“Kill Yourself, Kill Yourself, for Our Sakes”: Fascism and Gender Performance in Mrs. Dalloway

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Angierski, Kristen
It is by now a critical commonplace to acknowledge Virginia Woolf’s resistance to fascist ideology; indeed, entire books have been written on just that subject. Mrs. Dalloway, however, remains curiously absent from studies on Woolf’s literary engagements with fascist discourse. Critics have only partially corrected this oversight. Lisa Low, for example, argues that Woolf portrays 1922 England—Woolf’s own England—as a fascist state “in the making.” She asserts that Mussolini’s rise to power in the October of 1922 heavily influenced Woolf’s writing of Mrs. Dalloway. However, she fails to emphasize the importance of gender to Woolf’s portrayal of a fascist England. Other critics have pointed out the centrality of concepts of masculinity to Septimus’ treatment by the medical establishment, without mentioning that treatment’s uniquely fascist qualities. Although critics constantly mention the gendered nature of Woolf’s critique of fascism in Three Guineas, they have failed to produce a gendered reading of Mrs. Dalloway which also takes into account the novel’s context within the rise of Italian fascism. In this paper, the presenter fills this critical gap by suggesting that gender is absolutely central to Woolf’s exploration of fascism in Mrs. Dalloway. She argues that Woolf portrays English society as fascist in its murderous treatment of those who fail to perform their gender “correctly.” The presenter concludes that Woolf therefore demonstrates how patriarchal societies depend on the sacrifice of gender “Others” to maintain their fictions of wholeness and normalcy.
English Panel 1