker, having assured her that Miss Kilman was there for a purpose,
presumably as a pious observer, says “Knowledge comes through suffering”; he
caps the satire on institutional religion (MD
196). Where one might expect a pious quote from Holy Scripture he merely
supplies a Greek literary commonplace as a parody of religious observance
typical of carnival. Furthermore, just as “the festive spirit shows up the
kill-joy vanity of Malvolio’s decorum,” Miss Kilman’s counsel is equally crotchety
(Barber in Palmer Twelfth Night 121).
As a kill-joy her very name is grimly suggestive, her sober perspective as a
negative “anti-spirit” contesting with the cheerful party world in the
dualistic composition of carnival.
bears both positive and negative poles of expression, says Danow, and is
variously characterized as both beatific and demonic, cheerful and sober, and
finally carnivalesque and grotesque which introduces, further, the matter of
Miss Kilman. Her politically
correct counsel, “Law, medicine, politics, all professions are open to women of
your generation,” all to her credit, is undone by her waspish attitudes toward
Clarissa and her employer’s practices (MD
198). Clarissa’s party being uppermost in everyone’s mind, Kilman’s advice as
tutor to Elizabeth Dalloway is that she “ ‘must not let parties absorb her’; ‘I
never go to parties’ Miss Kilman said”, seemingly in order to prevent Elizabeth
from attending. “People don’t ask
me to parties” (MD 199-200).
Accordingly the tutor’s effect is immediate; “she did not much like parties,
Elizabeth said.” Kilman expresses insubordinate opinions of her mother who “had
breakfast in bed every day” as part of her campaign of influence (MD 198). Her attitude merits the
reprimand delivered to Malvolio who is berated, “Dost thou think because thou
art virtuous there shall be no more cakes and ale?” (Shakespeare Twelfth Night 2.3.114-116). Claiming to be morally superior to the
society in which she lives, she is “an outspoken advocate of a kind of moral
norm,” and is designed according to genre (Frye 176). Nourishing attitudes
toward Clarissa which express class conflict by expressing opinions which
violate authority, Miss Kilman fulfills the authorized transgression of norms
with outrageously free expression; such freedom is portrayed by servants as in
Horace’s Satire 2.7 in which the
slave preaches to his master during the month of Saturnalia. An audacious
practice typical in carnival, the “Feast of Fools,” Kilman insolently addresses
her nemesis, silently, as “Fool! Simpleton” (MD 189).
extremely rhetorical tirade enumerates the flaws of her mistress, (“You who
have known neither sorrow nor pleasure; who have trifled your life away”) ends
with an exaggerated aspiration: “If only she could make her weep; could ruin
her; humiliate her; bring her to her knees crying, You are right!” The
“overmastering desire to overcome her; to unmask her” suggests the mask which conferred
anonymity in carnival masquerade and frequently served as a status-symbol as
well (MD 189). Kilman’s rationale, a
religious victory, instead of the usual standards of relationships calling for
piety or respect, is burlesqued in elevated style for this ordinary subject, as
in carnival practice, with her concluding discourse for the “Feast of Fools.”
Having viewed Kilman as “a prehistoric monster armoured for primeval warfare”
Clarissa laughs when the idea of her is diminished (she is merely Miss Kilman,
after all), according to laughter’s role in carnival (MD 190-191). Thus, “a positive life-affirming potential …
[co-exists] with a corresponding affinity for its fugitive negative
realization” (Danow 2). Sanctimony remains its own reward in spite of Kilman’s
efforts at a spiritual mode of life. “Of course, nothing is more helpful to get
revelry to boil up than somebody trying to keep the lid on” (Barber 127).
and the more virulent and topical satire, both thrive on the ridiculing of some
recognizable ‘deviation’” (Little 9). The risibly, irreverently exaggerated
treatment of Miss Kilman, which identifies the antipathy Clarissa feels for her
as her polar opposite, is suited to comic narrative. As in free indirect
discourse Clarissa’s descriptions as a typical tirade which is a structural
match for Kilman’s monologue, introduce expressions indicative of the blend of
character and narrator: epistemic expressions (“undoubtedly” “no doubt”),
back-shifted verb tenses (“had become”, “had gathered”), colloquial expressions
(“throw of the dice”) and the concluding exclamation (!) includes free indirect
speech “which undoubtedly had
gathered in to itself a great deal that was not Miss Kilman.” Beginning with
Kilman stereotyped as “one of those spectres with which one battles in the
night; one of those spectres who stand astride us and suck up our life-blood”
the monologue seems to imply she
is a type of vampire (MD 16-17). The
passage concludes with the way things might have been different “no doubt with
another throw of the dice.” Next she is burlesqued as a “brutal monster” with
“hooves planted down … grubbing at the roots” of the soul (MD 17). Her appearance as a hooved animal, a centaur, half human,
half horse, suggests Cheiron, famous tutor in antiquity to Achilles and others.
Such imagery contributes to the meaning of her appearance in the novel and to
its comic aspect. These exaggerations on Clarissa’s part, an exercise of the
right of personal insult with impunity, are intended to evoke contemptuous
laughter in a festive context. None of this is to be construed as the point of
view of Virginia Woolf herself. If it is offensive, it is merely fiction.
role as a refuser of festivity is the source of the animus between her and
Clarissa as polar opposites. Just as Sally Seton egotistically openly desired
“to be thought first always,” Kilman would never come first with anyone (MD 195, 261). The polar opposition
continues in relation to Big Ben, with Clarissa, “shuffling in with its lap
full of odds and ends” which Kilman interprets as a troublous “lap full of
trifles” (MD 193-194). More to the
point, Elizabeth Dalloway specifies the perennial Stilkampf, the conventional
agon, when she says “Miss Kilman and her mother hated each other. She could not
bear to see them together” (MD 189).
This foregrounds Clarissa’s opulence and Kilman’s poverty just as Ovid locates
the conflict between Plenty and Want who are never allowed to meet (Ovid Metamorphoses 8.785-786). In addition,
Kilman and Elizabeth themselves represent polar opposites by way of nautical
metaphors, Kilman’s largeness, “heavy, ugly, commonplace,” inspiring her
appearance as “an unwieldy battleship” and “rocking slightly from side to
side”; on the other hand Elizabeth is viewed as “the impetuous creature – a
pirate … boldly snatching a passenger, or ignoring a passenger, squeezing
eel-like and arrogant in between and then rushing insolently all sails spread
up Whitehall” (MD 190, 196, 201,
Richard Dalloway is partial to the poor
woman. Miss Kilman says, “Mr. Dalloway, to do him justice, had been kind” (MD 186, 187). In fact they share several
comic features, notably Kilman’s comforting hot-water bottle at night and the
amusing hot water bottle which Richard drops while slipping upstairs; the ”Old
Maid’s Comfort,” it is notorious comic shtick reported by Clarissa. “How she
laughed!” (MD 47, 195). They also
share a smell which Kilman exudes (according to Minow Pinckney below), and
Richard likewise bears the smell of the stable (MD 288). As in the language of carnivalesque literature, an
Aristophanic context deriving from a famous scenario in Lysistrata emerges from Richard’s procuring a pillow and a quilt
for Clarissa which parallels the women’s sex strike, a device for ending the
Peloponnesian War (MD 181). The
Athenian woman in question cleverly diverts her husband’s sexual desires as a
strike-breaker by serially procuring a couch, a pillow, and a mattress
(variously translated) at lines c. 829-979. Kilman, however, lacks a “cushion, or a bed, or a rug” or,
in this context, scarcely has need of them (MD
16). Similarly both she and Richard comment on “worthlessness” as a class
exhibited by the Dalloways, apparently alluding to the worthless characters, the phauloi (i.e. not tragic, hence comic) of Aristotle’s Poetics 15.54a20 (MD 172, 186). The text avoids obscenity charges by employing
Kilman’s characterization has been harshly criticized by John Carey as “poor
but independent”; she has her degree, has always supported herself, “just the
sort of woman Virginia Woolf, as a campaigning feminist, might be expected to
champion” (Carey 19). The burden
of analysis, however, must be borne through the active involvement of the
reader who is expected to detect subtleties. Of course, it is not “Woolf” whose
opinions are being expressed but rather those of Clarissa and Kilman herself
described with the narrator in free indirect discourse as the arbiter. These
simple efforts toward a more pleasant characterization which Carey records give
Kilman at least one realistic leg to stand on which is intended, as he undertakes
to awaken our sympathy with the “imperturbably good breeding and courtesy” of
Alexander Pope (Woolf Essays 90). But
as Northrop Frye has it, “to attack anything, writer and audience must agree on
its undesirability” (Frye 224). Her faults are mainly based on humor created by
their incongruity with the norm. She reveals herself. Kilman is depicted “as a
monster of spite, envy, and unfulfilled desire” according to Carey, he who
anyway would consign Virginia Woolf to the dustbin of modern literature. Carey
succumbs to the fallacy of poetic projection of taking literary conventions for
realism. Hermione Lee, too, has Kilman sympathetically “made ugly by lack of
opportunity and mean social conditions” (McManus 106-107). As a feature of
carnival, the satirical treatment of Miss Kilman is, often, not perceived by
those who are irony-blind and for whom the norms under attack are such as to be
invisible presences. Hers will be seen to bear many of the marks of Menippian
satire, including the features of a grotesque, and joining the company of such
works as Petronius’s Satyricon and
Apuleius’s Golden Ass.
introduces some discussion on the presence of free indirect discourse relative
to the characterization of Miss Kilman in her own words but shared with the
narrator (McManus 124). Discussion of this important factor as a narrative
style in Mrs Dalloway is beyond the
scope of this essay however although it must be said that misunderstanding this
technique accounts for many of the descriptions devoted to Kilman which have
been considered problematic, even derogatory. Context is extremely important
particularly when coupled with devices common in free indirect discourse such
as back-shifted verb tenses, pronoun adjustments, epistemic expressions,
emphatic expression (!), exaggerated rhetoric, and expressions which are in
Kilman’s personal idiom, her typically pious language (see Monika Fludernik passim). There is little, however, in
Miss Kilman to render her more agreeable. She is created according to genre, a
refuser of festivity as in the subsequent discussions. “We like hearing people
cursed and are bored with hearing them praised” (Frye 224). Yet amidst the
spirit of carnivalesque revelry, so far the malign influence of Miss Kilman
seems little more than an annoyance.
may be enumerated. She has committed a politically incorrect blunder.
Apparently during the War she lost her job “because she would not pretend that
the Germans were all villains,” an opinion she claims to share with others.
“After all, there were people who did not think the English invariably right” (MD 187, 197). Here the parody in Miss
Kilman’s resumé again alludes to Mrs
Dalloway’s continual literary dialogue with the festival context in works
of comedy which display political debate. “Miss Dolby thought she would be
happier with people who shared her views about the Germans.” As an allusion to The Acharnians
of Aristophanes in which the hero of the Peloponnesian War is attempting to
negotiate a private peace by appeasing Sparta, she reveals a political position
leading to the classical principle of ridiculing deviants who violate accepted
norms (Little 9). This is treated with mock dignity and given a humorous spin
when translated in Benjamin Bickley Rogers’s rollicking meters, “Yet I know
that these our foemen, who our bitter wrath excite,/ were not always wrong
entirely, nor ourselves entirely right” (ca. line 400). Her political
sentiments having been pirated from Greek comedy tend to undercut her haughty
frequently mentioned macintosh on a perfectly clear summer day, too, invokes
comedy via Aristophanes’s Clouds, a
religious spoof that “deals with the problems of pedagogy and the nature of
education” (MD 16, 186, 189;
Henderson 70). Translated in the work of the scholar of ancient literature,
Jane Ellen Harrison, who was one of Woolf’s acquaintances, the allusion
accounts for Kilman’s costume. Harrison’s Prolegomena
514 translates Aristophanes as follows: “Wait please, I must put on some things
before the rain has drowned me,/ I left at home my leather cap and macintosh, confound
me.” Allusions to the gallery of quotations from the comedies of Aristophanes,
notorious for their humorous obscenities, and irreverent language provide a
platform for scurrile entertainment.
A functional use of these associations
appears in Makiko Minow-Pinkney who isolates Kilman’s principal feature: “It is
her superabundant physicality – that strikes people, taking the form of a
powerful smell about which the novel
remains coy. At tea, Elizabeth reflects that ‘it was rather stuffy in here’ and
when she gets outside finds ‘the fresh air so delicious.’ Earlier Clarissa
thinks of Kilman ‘mewed in a stuffy bedroom’ and when she reflects that ‘year
in year out she wore that coat; she perspired; she was never in the room five
minutes without making you feel her superiority,’” this final noun is not what
we have been expecting (Minow-Pinkney 74). The totality offers a way of saying
“controversial and dangerous things obliquely,” controversial as obscenity,
dangerous in the comic context (Hugh-Jones in Little 21).
It may seem
that Kilman’s treatment, like Malvolio’s, is a little “hard” as Hazlitt has
phrased it, but as in the case of Malvolio it tends to make the beaten victim
rather sympathetic (Palmer Twelfth Night
35). Russell thinks Shakespeare carries his joke a little too far “to be
entirely funny” as sensed by Carey (in Palmer Twelfth Night 55).
Still, Kilman hurls abusive
epithets at Clarissa, making herself
the target for anything which will demonstrate her ridiculous opinions.
Having explicitly defined her status herself as a refuser of festivity,
socially speaking, she is clearly not much fun. She is glibly censorious
regarding Clarissa, whose life was “a tissue of vanity and deceit” as a party
hostess and Kilman expresses herself in inflated rhetoric and overdone language
for the woman whom she feels has trifled her life away, her idiom even more
acerbic on the subject than Peter’s (MD
194, 188). In the carnival atmosphere of Saturnalia, the upside-down world with
social norms overturned, slave and servants were permitted a pretense of
disrespect for their masters. (See Horace Satires
self-avowed unlovable body, self-avowed in terms of free indirect discourse,
“which people could not bear to see,” suggests she had turned people to stone
resembling the prehistoric Gorgon Medusa who was known for a similar effect on
those who saw her, and she apparently possesses the Evil Eye: “She looked with
steady and sinister serenity at Mrs Dalloway” (MD 195, 189; Harrison 187-197). Suffering painful feelings boiling
within her suggests that an intestinal condition is imminent. Yet, like Peter
Walsh she is aware of the “troubles of the flesh” (MD 77). “It is the flesh she must control” (MD 194). There are no insinuations whatever of “social class” implicated here. Carnival, (carne-vale) or farewell to meat, is
etymologically related to the Lenten fast from flesh and implies her
ambiguously pious attempts to control the flesh, her corpulence, or even,
specifically, “fleshly desires”;
the carnival topos in which she is
featured tropes her desire to aspire above the vanities and presumably sexual
desires as well. Her clumsy,
unlovable body, her largeness, characterize her as a carnival grotesque.
However, “trying to subdue this turbulent and painful feeling,” euphemistic
scatological clues coyly defamiliarized indicate she has more than the flesh to
control (MD 194-195).
taking Elizabeth to the Stores?” Clarissa asks (MD 190). Soon, shopping concluded, they are having tea which, in
the context of carnival, introduces their consumption of food; this convention
provides a contribution to the discourse of comedy as the “standard bearer” of
food texts, according to Wilkins, which is consonant with festival (in Dobrov
256). This set-piece is a miniature of the genre, a very distant cousin to the
obscenities in Petronius’s feast of Trimalchio, Satyricon V. Obscured by euphemisms, however, these effectively
intensify the obscenities and the comedy as well. Miss Kilman is “stricken” by
shocks of suffering as she eats the luxurious chocolate éclairs which in French
translates as lightning, the flash of light which comes before the rumbling of
thunder issuing from “the very entrails of her body” as an impending deluge
from which her macintosh protects her (MD
201). “She was about to split … the agony was so terrific,” These descriptives
are followed by the ambiguous notice, “She had gone.” Woolf often supplies a
subtle indication of her intentions in obscure situations by way of somewhat
incongruous associations within her companion volume, The Common Reader. In order to disambiguate these passages the
careful reader might recall a parallel situation in which Miss Ormerod, the
entomologist, was capable of observing, “This is excrement … . I’ve proved it”
(Woolf CR “Miss Ormerod” 129).
other indications follow her, “variously smelling, now sweet, now sour” (MD 201-202). No small wonder that
Elizabeth feels, “It was so nice to be out in the air” (MD 204). Kilman’s conservative pieties earn her an abundant measure
of caustic ridicule which approaches her through the carnivalesque mode as a
figure of the grotesque by way of the bodily lower stratum. Under the
circumstances, Miss Kilman seeks and finds a “comfort station” in Westminster
Abbey as a parody on religious observance of the soul’s progress where the
ridicule continues. According to Hadas , “a descent into hell” is often a part
of the fantastic scene as with the flatulence at the lake of manure in the
Underworld journey in Aristophanes’s Frogs
(Hadas 6). Miss Kilman appears “on the threshold of their underworld, … not a
woman, a soul”: “She seemed to struggle … so rough the approach to her God” all
of which mocks her religiosity.
“Neat as a new pin,” Mr. Fletcher, who resorts to euphemism, is
justifiably distressed “by the poor lady’s disorder” which completes the satire
on religion (MD 203).
totality of Kilman’s characterization as a vampire, a centaur, a gorgon, all
stereotypes, coupled with the smell of flatus and feces leaves her with little
to be admired. A readership capable of recognizing parody has the interpretive
advantage. Kilman is so heaped with exaggerated ridicule through excoriating
analogies and blistering lampoons by way of the festival contexts of
Aristophanic comedy that she is hilarious. These are such matters overlooked by
John Carey. The scatology is not mere buffoonery which exposes “what one keeps
to himself” or. “what should be covered up.” “The pleasure afforded by
obscenity lies in our enjoyment at exposing someone else” and in seeing an
unpleasant character come to grief (Henderson 5-7). Says Hadas, “The good side
naturally wins and the bad is discomfited, … the good goes to a riotous
celebration” (Hadas 7). All exists as the famously skilled representation by
Virginia Woolf, with “a few deft pinches which bring out the absurdity” (Woolf
“Parodies” Essays 89).
exists, however, a paradox. The ridicule so richly deserved by Kilman in her
conventional role as the refuser of festivity that she fully merits “the harsh
rhetorical attack on the life-denying force whose presence threatens the
festive gaiety” (Little 56). After all, it is the London season, the time of
carnival, and the party world is central. Yet the laughter resulting from the
scathing scatology itself achieves the very comic festivity Kilman deplores, as
well as the levity true to the tradition of carnival.
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