Equating Performance with Identity: The Failure of Clarissa Dalloway's Victorian "Self" in Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway

Equating Performance with Identity: The Failure of Clarissa Dalloway's Victorian "Self" in Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway

Shannon Forbes

Lytton Strachey wrote in A Biography of Queen Victoria that "in truth it is difficult to trace any fundamental change in Queen Victoria's theory or her practice in constitutional matters throughout her life. . . . [T]he girl, the wife, the aged woman were the same" (262). Robert Browning wrote in 1864 in his famous Dramatis Personae that "My care is for myself; / Myself am whole and sole reality" ("Mr. Sludge, The Medium" XXXVII: 32-33). John Ruskin, similarly, stated in his autobiography, Praeterita, as he approached the age of seventy, that upon looking back on his life, "I find myself in nothing whatsoever changed" (220). These comments are replete with meaning because they represent the way Victorians privileged what Maude Ellmann describes in The Poetics of Impersonality as "the unified transcendent consciousness that the nineteenth century had understood as 'personality" (16). According to Ban Wang in "T on the Run: Crisis of Identity in Mrs. Dalloway," this nineteenth-century tradition of conceiving of the subject as self-contained, as independent of social structure, incorporated terms such as "identity" and "self" to indicate the aggregate and monolithic nature of the subject (177). Victorians celebrated the idea that the subject was stable, whole, and unified to the extent that, as Gerard Dollar explains in "Addiction and the 'Other Self,"' any deviation from one's "real" self, "which in Victorian terms is a moral, earnest, and public self," was seen as "violent, demonic, self-gratifying yet ultimately self-destructive" (268).

This notion of the subject as stable, aggregate, and monolithic, however, has been fraught with ambiguity and evasiveness ever since Lacan's revisions of the Freudian account of the id/ego construct minimized the efficacy of the classic psychoanalytic movement that "had treated with undue respect the idea that the self or the ego was the seat of personal identity" (Bowie 75). In asserting that "no signification can be sustained other than by reference to another signification," Lacan's subject is irremediably split by language (150). Thus, both the doomed quest for fulfilling signifiers initiated at Lacan's mirror stage and Freud's id/ego construct, even the "many part egos" to which Freud refers (150), emphasize the fragmentation and conflict inherent in an individual's identity and perception of that identity. Judith Butler, in "Imitation and Gender Insubordination," states, like Lacan, that "the prospect of being anything, even for pay, has always produced in me a certain anxiety," because "[t]o claim that this is what I am is to suggest a provisional totalization of this T" (13-15). Butler believes, however, that meaning arises and is constituted through performance; the predicates, in other words, precede the subject. The connection, I believe, between the meaning constituted through performance and the meaning constituted through a role one chooses to enact is important when analyzing Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway. It is helpful to distinguish between the role Clarissa performs and her split, fragmented self. The adult Clarissa clearly performs the role of the "perfect hostess," though there exists a debate among critics about why she has chosen to enact this particular role. What I would like to address are the consequences of Clarissa's decision to define her life in terms of her performance as Mrs. Richard Dalloway, the perfect hostess. Clarissa performs the role to the extent that it consumes her. Clarissa tries to equate the performance of this role with her identity, but her attempts to use the role as a substitute for the fixed—essentially the Victorian—sense of self she covets result in emptiness, a lack of fulfillment, and ironically, virtually no self at all.

It is made evident, before one reads a single word of the novel, or even opens the cover, that Clarissa is absolutely defined in terms of the role she has chosen to perform. The title of the novel is a curious one. Clarissa is introduced as "Mrs. Dalloway," a name closely signifying her chosen role. A different title—"Clarissa's Party," "Clarissa Dalloway," or even "Clarissa"—would suggest that her identity comprises more than this role and that her identity is not contained exclusively within this role, but the title indicates what Clarissa's stream of conscious articulates: "She had the oddest sense of being herself invisible; unseen; unknown . . . this being Mrs. Dalloway; not even Clarissa any more; this being Mrs. Richard Dalloway" (Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway 10-11). It is important to note, however, that the title of the novel is not "Mrs. Richard Dalloway," the name most closely signifying her performed role and the name Clarissa uses in the aforementioned passage when defining herself exclusively in terms of her role. It is significant not only that the name "Richard" is missing from the title, but that the name "Clarissa" is missing from the title as well. The implication, I believe, is that there is more to Clarissa than being "Mrs. Richard Dalloway," but that, paradoxically, this additional facet of her self, which would be signified by the inclusion of the name "Clarissa" within the title, is one of emptiness and absence.

One wonders what constitutes this Clarissa who is so conspicuously absent from the title but who, I would argue, is elusively present within the text. This is a Clarissa who is split, but who desperately desires to possess a Victorian, stable, unified self. Clarissa recognizes the near impossibility of this Victorian self and ''would not say of any one in the world now that they were this or were that" (8). She will not say of herself "I am this, I am that" either (9), yet she longs to look into the mirror and see herself as unified, coherent, as "Clarissa Dalloway; of herself" (37). When she looks in the mirror, however, she can only see her self as "definite" when "some effort, some call on her to be her self, drew the parts together" (37). She "tried to be the same always, never showing a sign of all the other sides of her" (37), but she can only attempt to convey this self to others through performing a role. The role of the perfect hostess is to serve as a substitute for what she refers to as her "incompatible" self so that "she alone," she says, may acknowledge her split self and may instead project to the outside world the image of one who possesses the much-coveted, Victorian conception of the self (37).

Clarissa, during her walk down Bond Street, associates her absence of a unified self with the vitality of the city. Immediately preceding her refusal to say people that are "this or that," for example, Clarissa notes that she is watching the taxi cabs in the busy London streets. At this point, she again reflects on her "self" (8), notes again that the city was "absolutely absorbing; all this; the cabs passing" (8), and then reflects again that she will never say of herself that she is this or that. Similarly, Clarissa reflects on her "oddest sense of being herself invisible; unseen; unknown" immediately before noting "this astonishing . . . progress with the rest of them, up Bond Street" (11). After having made this observation, Clarissa comments that being Mrs. Dalloway, and more specifically being Mrs. Richard Dalloway, has caused her to be not even Clarissa anymore (11). Clarissa associates the absence of a Victorian self with the vitality of the city—a dreary association, it would seem. Yet upon seeing Hugh Whitbread, Clarissa states, "T love walking in London. Really it's better than walking in the country" (6). Clarissa loves London because the city environment provides for Clarissa a sense of the order, vitality, and stability she lacks within her self. In addition, London validates and celebrates Clarissa's choice of performing the role of the perfect hostess. In doing so, London validates the only sense of identity Clarissa has aside from her emptiness and the lack of the unified self she covets.
While in the city, Clarissa is "part" of the house there, ugly, rambling all to bits and pieces as it was; part of people she had never met; being laid out like a mist between the people she knew best, who lifted her on their branches as she had seen the trees lift the mist, but it spread ever so far, her life, herself. (9)

Clarissa at this point merges with the city environment and thereby becomes a part of this environment. The city environment does more 40 Equating Performance with Identity than sustain and expand Clarissa's self. Merging with the city environment helps Clarissa, for a fleeting moment at least, achieve some semblance of unity and stability In doing so, the city functions as a substitute for the unified, stable self she lacks. The city, then, as the aforementioned quote indicates, momentarily becomes Clarissa's self.

Clarissa comments to herself "that somehow in the streets of London, . . . here, there, she survived" (9). I believe that Clarissa survives specifically because the streets of London embrace her and nurture her during the times when she feels the worst about her inability to attain a stable, unified self. Clarissa is not comfortable with her self or with her role, but she can be comfortable in London. On the streets of London, for example, Clarissa, in addition to using her ability to merge with her urban environment as a substitute for the self she desires, is an insider and worthy of respect, unlike the "the veriest frumps, the most dejected of miseries sitting on doorsteps" (4). Moreover, the city has sustained itself structurally throughout the War and is still capable of providing luxuries for its inhabitants such as gloves, pearls, tweed, salmon, and shoes. Clarissa observes London's provisions and says to herself, "'That is all'" (11), signifying the profusion, the "all" that London can provide for her in abundance—not only flowers and gloves, but also strength, endurance, and some semblance of a unified, stable self.

Perhaps most importantly, the representation of Big Ben within the novel indicates the ordered, dominating world that urban life provides to those like Clarissa who seek such order and stability. The sound of Big Ben, which Rezia describes as "sensible" (150), is a dominating presence in each character's life, a demand to adhere to one's schedule, a reminder that life is progressing in an orderly, measurable fashion. Big Ben's dominance and insistence on order interrupts numerous moments when Clarissa either finds herself sadly contemplating her lack of a unified self or finds herself forced to confront the unhappiness of the life she has chosen. Big Ben strikes the half hour, for example, just as Peter seizes Clarissa by the shoulders and cries, "'Tell me. . . . Are you happy, Clarissa? Does Richard—'" (47). The strike, along with Elizabeth's entrance into the room, truncates Peter's words and saves Clarissa from having to answer Peter's question. Peter's words at this moment threaten to force Clarissa to question her choice to perform as Mrs. Richard Dalloway, the perfect hostess; Clarissa is on the verge of being forced to attempt to define her self outside of her role. Instead, Elizabeth, the product of Clarissa's decision to marry Richard, enters the room as if to validate Clarissa's chosen lifestyle, and Big Ben strikes very loudly, restoring order by confirming that this conversation between Peter and Clarissa absolutely will not take place. Clarissa's only response to Peter, now that Big Ben loudly insists that Clarissa not be forced to try to define herself outside of her performed role, is that of a perfect hostess. Her cry of '"Peter! Peter! . . . My party to-night! Remember my party to-night!"' is nearly drowned out (48). A similar instance occurs when Clarissa, reflecting that she was happy Septimus had killed himself, begins to compare herself to him. At this precise instant Big Ben strikes with a "leaden” tone, reminding her that "she must go back. She must assemble” (186). Once again, during a moment that could potentially develop into a crisis when Clarissa finds herself forced to question her choice to perform her role, Big Ben overcomes, dominates Clarissa, and reinstitutes order.

It is also significant that Big Ben is gendered male. The implication is that Mrs. Dalloway thrives in London because the patriarchal status quo of the city validates her choice to relinquish her independence and to become Mrs. Richard Dalloway. Big Ben interrupts, according to Clarissa, like "a young man, strong, indifferent, inconsiderate” during moments when she questions or doubts her choice (48). Thus, every time Clarissa hears Big Ben she is reminded that the city validates and celebrates her decision to perform her chosen role. There is no need to doubt, Big Ben reminds Clarissa, because the dominating, powerful strikes—symbolic of London's strength and ability to provide for its inhabitants—will always protect one who abides by its male patriarchal values.

Thus, the city takes on a wonderfully complicated representation with regard to Clarissa and performance. London is vital to Clarissa's sense of having any self at all; without the city, Clarissa is literally selfless because only the city provides Clarissa with the necessary validation to equate her performance with her self. London, however, also refuses Clarissa any uncomfortable instances during which she might be forced to acknowledge that performing a substitute self often falls short. This is potentially the case during her conversation with Peter. In addition, London provides order for its inhabitants. Big Ben, for example, and clocks in general, assure that life keeps moving in a mechanical fashion, that things get done, that Clarissa knows she hasn't time to explore her life choices with Peter because she must tend to the preparation necessary for her party. Clarissa's role as a perfect hostess mirrors this orderliness provided by the city. She knows how to act in her role, what the performance of a perfect hostess entails, what to do at a given moment to continue the performance, and the city, specifically Big Ben, helps her performance take place in an orderly manner. Thus, finally, the city is agreeably patriarchal to Clarissa, because only in a patriarchal environment, the city, can Clarissa thrive as Mrs. Richard Dalloway, the perfect hostess.

Critics often perceive of Clarissa as an "outsider” in London because she is female. I would like to suggest, however, that Clarissa is, in a sense, an "insider” in terms of gender as well as class because she has committed her life to performing the female role that best reinforces the patriar- 42 Equating Performance with Identity chal values of her London urban environment. London, therefore, embraces, supports, and provides for her. The stakes are high for Clarissa because her sense of belonging as an insider within her environment depends on her ability to perform continually the role of Mrs. Richard Dalloway, the perfect hostess. Moreover, Clarissa can define herself only as invisible, unseen, and unknown when she attempts to define herself outside of her role, so failing to perform this role will inevitably force Clarissa to succumb to her lack of a unified self, or any self at all. Clarissa longs for a Victorian, unified, stable, and ordered sense of self but recognizes the impossibility of achieving such a state. She therefore relies entirely upon her performance of her role in the city to act as a substitute for the self for which she longs.

Clarissa is ambivalent about continuing to perform the role of Mrs. Richard Dalloway, the perfect hostess, however, because she finds that performing this role, paradoxically, exacerbates her sense of her lack of a unified self while simultaneously providing the only sense of stability and order she knows. Clarissa conceives of performances as positive means of escape. For example, upon reflecting that "[i]t was all over for her," she cries within her mind to Peter, "Take me with you, as if he were starting directly upon some great voyage" (47). The next moment she imagines herself performing the role of Peter's lifetime companion "as if the five acts of a play that had been very exciting and moving were now over" (47). Clarissa, similarly, chooses to perform the role of Mrs. Richard Dalloway so as to escape to a world where she will be respectable as an "insider." Clarissa holds onto her role as Mrs. Richard Dalloway because it is the only identity she has, yet she also simultaneously resents this role because she recognizes the way it limits her, confines her, and functions as only a superficial and ineffective substitute for the self she covets. Clarissa desperately wishes that everybody could "merely be themselves" (126)—be "this or that"—and she reads memoirs in bed in an effort to find someone of whom she can actually say "he is this, he is that" (8, 31). She reads memoirs in order to confirm that people can and do possess the Victorian sense of self—that it is possible to be "this" or "that" as one stable, unified identity. Clarissa still, however, finds her own self to be "invisible" and "incompatible" (11, 37). As a result, Clarissa "does things," including performing the role of the perfect hostess, "not simply, not for themselves; but to make people think [she is] this or that" (10). Performing this role, however, always falls short as a substitute for the self she covets. Clarissa realizes that performing a role to make people think she is "this or that" is "perfect idiocy ... for no one was ever for a second taken in. Oh if she could have had her life over again!" (10).

Parties are absolutely essential to Clarissa's sense that she has any self at all. Moreover, Clarissa attempts to convince herself that she has a unified, ordered, and stable self because she gives parties. She reflects the morning before her party, for example, that it is possible, "collecting the whole of her at one point, . . . seeing the delicate pink face of the woman who was that very night to give a party," to see "Clarissa Dalloway; herself" (37). This sense of Victorian unity and wholeness, however, is fleeting. Clarissa reflects later that evening that "every time she gave a party she had this feeling of being something not herself" (170-01). The aforementioned statement is disturbing because if Clarissa feels that performing her role causes her to be not herself, then she is composed of absolutely nothing since she has no identity outside of the confines of the role she performs. Her sense of loss of self is exacerbated when she sees Peter and knows that he is criticizing her as she performs her role, which is the only identity onto which she can at least sometimes grasp for some semblance of unity, order, and stability (168).

Clarissa thinks to herself at the party that performing the role of the hostess "was too much of an effort. She was not enjoying it" (170). Clarissa, however, in hopes of finding some semblance of consolation, once again decides to hold on to her faith in the efficacy of performing roles: "This anybody she did a little admire, couldn't help feeling that she had, anyhow, made this happen, that it marked a stage (170, emphasis added)." Clarissa's parties also provide her with the opportunity to attempt to immunize herself from the threat of having no self. Clarissa, for example, though she cannot locate a stable, unified self within the confines of her performance as a perfect hostess because "it was too much like being- just anybody, standing there; anybody could do it" (170), seeks solace through her observations that everyone else at her party is doing the same thing. Clarissa reflects at this moment that her party seems a stage on which each of her guests, like actors in a play, are taken out of their ordinary worlds and placed in different clothes against a different background while they enact a specific role. This role-playing, Clarissa observes, causes her guests, like herself, to seem split and unreal, and yet the performing, Clarissa tells herself, in some sense, causes her guests to seem even more real. Clarissa cannot locate the self she desires within the confines of her performance, but perhaps, as her experiences at her party reveal, she can at least observe that she is no different, no more "unreal" as she performs her role than is anyone else. Moreover, if her guests seem in some way "more real" as they perform their roles, then perhaps performing her role, similarly, would make her, in some way, seem "more real."

Consequently, Clarissa spends the remainder of the party going through the motions of performance, though she does so "seeking] pinnacles and standing] in fire. Might it consume her anyhow! Burn her to cinders!" (167). Clarissa's final chosen predicate, therefore, returning to her 44 Equating Performance with Identity party to assemble after her momentary reprieve upstairs, is a tragic one. Clarissa holds onto this role to the extent that she cannot be defined or define herself outside of her performed role. Clarissa's identity therefore, aside from the role she performs, is not only split, but also consists of a self that is empty and absent though desperately longing to be unified.

Clarissa is not the only Dalloway hostess who is not enjoying the party. Elizabeth, who is "rather glad" when the party is over (194), initially seems to take steps to secure for herself a future quite different from that of her mother. There is certainly much to celebrate about Elizabeth as she seems to set out to reject London's patriarchal status quo. Her ride on the omnibus down the Strand reveals her to be a promising, aspiring woman. Elizabeth "most competently" boards the omnibus "in front of everybody" and takes a seat on top during which "[s]he was delighted to be free" (135). She decides while on the omnibus that she "would like to have a profession" and contemplates her future as a doctor, farmer, or a prominent figure in Parliament (136). She "liked the feeling of people working" and feels assured that a woman of her generation may pursue any profession (136). She pushes on farther during her ride down the Strand into new parts of the city as if conquering them, and she acknowledges her strength and ambition as a pioneer in the Dalloway family who is venturing into unknown worlds (137). Moreover, Elizabeth's rejection of the city—"London was so dreary compared with being alone in the country" (135)—signifies a rejection of the patriarchal world where clocks that are gendered male keep order and where only women who adopt the role of the perfect hostess receive validation for their services.

Elizabeth, in this sense, seems, as Peter comments several times throughout the novel, to have "nothing of her mother in her" (78). Moreover, critics suggest the parallels between Richard and Elizabeth seem to secure a promising future for Elizabeth. Both Richard and Elizabeth demonstrate concern for living creatures—Richard for the Albanians (or was it the Armenians?) and Elizabeth for her dog and her guinea pigs. Both aspire to enter the public sphere in an effort to improve conditions for these living creatures. It is indeed appealing to contrast Elizabeth to Clarissa and to compare her instead with Richard, because doing so suggests Woolf's revision in Mrs. Dalloway of the claim she makes in "A Room of One's Own" that "[w]omen have served all these centuries as looking-glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size" (35). Luce Irigaray adopts this metaphor of the woman-as-mirror and connects it to woman's sense of fragmentation resulting from such a performance: "The rejection, the exclusion of a female imaginary undoubtedly places woman in a position where she can experience herself only fragmentarily as waste or as an excess in the little structured margins of a dominant ideology, this mirror entrusted by the (masculine) 'subject' with the task of reflecting and redoubling himself" (104). In this mirror analogy both Woolf and Irigaray assert that the performance of woman-as-mirror has throughout time existed as an identity women have felt compelled to enact. According to Woolf and Irigaray the consequence of women performing their identity as a mirror has been that women view themselves as inferior to men in order to reflect men as twice as excellent as they are. What is wonderful about noting the similarities between Elizabeth and Richard, as critics tend to do, is that the connection of Elizabeth to her father suggests that Woolf represents Elizabeth not as a mirror intended to double Richard at the expense of her own self but, rather, as a woman who is equal to Richard. If Elizabeth follows in the path of her father rather than her mother, then she deconstructs both the importance of the performance of the perfect hostess role and the performance of woman-as-mirror.

Sadly, however, there is no indication that Richard plans to foster such career ambitions within his daughter. Richard thinks that "[i]f he'd had a boy he'd have said, Work, work. But he had his Elizabeth" (114). Richard's thought implies that Elizabeth, because she is not a boy, will not be told by her father to "Work, work." Instead, Richard perceives of his daughter only in marriageable terms as she helps host Clarissa's party. Elizabeth is dressed in pink, a symbol of her emerging sexuality and promise as a wife and mother. Richard notes that "she looked so lovely in her pink frock!" and tells Elizabeth that he had just looked at her and thought her "lovely" (194). Richard thinks of his daughter in terms of her looks rather than her capability to pursue professional ambitions similar to his own. Moreover, Elizabeth contemplates performing a role very different from that of a perfect hostess, but several instances throughout the novel show how similar she is to Clarissa, thus undermining Elizabeth's choice to perform any role but that of a perfect hostess. In choosing to perform this role, Elizabeth secures for herself a future as dismal and unfulfilling as Clarissa's life as a perfect hostess has proven to be.

Clarissa continually refers to Elizabeth as "my Elizabeth" as if Elizabeth is Clarissa's possession to mold and shape. Clarissa does what she can to make certain that Elizabeth performs the role Clarissa herself has chosen. Clarissa worries that Elizabeth seems uninterested in clothes, her appearance, and the fact that "the compliments were beginning" (135). Clarissa experiences "violent anguish" because Miss Kilman, who encourages Elizabeth to become a professional rather than a hostess, "was taking her daughter from her" (126). Clarissa cries out to Elizabeth to "'Remember the party! Remember our party to-night!" in an attempt to remind Elizabeth as she walks out the door with Miss Kilman that Elizabeth's performance as a perfect hostess should take precedence over Miss Kilman's attempted "conversion" (126). Elizabeth claims that she finds 46 Equating Performance with Identity Clarissa's influence over her to be stifling. Elizabeth complains to herself, for example, that despite the fact that "she so much preferred being left alone to do what she liked in the country," "she had to go to parties" at her mother's insistence (134-5). Similarly, Elizabeth tells herself that she will pursue whatever profession she wants in spite of "whatever her mother might say" (137). When all is said and done, however, Elizabeth, though she tells Miss Kilman that "[s]he did not much like parties," "suppose^] she was going" primarily because "her mother wanted her to go" (131). Elizabeth at this point consciously decides to adopt her mother's performance as her own. Clarissa's attempts to coerce her daughter into performing the role of the perfect hostess have been successful. Elizabeth decides to attend her mother's party as the next-generation Dalloway hostess. "Mrs. Dalloway had triumphed" (133).

Elizabeth entertains ideas of having professional aspirations, but what is disconcerting is that Elizabeth, "in many ways [as] her mother felt" (137), shows a lack of mature decision-making skills when it comes to thinking about where her future will take her. She cannot even decide which bus to board, for example, because "[s]he had no preferences. Of course, she would not push her way. She inclined to be passive" (135). She lacks "expression" (135), and her decision possibly to be a doctor stems only from Miss Kilman's assurance that it would be feasible for her to do so—not her own faith in herself. Similarly, Elizabeth's decision to be a farmer, though somewhat based on Miss Kilman's opinion, is "almost entirely" due to how "splendid" Somerset House looks (136). Her "determination" to pursue a profession is undercut because, she thinks, "she was, of course, rather lazy" (137).

Moreover, Elizabeth thinks of herself as a "pioneer" because no Dal- loways came down the Strand daily (137), but once again, this positive conception of herself is undercut. The Dalloways do not come down the Strand daily, but the narrative gives no indication that they do not come down at all Elizabeth does not travel down the Strand daily either, and in this sense, she differs little from any of the other Dalloways. Elizabeth is timid as she walks down the Strand "shyly, like some one penetrating on tiptoe" (137). She is not much of a pioneer in that she did not "dare wander off into queer alleys, tempting bye-streets, any more than in a strange house open doors which might be bedroom doors, or sitting-room doors, or lead straight to the larder" (137).

She is also hardly a pioneer in her aspirations to enter the public sphere so as to improve social conditions, because her mother was once dedicated to the same ambitions. In actuality, therefore, Elizabeth's performance is in this sense more that of a younger version of her mother than it is that of a pioneer. Elizabeth's experience with her career aspirations very much parallels Clarissa's experience when she was just about Elizabeth's age. Clarissa, when she was younger, meant to found a society to abolish private property (33). Clarissa at least actively took steps to realize her desire to effect change through entering the public sphere. Clarissa helped Sally write a letter aiming to abolish private property and inexhaustibly read Plato, Morris, and Shelley. Elizabeth's professional aspirations, however, are even more fleeting than were Clarissa's. Elizabeth contemplates a career and acknowledges her laziness in the same instant. Immediately preceding this instant, Elizabeth decides that mapping out a career for herself "seemed so silly" (137). Elizabeth decides that "it was the sort of thing that did sometimes happen, when one was alone" (137). It would be best, Elizabeth decides, "to say nothing about it". 

Elizabeth disregards her earlier idea about pursuing a career, noting to herself that it was nothing more than "a sigh, a stretch of the arms, an impulse, a revelation, which has its effects for ever, and then down again it went to the sandy floor" (137). Elizabeth takes no active steps to secure her future as a woman with a profession. Instead, though she initially seems to set out on the omnibus to conquer the city's patriarchal status quo, Elizabeth eventually relies upon the city to validate her choice to perform the role of a perfect hostess. After deciding her professional aspirations were nothing but an impulse, Elizabeth tells herself that "[s]he must go home. She must dress for dinner. But what was the time? —where was a clock?" (137).

Elizabeth looks for a clock—the urban patriarchal symbol in the novel—as if searching for the same validation of her decision to perform the role of the perfect hostess that Big Ben provides for Clarissa. Elizabeth apparently finds this validation, because she realizes that "it was later than she thought" (138). Elizabeth notes that her mother would not like her "wandering off alone" like a pioneer (like a professional woman), and after watching the city lose its luster, Elizabeth turns away from the Strand and from her professional aspirations in order to board an omnibus that will take her to Westminster to engage in the performance. The city, while momentarily perceived by Elizabeth as alive, loud, and exciting, ultimately shows Elizabeth that she is an outsider so long as she entertains professional aspirations. The city then coaxes her into performing the role of a perfect hostess by reminding her of her duties back in Westminster at her mother's party. Elizabeth consciously decides to adhere to the city's patriarchal dictates by leaving the Strand in order to prepare for the party.

As Judith Butler underlines, identity is constructed through performance. The act of repetition, however, is required for a subject to maintain its identity, and if an identity "is compelled to repeat itself in order to establish the illusion of its own uniformity and identity, then this is an identity permanently at risk, for what if it fails to repeat, or if the very exercise of 48 Equating Performance with Identity repetition is redeployed for a very different performative purpose?" (24). Moreover, according to Butler, "that there is a need for repetition at all is a sign that identity is not self-identical. It requires to be instituted again and again, which is to say that it runs the risk of becoming da-instituted at every interval" (24). Thus, people who desperately need to grasp onto any secure, static identity will find themselves constantly in despair. Even if one is able to consistently, repeatedly behave in a way that confirms a certain identity—this in itself is a wretchedly difficult task—the simple nature of this need for repetition indicates the vulnerability of that identity. Butler's theory offers little hope to those who spend their lives striving to be something, or who find that they finally are something, for it only takes one action to shatter the much-coveted stable identity.

The fascinating thing about Clarissa, however, is that she actually does seem to perform consistently in a way that confirms her identity as a perfect hostess. Even Clarissa's very last action in the book involves returning to "assemble" at her party immediately after Big Ben interrupts her attempt to identify with Septimus. Each time Clarissa finds her performance threatened—that is to say, each time she runs the risk of having her identity de-instituted—Big Ben interrupts the threat and successfully insists that Clarissa immediately return to the confines of her role.

Elizabeth may be able to de-institute her identity as a perfect hostess if she finds some way to prevent herself from repeatedly performing this role; her identity is precarious because it relies on the repetition of which Butler speaks. It is troubling, therefore, that Elizabeth depends on a clock to validate her decision to return home so as to perform the role of the perfect hostess. The problem is that while Big Ben only interrupts the moments when Clarissa's identity as a perfect hostess is threatened, Elizabeth actually seeks out the guidance of a clock during moments when she finds herself fleetingly entertaining the idea of enacting any other role. Elizabeth therefore relies on Big Ben even more than Clarissa does. Big Ben, like the city itself, has proven himself strong—even in the face of War—and capable of sustaining his authority. By the end of the novel Elizabeth has consciously chosen to perform the role of the perfect hostess and is entirely committed to performing this role. While this identity is precarious, one can be certain that Big Ben—representative and symbolic of patriarchal urban authority within the novel—will sustain his ability throughout Elizabeth's life to interrupt moments when Elizabeth's identity as a perfect hostess is in danger of being de-instituted. Elizabeth thinks "how much nicer" it would be "to be in the country and do what she liked!" (188), but she is trapped within the city. The city, therefore, ensures that Elizabeth will never be able to question successfully or everlastingly her decision to perform this role. Elizabeth, therefore, secures for herself a future very much like that of her mother.

Thus, in conclusion, the concept of performance is key to understanding the way gender for Woolf is a social construct stemming for women from their struggle to identify and simultaneously oppose the Victorian ideology forcing them to equate their identity with a corresponding and acceptable Victorian role. It is a theme that so concerned Woolf that she would also make it a central focus of To the Lighthouse, The Waves, Orlando, and finally, Between the Acts. These later novels extend the discussion Woolf began in Mrs. Dalloway; while Mrs. Dalloway is preoccupied with emptiness and absence, this essential novel sets the necessary groundwork for Woolf's thinking about performance to evolve to the extent that Woolf in her later novels explores how crucial it is for women to perceive of performance as a celebration of the necessity of enacting not one, confining role, as is the case with Clarissa, but rather, the multifarious roles that constitute their sense of self.

Works Cited

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