Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
"How many million times she had seen her face, and always with the same imperceptible contraction! She pursed her lips when she looked in the glass. It was to give her face point. That was her self-pointed; dartlike; definite. That was her self when some effort, some call on her to be her self, drew the parts together, she alone knew how different, how incompatible and composed so for the world only into one centre, one diamond, one woman who sat in her drawing-room and made a meeting-point, a radiancy no doubt in some dull lives, a refuge for the lonely to come to, perhaps; she had helped young people, who were grateful to her; had tried to be the same always, never showing a sign of all the other sides of her-faults, jealousies, vanities, suspicions, like this of Lady Bruton not asking her to lunch; which, she thought (combing her hair finally), is utterly base! Now, where was her dress?" (37).
The 'diamond' metaphor in the preceding passage is striking and fresh. A diamond is clear but not transparent; it attracts light, yet reflects and refracts it. The diamond possesses many sides but is organic, one whole thing. When Clarissa is 'in the world,' she draws "the parts (of herself) together," she is whole and unified but doesn't show "the other sides of her," as though the social side of Clarissa takes precedence; all others are part of her being but the side she presents to the world best represents the whole. Amazingly, she is aware of this process and one gets the feeling that Clarissa feels that this one-pointed unification represents her at her best, her strongest, and her most real. The diamond is a metaphor for a certain type of human consciousness.
The diamond and it's qualities of clarity and many-sided wholeness are alluded to in several places in Mrs. Dalloway. Peter Walsh talks of his own life in terms of holding something in his hand: "The compensation of growing old...[is that] one has gained...the power of taking hold of experience, of turning it round, slowly, in the light" (79); This quote speaks of both satisfaction and detachment. When Lady Bruton fixes upon some project, her soul "becomes inevitably prismatic, lustrous, half looking-glass, half precious stone" (109). Richard Dalloway can reflect little but is aware enough of his 'focus' to know that "happiness is this" (119), having Clarissa as his wife.
And the metaphor seems to be extended in certain ways. If the diamond is the prism of the unified self, then light is the experience of life working on the individual consciousness though ultimately, the diamond has an essence that light will not change. This paradox of sameness or 'centeredness' within experience is an essential element of the novel. Septimus Warren Smith almost epitomizes the experiences of moments of timelessness within time to an extreme where, for him, living in time vanishes. Peter Walsh reflects on his "susceptibility to impressions" (71) but owns that "Still, one got over things. Still, life had a way of adding day to day" (64). Though Clarissa regrets the pangs of growing old, "all the same that one day should follow another," yet each of this particular day's little experiences were satisfying, "it was enough" and no one "would know how she had loved it all" (122).
The richness of Woolf's overall vision in the narrative structure also echoes the qualities of the 'diamond'. The narrative itself has a dreamlike quality, each main character meditates, remembers, and 'reflects.' Experience, feeling, and thought often seem to merge into one stream (of consciousness?) so that the characters achieve brief moments of a unified sensiblility, the public and private, experience and perception merge into one, thus they shine their brightest. Woolf gives us a glimpse of the souls of her characters, not just their hearts or minds, or hidden flaws or ambitions, because the human being cannot be reduced to one thing or one mode but has many sides, is complex and contradictory, but also has an innate integrity and a wholeness on some level, though in the case of Septimus the whole has become so disparate and fragmented, he can no longer reflect light. But when a person can 'pull themselves together' without being partial to any extreme, who is aware of all their worthy and unworthy parts and impulses then the light of life shines through them as it does a diamond.
© 1995 Shirley Galloway
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