In Mrs. Dalloway, how does Virginia Woolf treat sexual attraction?

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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Sexuality, particularly the type of sexual attraction that Clarissa detects in herself, is treated in a very delicate manner and giving specific consideration to the circumstances of the characters, their roles in life, and pasts, and the connection of their characters with those of Shakespeare's Othello, with whom Woolf compares the story lines of each individual.

Clarissa is in her 50's, and has just realized that society expects her to be frigid, nun-like, and to go back to a life of nothingness: No passion is allowed for her for she has already been a wife and a mother. Hence, alone and with grown children, she has to find her role in society once more on her own.

This being said, Clarissa is in a journey of self-contemplation. This contemplation has led her to realize that she is actually sexually attracted to another woman, Sally. This is where Virginia Woolf uses her most delicate descriptions and comparisons to Othello, particularly on the subject of missed opportunities at love, the conventionalism that leads nowhere, and the expectation that women are supposed to behave, feel, and hope in a specific way.

When the novel ends, we realize the deep regret that Clarissa feels at not being able to fulfill her passion, and her realization that she simply needed a different kind of life altogether to match the different emotions in her heart.

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