03 February, 2011

“The Pseudo-Homeric World of Mrs. Dalloway.”

Hoff reads Mrs. Dalloway in light of Joyce’s contemporaneous publication of Ulysses, arguing that Woolf utilizes classical literary tradition in a manner that parodies Joyce’s “rigidly restrictive” employment of his Homeric inheritance. Finding obscure Homeric references in Woolf’s depiction of minor characters such as Mr. Bowley (who is “sealed with wax”) and Miss Kilman (recalling Scylla and Charybdis through her monstrous appetite both for food and people), the essay focuses on the parallels between Peter Walsh and Odysseus. Several of these parallels are persuasive at least in their potential as frameworks within which to understand this character; the identification of the garden world of Bourton as the Calypsean locus amoenus to which Peter desires constantly to return, but from which he is repeatedly distracted, is a particularly promising instance of this parallel. However, the essay suffers from two weaknesses. For one, it falls into the common trap of pushing a parallel a bit too far; many of the instances Hoff presents are almost impossible to give credence to, such as the idea that Peter’s visit to Clarissa is consciously reminiscent of Odysseus’ visit to Helen’s chamber towards the beginning of the Odyssey. Moreover, though purportedly aimed at pointing out the parodic nature of the text, Hoff neglects to provide any discussion of how exactly the parallels she discerns would be a parody  of Ulysses rather than a simple imitation, or at best, a project coincidentally similar in drawing on the Homeric world.

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