Reading Virginia Woolf's novel



                                           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




On 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” (Welsford 199).

The London 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.

These June 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 251).

Insofar as 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).

During the 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 norms.”

According 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).

Such 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 “Pseudo-Homeric”).

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).

The animus 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).

His 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).

Crepitation “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.

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).

Her 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).

“Comedy, 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.

Kilman’s 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, 205).

  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 obscure allusions.

Miss 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.

McManus 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.

Her flaws 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 position.

Her 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 2.3)

Kilman’s 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).

“You are 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).

Thereupon 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).

The 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).

There 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.

                                                                                                                                               Molly Hoff


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