Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 450
Doris Kilman: a bitter and unhappy woman who spends time with (and might be in love with) Elizabeth Dalloway
Elizabeth comes in quietly, reluctant to disturb Clarissa, who is napping. The narrator comments upon Elizabeth’s unusual, indeed exotic looks. Miss Kilman waits outside the door, and Clarissa engages in a brief and frigidly polite conversation with her. They are going shopping.
The narrator provides Kilman’s story to explain her poverty and her bitterness. Always clumsy and unlucky, she lost her job during the war due to her feelings about Germany. Now an itinerant teacher and, it seems, young lady’s companion, she is reduced to charity, and is understandably resentful.
Kilman does not try to hide her attitudes, which are completely obvious to Clarissa. That Clarissa dislikes Kilman’s association with her daughter has been apparent throughout the day, and the reader learns just what Clarissa thinks of the woman. The half-hour tolls. Clarissa’s thoughts fly from one subject to another.
The novel switches to Kilman’s perspective. Her thoughts revolve around two subjects: the people she hates and Elizabeth, about whom she feels very strongly. Kilman recalls her own history, and her present situation. She broods on the duality of flesh and spirit, aware of her unloveliness. They enter the department store, to shop for new petticoats for Miss Kilman. The selection features fancy, frilly wares, and Kilman’s choices make the clerk wonder.
The novel moves to Elizabeth’s perspective. She finds Kilman pathetic, and yet somehow sympathetic. She thinks Kilman spiritual and serious-minded, and is distressed by the antagonism between Kilman and Clarissa. The two sit for tea and eclairs. Kilman’s emotions regarding Elizabeth threaten her composure. She senses that Elizabeth needs to leave, and Kilman becomes desperate at the idea of losing Elizabeth’s company. Finally, Elizabeth leaves.
Doris Kilman is a different kind of character than the reader has met previously. She is the first religious figure, and though she comes from a lower social and economic class than the Dalloways, her education and sensibilities are as developed as Septimus’, despite her meager income. She may have had a somewhat comfortable childhood, but she is now suffering under economic hardships.
Kilman is similar to Clarissa in at least one important way: neither of them like how they look. Clarissa’s physique, however, is deemed more becoming by society’s standards. This too provokes Kilman’s disdain.
Woolf’s long-standing thematic interest in sexuality and obsession are present in her portrayal of Kilman’s interest in Elizabeth. Earlier, Clarissa had speculated as to whether Kilman might be in love with Elizabeth, and this seems to be the case.
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