Masculinity in Mrs. Dalloway

Virginia Woolf criticizes the oppressive expectations British Victorian society imposes upon men. Traditional male characters, for example, Sir William Bradshaw, preserve conformity of gender roles by suppressing people who are different from the social norms. Hugh Whitbread embodies the conservative values of what the British man is and exemplifies this conventional image to society through his political influence. Richard Dalloway also exemplifies traditional British masculinity with his hold in society through his social influence and upper-class status. Dalloway, Whitbread, and Bradshaw exemplify the authoritative and patriarchal forces of British society. In Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf criticizes these conventional male characters who preserve the authority of patriarchy in society and idealize conforming to the gender stereotypes.

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Masculinity is defined during the late Victorian period in England as “neo-Spartan virility exemplified by stoicism, hardiness, and endurance” (Mangan and Walvin 1). A proper Englishman is a man who controls his emotions and is in self-control under all circumstances. Traits like “duties, respectability, a hold in society occupied a central position in the Victorian consciousness” and further defined masculinity in Victorian England (Mangan and Walvin 82). In Victorian England, manliness was “a cult so potent” it resulted in a powerful moral code of conduct. It was a moral code so heavily embedded in British society. As Zwerdling states “The characters in the novel can be seen as ranged on a sort of continuum with Bradshaw at one end and Septimus at the other” (75). Richard Dalloway, Hugh Whitbread, and Sir William Bradshaw represent “extreme examples of traditional British masculinity” (Zwerdling 75). These characters resemble the idealistic values of masculinity and traditional gender performance in accordance with gender roles in Victorian England.

Hugh Whitbread with his social status is able to influence and preserve the rigid definition of what the proper Englishman is.  Hugh Whitbread is the “perfect specimen of the public-school type” (Woolf 70). The British public-school system and its system of education were designed “to nurture and cultivate masculinity” (Mangan and Walvin 55). The aim of the  system was to make the young boys proper Englishmen and appear orderly at all times. Thus, Hugh is described to be a product of this British education. He is “produced by the ideological state apparatus…to reproduce the political order of the state” (Zwerdling, 80). Hugh Whitbread is a socially prevalent personality whose writing has appeared in England’s major newspaper, the Times. His profession in politics allows him to be in the position where he interacts with elites of society, like Lady Bruton. Hugh is able to project his conservative ideas through these connections.

Hugh Whitbread projects his values of manliness through his reelection on Peter Walsh’s lack of fulfilling the gender expectations of a man. However, it can be argued that Peter Walsh is a masculine character who indeed fits the mold of the Victorian British man. As Tambling states “Peter is the embodiment of the British ideal of manliness in nearly every possible way” (140). Peter takes an authoritative role in “enforcing British colonization” as he was an administrator in India. However, Peter does not fulfill the expected gender norms of masculinity. Whitbread remembers Peter’s exhibition of emotions through his memory of “how passionately Peter had been in love; been rejected; gone to India; come a cropper; made a mess of things” (Woolf 104). Whitbread’s reflection on Peter demonstrates the equivalence of an unmarried man to a man with a lack of masculinity. Men “who did not have a family to support” were not considered to be masculine because “supporting a family was a sign of true success within the male sex” (Mangan and Walvin 65). Whitbread’s reflection further illustrates that having a household, and being an authority of a family was an essential part of a man’s identity as per the social norms. Achieving success and receiving “recognition of manhood by one’s peers was a sign of manhood” (Mangan and Walvin 72). Peter had to request Richard Dalloway and Hugh Whitbread “to put him into some secretary’s office, to find him some usher’s job teaching little boys Latin” (Woolf 74). When Peter came back to England, he was unemployed and did not have a status of success and power. Peter himself states that others viewed him as someone “who filled the usual posts adequately” (Dalloway 152). Peter does not embody manliness. Peter further defies the Victorian ideals of masculinity during his visit to Clarissa where he cried in front of her. Zwerdling states, “Peter thinks, and it is true that he is in some sense an emotional exhibitionist” (78). Peter Walsh’s lack of control over his emotions demonstrates his lack of self-control, which is an essential part of the definition of a masculine man. While Peter’s character is complex with regards to the spectrum of manliness, Peter Walsh does not satisfy the expected traditional gender expectations of a Victorian England society. Inherently Peter Walsh is not accepted as a man in society. He is considered a failure through the perspective of patriarchal figures of his society like Hugh Whitbread. Hugh Whitbread’s reflection on Peter during his lunch at Lady Bruton’s house exemplifies his projection of the definition of masculinity. Similar to Hugh Whitbread, Richard Dalloway also embodies the British Victorian ideals of masculinity.

Richard Dalloway is an example of a man who illustrates the gender role expectations of a proper Englishman. Richard Dalloway yields immense social power. As a member of Parliament, he upholds English tradition. Similar to Sir William Bradshaw’s hold in the medical world, Richard works particularly for the Conservative Party and leads a lot of the committees. Richard Dalloway highly respects Lady Bruton’s family tree, because she belongs in a family “of military men, administrators, admirals” who were men of action and performed their duty for the country (Woolf 108). Richard Dalloway’s actions and love for his country demonstrates that his first duty was to his country (Woolf 108). Richard sees the society that he lives in as virtuous because he himself fits the mold of a man who fits the social norms. British manliness idealizes these “qualities of patriotic virtue” (Mangan and Walvin 22). Peter Walsh, contemplates the traits of Richard, even though he does so sarcastically. Peter reminisces “when that great shaggy dog of Clarissa’s got caught in a trap and had its paw half torn off, and Clarissa turned faint and Dalloway did the whole thing; bandaged, made splints (Woolf 75). This example demonstrates Richard as a man who not only is in control of his emotions by not panicking but is also able to act properly in any circumstance. Richard Dalloway is so instituted by the gender role expectations that he is not able to express to his wife, Clarissa, that he loves her. Showing his emotional side is a difficulty for him because he so fully embodies the Victorian ideas of masculinity. The expectation of British manliness highlights control in any emotional, physical, and mental circumstance. Not only Richard Dalloway exemplifies what an ideal Victorian British man is, but Sir William Bradshaw is an example of a patriarchal authority who enforces these rigid social norms.

Sir William Bradshaw preserves the expectations of British manliness by enforcing the rigid definition of an ideal Englishman through Proportion and Conversion. He is able to enforce this through his medical hold in society as Sir William Bradshaw is a well-renowned psychiatrist. He is “a resolute champion” with “a brilliant career” (Woolf 99). Sir William Bradshaw is highly respected because of his successful treatments of converting his abnormal patients into having a “sense of proportion.” Bradshaw represents traditional British masculinity, since he enforces that a masculine man must be in proportion to his emotions. Englishmen must appear orderly and be in control of any circumstance. With Proportion and Conversion, “Sir William not only prospered himself but made England prosper, secluded her lunatics… made it impossible for the unit of propagate their views until they, too, shared his sense of proportion” (Woolf 97). With Conversion, Bradshaw controls his patients and manipulates them into accordance of his belief of Proportion and transform them into proper citizens of society. In other words, Conversion is his method that pressurizes his patients to conform to the social norms of society and not deviate from the social norm and control the social order. Bradshaw is able to enforce the false nature of masculinity and impose the conforming gender roles through his power and influence.

Bradshaw utilizes methods, in accordance with the theories of Proportion and Conversion, to make a man’s gender performance be in the boundaries of normality and acceptability with regards to society. His patient, Septimus Smith, who is a war veteran, for example, does not withhold the rigid definition of the proper Englishman. It can be argued that Septimus’ participation in the war fulfills and is parallel with the Victorian ideals of masculinity Arguably, Septimus had gone to war and was successful in protecting his country. Septmus’ title as a war veteran is arguably associated with ideals of courage, virtue, and patriotism. To administer “the community’s social equilibrium and order” Bradshaw continuously instills this idea to both Septimus and Reiza that Septimus had served the country and was heavily recognized for his bravery and service (DeMeester 660). However, as DeMeester states “Septimus could no longer be the man he was before the war” (656). He was no longer able to conform to the rigid classification of a man. Septimus is unable to fulfill the gender expectations placed upon hum by society, thus, deprecating and expostulating him in society. Septimus is an unconventional man and Bradshaw wants him to be within proportion to what “the community wants him to be the man he was… and preserve the community’s social order” (DeMeester 661). Septimus has been marginalized in society because of his threat to kill himself, as suicide was illegal in England. Bradshaw is able to enforce his ideals of Proportion and Conversion because Septimus has attempted to cross the boundary of law and “there was no alternative” to Septimus’ actions (Woolf 94).  Bradshaw understood in the case of Septimus that “most war veterans’ testimonies, challenge the community’s understanding of war and ultimately its view of itself as a participator in the war” (DeMeester 660). In order to continue preserving the masculine and patriarchal code of society, Bradshaw attempts to force Septimus into repressing any uncontrollable thoughts and memories that might risk society’s equilibrium. Septimus’ act of contemplating suicide was attempted to be cured by removing him from society until he is in proportion with his gender role as a man and does not “frighten his wife” with his talks” (Woolf 95). Contemplating suicide was considered cowardly and lowly. Thus, questioning and challenging this concept of manliness. Bradshaw wants to use this method of isolation to force Septimus to conform. Bradshaw wants to preserve the Proportion that keeps society in check. Bradshaw wants to ensure that Septimus does not share his lack of proportion with figures of society like the Prime Minister (DeMeester 662). Inherently Bradshaw represents “the social and political forces of a community” that does not want to reveal ‘profound truths” of society (DeMeester 661). Bradshaw administers these oppressive gender norms of masculinity and normality to achieve what he perceives to be the so-called social order.

Masculinity is socially conforming. Masculinity, as definted during the late Victorian period, is a man who is an orderly man, who is in control of his emotions, and is in self-control. Richard Dalloway, Hugh Whitbread, and Sir William Bradshaw demonstrate and highlight the fallacies of the patriarchal system that has oppressed men to withhold influence and emotion in society. These characters enforce the expectations of British manliness. Sir William Bradshaw, Richard Dalloway, and Hugh Whitbread represent these patriarchs who hold social power. The oppressive nature of the gender norms of British society marginalizes those who are not in proportion to the gender norms of masculinity. For instance, Peter Walsh and Septimus Smith. Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway shows the oppressive social constructs that negatively impact society. Patriarchal forces, like Dalloway, Whitbread, and Bradshaw not only exemplify but also enforce the conforming nature of the gender norms of Victorian England society. The ideal of masculinity is very much embedded in the society described in Mrs. Dalloway.

Virginia Woolf criticizes the oppressive expectations imposed upon men and in Mrs. Dalloway, she “observes, describes, connects the judgment about society and social issues” (Zwerdling 69).  As Zwerdling states “Woolf gives us a picture of a society that worships tradition and settled order” (72). Through the description of male characters like Dalloway, Whitbread, and Bradshaw, Woolf describes character who embody the conservative values of society, exemplify the conventional image of such a man, and enforce traditional British masculinity with social influence, upper-class status, and political influence. Virginia Woolf also critiques that masculinity is solely socially constructed. Woolf also exemplifies how placing the responsibly of so-called social order upon few people results in inequality and oppression in society. Dalloway, Whitbread, and Bradshaw exemplify the authoritative and patriarchal forces of British society. These characters enforce a “definable, recognizable identity that can be categorized socially” (Zwerdling 72). Virginia Woolf criticizes these conventional male characters who preserve the authority of patriarchy in society and idealize conforming to the gender stereotypes. It is this rigid system that recognizes only those men who are classified as masculine and oppress other men. Inherently in Mrs. Dalloway Woolf voices these social issues. She is critiquing the British society and is challenging its embedded ideologies and social order.