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English, masculinity, Virginia Woolf, gender, literary criticism, beauty


Comparative Literature | English Language and Literature | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Gender and Sexuality


In Mrs. Dalloway, Woolf contests numerous conventions of her time, including conceptions of beauty, and its relation to gender, normalcy, and behavior. The notion of beauty as a discreet aesthetic category is not new. In fact, representations of beauty in Mrs. Dalloway directly oppose those of Edmund Burke, who categorized aesthetics of beauty in the eighteenth century. He argued that beauty is the opposite of the sublime, and classified it as having attributes of the feminine form. Burkean notions of gendered aesthetics were mirrored in Victorian gender expectations, so that men, as the opposite of their weak female counterparts, developed a duty bound, nationalistic sense of honorable masculinity, lacking show of emotion and epitomized by reason and authority. The turn of the twentieth century marked the beginning of the modernist period where, in the wake of a post-World War I world, artists, including Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury group, felt the need to redefine art in the midst of post-war destruction. This change created an opportunity to play with conventional gender roles and its supposed relation to beauty, as seen in Wyndham Lewis's short-lived, but unforgettable BLAST, with its hot pink cover, whose hue and title suggest an obliteration of former conventions of art and gender, paving the way for other modernist works. Woolf contributes to this period in her strides to reconfigure beauty as an aesthetic category that reveals society's misconceptions about gender and madness alike. In 1925, Mrs. Dalloway was published, and I argue that Woolf's traumatized World War I veteran Warren Smith becomes a locus for interesting issues of madness, masculinity, and beauty, wherein Woolf's patchwork of narrators work to criticize the Burkean beauty of the pre-war Victorian world, and replace it with a new beauty: one that is simple in its creation, and ultimately allows Septimus to take control of his life one last time, by ending it.

Department 1 Awarding Honors Status

English: Literature and Writing

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License