Something I realized at around midnight, whilst writing a paper on Clarissa Dalloway: it’s impossible to write a paper on Clarissa Dalloway, because Virginia Woolf, with all the vaunted idealism of the Bloomsbury Group and all the suspicion of a Victorian, makes it impossible to sum up any of her characters. She herself admits to avoiding doing so, claiming that to say someone “is this way, or that way” is taking upon oneself agency that one doesn’t deserve. Agency that further, cannot possibly be accurate. Who are we to pretend to know another person? Who are authors to pretend to know their characters?
But they created them! You might say.
Yes they did, but to create a realistic being is not to describe them in full, to explore every hidden corner of their (albeit) imagined consciousness. To create a realistic being is to give them a name, perhaps a pat on the shoulder, and then to send them out into the plot . We may learn things about them as they trudge along, we may perceive certain qualities that show themselves by and by, but we absolutely cannot pretend to understand them thoroughly, or even a little bit.
This was the conundrum I faced, holding my trembling thesis by the hand, at midnight. I wrote the paper anyway, and I think it turned out to be convincing, but it made me laugh when, this morning, my mother sent me the following text:
“Hope you hog-tied that Dalloway woman.”
Not even close, Ma.