Mrs. Dalloway’s Party: “The Introduction”
We as readers are desperate for words with substance to perk up our idle minds. Virginia Woolf’s grasp on human train of thought is eerily realistic and fantastically done with her literary excellence. The voice is strong throughout the short stories that take us spiraling through the party within Mrs. Dalloway’s walls, inviting us into the mind of Woolf and her true feelings on the female oppression of her time. In particular, “The Introduction” featuring the mind of Lily Everit and what seems to be the most horrific incident that has ever happened to her; to the rest of the party it’s a suitable introduction for a possible marriage. The following will attempt to convey how Woolf uses Lily’s frame of mind to enlighten the reader of the unfair culture a woman must live in and endure with wide eyes and a curved mouth.
Lily Everit, like Woolf is a writer and like many women takes an overly modest manner on her work. She frets feverishly over an essay her professor has dubbed “first rate,” but regardless of the compliment, the essay, and her choice to write essays over poetry begin to wear her confidence down progressively as Mrs. Dalloway leads her to a suitable bachelor, Bob Brinsley. Mr. Brinsley, a “direct descendent from Shakespeare” has Lily in a frenzy of worry (Woolf 31-37). The thoughts conveyed from Lily portray a young woman with an independent mind forced to hide her true nature inside her “chrysalis.” The delicate mold of the young lady she knows she ought to be is grieving work for her. In the following passage Lily manages to keep her lady like façade in tact as she approaches Mr. Brinsley.
“Perhaps that was the thing that came out, that remained, it was part of the dress, and all the little chivalries and respects of the drawing room; all made her feel that she had come out of her chrysalis and was being proclaimed what in the long comfortable darkness of childhood she had never been—this frail and beautiful creature, this limited and circumscribed creature who could not do what she liked, this butterfly with a thousand facets to its eyes, and delicate fine plumage, and difficulties and sensibilities and sadnesses innumerable: a woman.” (Woolf 33)
Lily has just entered womanhood, and could potentially marry quite soon after this very incident at Mrs. Dalloway’s party. It is not only her attempt to be what a woman should be, but it is the stress she associates with being one, all of which have contributed to the dreadfulness of meeting a potential suitor in order to marry. Lily as a writer knows she cannot fit the mold of this beautiful “butterfly” she is to become in order to be a woman—a wife—a “limited” creature. Her struggle to embrace her fate is consuming, and emotionally strenuous.
As Lily approaches Brinsely she begins to frantically rationalize how very unlike a woman she is, and reduces herself to the form of a fly verses the delicate butterfly. Brinsely, who Lily describes as an arrogant man ready to pounce on her and her work because of his link to Shakespeare, his higher education, and superiority has put her under his foot. The “fly” with no wings that Brinsely is silently ripping apart with his air of entitlement has Lily in a fright. She quickly inverts her natural self by “smothering down softly her sharp instinct” in order to please him, but it is clear her nerves have overtaken her (Woolf 35). She begins to watch him, in his “perfect” glory, rip the wings off of flies.
The fly metaphor may be that he is cruel to women who do not live up to the standards of his society, standards that oppress women and whittle them down to mere servants with meager lives. “But he talked; but he looked; but he laughed; he tore the wings off a fly” (Woolf 36). The words of a woman whose mind is in it’s own nightmare playing out right in front of her because of the simple fact that she see’s the iniquitousness of it all. All, meaning not only Mrs. Dalloway’s party, but of her existence, there for him to do as he like with it; she helpless to stop it with marriage as the main means of survival for a woman.
As the unfairness of her discovery descends to acceptance she ponders “that there are no sanctuaries, or butterflies, and this civilization, said Lily Everit to herself, as she accepted the kind compliments of old Mrs. Bromley on her appearance, depends upon me” (Woolf 37).
Lily Everit from that day forward will go on with her life, with an understanding that her life this way because she complies to it, and until others are willing to admit they feel as she does, she must go on with “the weight of the world upon her shoulders” (Woolf 37). One woman cannot fight alone, but as we already know, she won’t feel alone for much longer.
The Short Stories surrounding Mrs. Dalloway’s party by Virginia Woolf can be interpreted in many directions. I as a woman and feminist will never forget the story of Lily Everit and the few minutes that formed her opinion of her own society forever. I like to think she went on and married for love and not security, and the man she married treated her as an intellectual equal and they grew old and died together. The thought of Lily genuinely happy is a fixed image in my mind. It took Woolf seven pages to completely captivate me with her work. Woolf in my opinion holds women in her mind as magnificent beings capable of anything—I agree. Lily Everit’s story is a superb example of this.
Prose, Francine and Virginia Woolf. The Mrs. Dalloway Reader. United States: Harcourt, 2003. Print.